by Megan Power (@Power_Report) Organisations that choose to ‘hide’ will pay the price. Disrespected consumers don’t respond like benevolent grandmothers.

Buried my supper

When I was 10, I buried my supper. Literally. I loathed the tinned viennas and baked beans so much that dumping it in a small hole hidden in a bed of hydrangea bushes in my great grandmother’s garden seemed the only way out. But guilt got the better of me the next day and I owned up, expecting the worst.

To my surprise, my great grandmother (as Victorian as they came) was most gracious. Without a shred of sarcasm, she thanked me for coming clean and assured me that digging holes was altogether unnecessary. All I needed to do in future was to let her know what food I really couldn’t stomach and she’d do her best to accommodate that. Trust and open communication blossomed, and remained strong until her death decades later at the age of 102.

I learnt two key lessons that day: first, never let fear of consequence override honesty and, secondly, doing the right thing brings reward in the long run — nothing too profound — most of us learnt this stuff growing up. Which makes it all the more baffling that, in the customer experience and reputation work I do with organisations, it’s still one of the hardest things to land.

Head for the hydrangeas

It seems the minute people don a business hat, the human hat comes off, along with all insight into the needs and expectations of ordinary people. Too often, when organisations have to communicate something uncomfortable (such as a product defect, a safety recall, or misconduct), they head for the hydrangeas. It’s a default setting.

So, instead of taking out full-page adverts in the front-section of a big weekly newspaper, they opt for tiny black-and-white placements in the classifieds of a small daily. In place of following safety recall guidelines for public notices (complete with hazard logos, pictures of the implicated product, full detail of the risk and how to mitigate it) they offer the bare essentials — usually just enough to escape censure.

These are the same companies and brands that don’t send out media releases or post social-media statements, hoping their hidden notice buried among the man-with-bakkie smalls will cover them.

These organisations also leave their websites as is, giving no inkling it’s not business as usual. Homepages continue to reflect routine competitions and promotions, as if the recall, fraud threat, or apology has happened in a parallel universe.

Getting it right

That’s not to say there aren’t those who get it right.

A large retailer faced with leaking hot water bottles not only sent out press releases, placed full-page recall ads, and posted warnings on social media but put up notices at all its store checkouts to alert as many customers as possible. The same retailer, however, boasts a “news and press” page on its site, which includes a handful of select statements (many undated) but no archive to search for more. So, anyone wanting to find out the company’s take on any previous issue or controversy, comes away emptyhanded, forced onto Google. Not the smartest way for an organisation to build trust — or control its own message.

A competitor does little better. With no online “news” section at all, it sees fit to bury critical information on four consumer scams (three rackets listed for May alone) in among recipes, competitions and refund rules. Unless trawling the site specifically for news, who would ever stumble upon it? It’s feels like a box-ticking exercise at best.

This is why a visit to the Motor Industry Ombudsman of South Africa (MIOSA) site at the time of writing was so refreshing. Just under its welcome message, in a prominent box on its homepage, is a very clear warning about an unauthorised email doing the rounds, purportedly from MIOSA.

While I would have preferred more information on the suspected scam (and to see MIOSA embrace social media), the bold website notice serves its purpose. It’s relevant, useful and, most importantly, hard to miss — the kind of straight-up communication consumers expect and respect.

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