It's tough going these days if you work for Toyota or any of its partners. It's tougher being a customer especially with the doubt surrounding loose floor mats and sticking accelerator pads and safety concerns in general. And then there's the perceived broken trust and the lost credibility associated with a brand that seemingly reigned supreme in terms of relationship, bond and loyalty.
Instead of purposely piling on the hurt, I thought I'd offer 5 ideas, pieces of advice and/or feedback on how a company like Toyota - and other companies in similar industries (or not) - can avoid this kind of tumult in the future.
- Open letters to customers need to be inclusive. Not exclusive. Taking out a full page "ad" in all the major daily newspapers essentially says, "an open letter to our customers WHO HAPPEN TO READ NEWSPAPERS." That's a dwindling bunch these days. Instead, if paid media is going to be used, think about owning YouTube, Facebook, the portals, etc. for a day. In other words, be where your customers are. (see point 4 about social media)
- Pull all your advertising that sends out conflicting messages or projects an otherwise detached message. For example, I caught this 15-second TV spot talking about "reliability" the other day...when Toyota's are perceived to be anything but.
- Your website is the first port of call. As shown in this illustration, only about 1/45th of real estate is currently being devoted to the Recall. That's clearly too low. Instead there seems to be an attempt to sell a Prius with a message that talks about harmony and efficiency. What I would be wondering about is whether this Prius was safe or not. This is not all that dissimilar to Domino's that tried to avoid being upfront and direct about their crisis. Decisive, pre-emptive strikes are the order of the day.
- If ever there was any doubt about the importance of social media, that should surely be dispelled at this point. Toyota has less than 75,000 fans on Facebook. They have less followers than ME on Twitter. When times are tough, the first place and the first people to turn to are customers, loyalists, enthusiasts, fans, friends, followers, advocates, evangelists...hell, even critics. These groups of people don't magically materialize overnight. They are built, earned and nurtured over time. Toyota has struggled to cope, contain, address and engage because they don't have a place, space or venue to do so (see point 1). And even in these forums, Toyota does not appear to be actively participating and "joining the conversation." There's a fine line between dominating a conversation and fairly contributing to it. Toyota doesn't appear to be in the game. Step 1 is a group, page or presence on a third party social hub. Step 2 is a customer-centric branded community. Step 3 is the ability to active them. Customer service, crisis communication and relationship management are all blurring together at a frenetic pace.
- Anticipate these problems. Because they will happen. And they may be product related. Or brand related. Or customer service related. It's not good enough to be caught unawares anymore. Contingency planning has got to be part of a brand's strategy nowadays. Being flexible, nimble, responsive and adaptive are not luxuries. Whilst several of Toyota's competitors like GM, Honda or have jumped on the brandwagon to essentially kick Toyota whilst it's down and offer to exchange faulty Toyota's for their brand, the tables will turn; the pendulum will swing. It always does. This absolutely applies to any business today.
In my new book, "Flip the Funnel," I talk about the need for companies to stop focusing on acquiring new customers and instead focus on their existing ones. If brands begun with the purchase, instead of ending with the purchase, they'd have a unique opportunity to grow the number of potential transactions (via increased basket sizes, repeat purchase and signficantly, word-of-mouth referrals), deliver a superior customer experience and service their lifeblood at unprecedented levels. They'd also have a direct line to them when they needed advice, help, support and rescue.
Let me be clear...this post isn't about selling my book. If you buy it, you'll be better off for doing doing so. If you don't, it's no sweat off my back. I only wish I'd been able to build Toyota into the book as a case study, because it's exactly this type of situation that the book is hoping to help companies avoid and/or best deal with.
In any event, I wish the folks over at Toyota the best of luck in terms of being able to make it through this mess. People have short memories, but when it comes to safety, all bets are off. Toyota will need to painstakingly earn back the trust they've lost in the process. It's doable. But it'll take time, commitment and a genuine attempt to demonstrate staying power. In other words....reliability.