by Nancy Ruspil, MGC
Toyota continues to maneuver the bumpy road of crisis control. Plenty has been said for and against the company’s efforts to repair damages since the recalls began. Inevitably, this corporate nightmare has taken a toll on Toyota’s sales and profits. The company has recalled more than eight million vehicles worldwide. They face legal and PR problems on numerous fronts – death and injury lawsuits, a federal criminal investigation, the resentment of dealers needing to repair millions of vehicles, and the anger/distrust of customers around the globe.
Throughout this ordeal, we’re all reminded of some painful business truths.
DAMAGE in the form of:
- Too little, too late. Toyota waited far too long to communicate with the public about the problems, let alone offer any kind of apology. That silence sent a loud message to the public – essentially saying, We know your life may be in danger, but we’ll handle this behind closed doors and get back to you. Joan Claybrook, former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration put it this way: “Toyota took the position that it could delay and defer and not deal with these issues. It would be cheaper to do it that way. And, in fact, it’s cost them so much more.”
- Growth over quality. Toyota executives admitted that they were growing too fast and didn’t pay close enough attention to quality details. “We lost sight of the customer,” said Jim Lentz, Toyota’s Motor Sales USA President and CEO. What’s wrong with this picture? Everything. People are dead because of this mistake.
REPAIR in the form of:
- Apologies. Toyota’s top executives have apologized to the public, though all of it was much too late in coming.
- Recall information. The company established an online recall page that provides information and updates for consumers. Toyota’s online newsroom updates consumers as well as media.
- Social media outreach. Toyota quickly built up an extensive social media presence to cover the bases: their Facebook page interacts with 85,000+ fans; daily Twitter conversations respond to consumer questions and concerns; and a YouTube account posts informational videos.
- Reassurance marketing. Via print, TV and radio, the public has been seeing and hearing ads that seek to spread calm and confidence. In one broadcast spot, a soft-spoken announcer talks about Toyota’s dedication to safety and its customers… “We’re working around the clock to ensure we build vehicles of the highest quality, to restore your faith in our company.”
Will consumers believe this? Can Toyota win back our confidence? Recent sales numbers show that many people are still willing to trust Toyota – their March sales were up 40% over last year. Was that due to special incentives/rebates? Or lasting loyalty? Maybe both. Time will tell.