How to Turn Business Nightmares into Positive Public Relations

Get me out of public relations hellThere are two approaches to business failures. Toyota blaming accelerator problems on driver incompetence is one way, and all too common. This is the worst method.

Ford recently discovered fuel lines causing fires in their 2013 Escapes with 1.6 liter engines as they came off the assembly line.

What did they do?

“Don’t drive” is part of their announcement. They are picking up cars that have been delivered to customers and providing loaners. Repairs may take up to two weeks. They are holding up delivery on the balance of vehicles until they are repaired. This is expensive, but less costly in the long-run, and as Sidney taught me 30 years ago, “You can’t buy this kind of public relations.”

Sidney was one of the founders of the Machinery Dealers National Association. He would be over 100 today if he were still alive. He headed up the ethics committee in our association. 30 years ago, I was in a messy battle with a new customer who was trying to take advantage of us on a $35K sale. Standing my ground on principle, I recommended the customer contact the ethics committee and promised to go along with their findings. The customer filed his grievance.

We happened to be at the association’s national convention when the ethics committee convened. I was V.P of the NY/NJ chapter of our association at the time. Sidney took me for a drink after they concluded their session about my situation.

“Gary” he said, “we found that you did nothing wrong, but I would like to give you some advice.” I listened with persistent resistance, but I listened. “Gary, there is nothing to stop him from suing you and that is what he said he will do. Lawsuits are very costly in time, money and PR. Only the lawyers win.”

“Over the years” he went on, ” I learned that giving back the money is the best solution. Lawsuits make enemies who speak badly about us and he will do that too. Save time, money, and aggravation. Give him his money back and make a friend. You can’t buy that kind of PR.”

I stuck to my principles. When all was said and done, I learned that Sidney was 100% right. We spent a lot of money, time, and aggravation and made an enemy who spoke badly about us and me. That was the last lawsuit I was ever in.

A year or so later, Paul, the owner of a manufacturing company in South Dakota,  bought over $100K in equipment from me. He called with very bad news. There was a big problem that we were unable to resolve onsite. I sent him his money back and he became a very good friend. We did hundreds of thousands of dollars in business over the years and he endorsed me and made countless referrals. Even more valuable was the trusting relationship and friendship.

Happy Customers Equals SalesFor most if us, it’s all about the customer experience. We owned Toyotas; a 4X4 pickup truck for my farm and a Corolla for my administrative assistant. We were very happy with them. Buying from Toyota since their faux pas is an unlikely prospect for now. But I would consider buying a Ford.

How about you?

Ford recalls 1.6-liter Ford Escape, tells owners to stop driving