Singapore saw one of its most serious food poisoning cases this year in when some 109 Singaporeans fell seriously ill recently after eating salmonella-laced chocolate cakes from local bakery chain Prima Deli.
Already, infuriated and worried consumers have been calling for boycotts and heavy fines on the company here in the Straits Times. Authorities such as the Ministry of Health and Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore has also called on consumers who have bought such cakes to discard them.
What can a company do when faced with such potentially-crippling situations? There’re no real hard and fast answers, but here are some of my thoughts:
1. Embark on a witchhunt. Not right now. Save your energies on working to solving problems first. Once the situation is under control, then unleash the Inquisition.
2. Easily place blame on processes, or worse, people. I’m not saying don’t look for the source of the problem – I’m saying don’t be too trigger-happy in assigning blame.
3. Think of using scapegoats as a viable option. Consumers are not going to care exactly who was the person who failed – in their eyes, the entire organisation has failed (as I did in a previous customer service experience).
4. Expect a miracle. Accept the fact that your business is going to take a hit, and plan around it. The best businesses are those who take a hit, and then pick themselves up and forge on.
5. Think that hiring the best PR agency will save the situation and pull your nuts out of the fire. Sure, they can help communicate quickly and effectively to all your various audiences, but there’s a limit to even what they can do.
1. Be totally honest with everyone. You’ve already dropped the ball, and any untruths you tell now may come back and haunt you later.
2. Identify a command team you trust and put them on this 24/7, at least until the worst is over.
3. Pick the right spokesperson to speak to the media and the authorities, preferably as senior as you can get. In Prima Deli’s case, they used a mere “deputy general manager” to speak to the media and explain the company’s position. Big mistake, in my opinion – it makes consumers think that the senior management doesn’t care enough that over a hundred of their customers were put into the hospital.
4. Be sincere and seem willing to help any who are affected. It’s not an admission of guilt – despite what your lawyers may say – it’s an admission that you care. Nothing was mentioned in the news reports of how Prima Deli wanted to help those affected. I’m not even sure if any Prima Deli staff even visited those sent to hospital.
5. Plan for future contingencies. Consumers, authorities and even your staff need to know what plans you have to prevent any future occurrences.
UPDATE: Some positive steps Prima Deli is taking, such as starting up a customer hotline, is reported in this Straits Times article.
UPDATE 2: More corrective action by Prima Deli reported here by TODAY on 7/12/07. A good step – its general manager has stepped out and apologised to the public for the incident.
UPDATE 3: Prima Deli sees brisk business as it reopens its outlets on 2/01/2008, as reported in TODAY.
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