Written by Monique Jansen for Buljan & Partners Consulting
On Saturday, October 3rd, the Spanish press released the initiative of the Volkswagen group to create a customer call service for those affected by the scandal related to diesel engines, which immediately crashed. The company has also created an online form, but it could only be accessed from a computer and not from smartphones.
Measures adopted in desperate times, such as these, usually cause criticism. “I have been affected by this case and I have lost all faith in the company and I need a solution NOW.” Volkswagen’s customers might be right to wait for the problem to be solved quickly, because that’s how humans work: companies must be prepared to manage these types of issues.
Truman Capote once said: “When someone puts their trust in you, you will forever be in debt with them.”
How to restore customer confidence in a crisis
To regain a customer’s trust is difficult. In crisis situations such as the one VW is going through now, companies tend to create a crisis committee: a group like the “A-Team” that take out their protocol ammunition and starts taking action on them.
Such committees are made up of practical, decisive and, above all, brave people. They first try to find solutions to the mistakes: what can be done to remove the software from affected engines and what can be done to economically compensate customers and dealerships, all of which must be done to avoid bankrupting the company. On the other hand, it is also important that the mentioned crisis committee includes an additional team that is in charge of catering to the communications and emotional solutions to regain people’s trust.
In order to connect with those customers affected, an analysis of their feelings towards the issue and the brand must be carried out. If you were in their shoes, how would you feel?:
- Angry. “Do they think they are as powerful and smart as to avoid regulations?”
- Scared. “How are they going to fix this? How is this going to affect my personal finances?”
- Lack of trust towards the resolution. “Are they going to start telling us the truth or will they keep lying to us?”
- Doubtful. “How does this affect my car? What have I done wrong? Could I have known or avoided this?”
- Resignation. “Why should I bother putting in a claim? Is there a way to fight against big enterprises?”
We have some tips for this group (let’s call them the C-Team) so that they can face the challenges ahead:
- Be available to listen. You must be available immediately. Affected customers need someone to listen to them as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter that you can’t give immediate solutions.
- Be understanding and empathetic. Understand what worries the customer.
- Be transparent. It is vital to be 100% transparent when communicating. Tell them EVERYTHING you know and be honest about your mistakes.
- Use the customer’s language. Don’t make references to technicalities or regulations. You must apply common vocabulary.
- Be thankful. You must thank the customer for reaching out to you, for making a claim and for showing an interest.
- Be humble. People and companies make mistakes. Admit that you “messed up,” the same way the President of Volkswagen, Michael Horn, did in the US as soon as the scandal came to light.
- Enable procedures as much as possible. The customer should put in as little effort as possible to manage their claim. Be quick and decisive.
The future of the brand
The priority should, obviously, be to cater to affected customers. Nonetheless, you should (from the beginning of the crisis) also communicate with non-affected customers in order to restore the brand’s image, as they probably will be close to losing their trust in the company, as well as convey the messages to the rest of the world, who are also interested in the issue. In the end, a company such as the Volkswagen Group offers all types of vehicles for all type of economies and, therefore, we are all potential customers. We hope that the Volkswagen Group knows how to deal with this crisis along with the A-Team and the C-Team and that they soon become strong once again.
As Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
Monique Jansen is Managing Consultant at Buljan & Partners Consulting and Service line leader of Customer Centric Process Leadership. Monique is a customer oriented process and technology specialist since 1997.
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