According to Coombs Crisis Communication theory, crisis managers and responsible personnel handling crisis communication ought to match their strategic measures with the level of an emergency in line with the threat posed by the disaster or crisis in question. Coombs theory further posits that a crisis needs to be evaluated on its history, impact, and extent, in order to predict its threat to the reputation of the company or organization in addition to the attribute of the crisis (Coombs 2007, p. 164). In line with Ford South Africa's response to the crisis of its failed sports utility vehicle, it is evident that the management of the company did not apply a crisis response strategy in advance, leading to consumer dissatisfaction and lack of trust in the company's apology. The crisis falls under accidental cluster in which the disaster was unintentional as the crisis was because of technical error due to the failure of the SUV engine. Considering the magnitude of the failed SUV and its perceived engine failure, the company should have taken drastic crisis measures to address the problem in time to avoid last minute rush to justify their actions. In Jimmy's case in which he died in a burning Ford, the company's management responded poorly in trying to delink the cause of the fire to the vehicles perceived engine failure. It was a weak attempt to avoid taking responsibility. The situation deteriorated and led many to lose trust in the company's SUV. Mainly, Ford Kuga handled the entire situation poorly by failing to accept the reality and magnitude of the crisis, leading to customer dissatisfaction, and development of negative attitude to the company vehicles.
According to the reputation threat, three elements come into play that while handling a potential damage crisis facing an organization or business (Greyser 2009, p. 592). The first is the preliminary crisis responsibility that entails on how the company in question responded to the situation from its initial stages. From the analysis of the SUV crisis, Kuga South Africa undermined and looked down upon the magnitude of the crisis leading to a poor public relations attempt to engage the public in its responsibility. By neglecting and downplaying the extent of the situation, Kuga SA exposed its reputation leading to public anger, dissatisfaction, and outrage. The second element is the history of the crisis, in which, if looked at carefully, Kuga SA's failure to immediate response to the crisis set a stage of poor historical response to the crisis that later befell its product in the market. With Jimmy's death in a burning Kuga SUV and the poor history of the vehicle engine failure, it became very easy to connect the fire in Jimmy's car to the failed engine even if the situation could have resulted from Jimmy's mistake such as poor car maintenance. The public gradually became convinced that Jimmy's death was a result of the engine failure, a crisis that the public attributed to the company's mistake.
Kuga SA set an unfortunate historical crisis response in the public eye exposing them to blame, and negativity. It thus explains why their public apology on the crisis was poorly received and aggravated the situation. Due to its poor historical response to the crisis, it became challenging and arduous for the public to buy into their apology thus threatening the company's reputation leading to mass protest. Considering Tone2's online response to the apology, it became apparent that the apology made the crisis worse with the enterprise losing much of its trust and real appeal amongst its customers. Tone2's online response became a clear estimate of the public's pain at the company's response and poor handling of the crisis. The third element of reputational threat concerns prior relational repute. Although the company has a clean historical record, its major undoing was the inadequate response to the overheating system in its engine. In the first case, the company set a poor record in recalling only 4,500 SUV instead of recalling all of the vehicles in the market. By calling all of its SUV's in the market, the company could have averted Jimmy's death and set the record straight on its unfailing responsibility of correcting the situation. However, recalling only 4,500 Sports, Utility Vehicle exposed the company to future adverse judgment. It became easy to connect the company's unwillingness to resolve the engine failure by only recalling a portion of their utility vehicles. Jimmy's death could have been averted, and the company could have set the record straight through a public apology. However, considering only 4,500 vehicles recalled from the market, Jimmy's death later after a portion of the recall easily led to increased public anger made worse by an out of touch public apology.
Despite the fact that the public apology sounded genuine and concerned with the crisis faced by Kuga sports utility vehicles, it only made the situation worse as it exposed the company's insincere response to the crisis and the plight of sports utility vehicle. Not only did the apology set a dangerous precedent and further spoiled the company's reputation, but it raised public anger and negative attitude. The excuses, the seriousness behind the apology, and the commitment behind the apology failed to impress on the public. Jeff's simple set a negative response from the public making the situation worse, considering Tone2's online response to the apology.
As it is, it is tough to repair immediately the damage done to the company. It may take long to make things straight and gain public confidence in its product. However, the first strategy the company ought to make is to take responsibility for the cause of Jimmy's death irrespective of its cause. The company needs to provide compensation to the family, offer them some form of money and apology. The second course of action is to take full responsibility for the entire crisis and ask for forgiveness from the public and stakeholders. Additionally, it should take measures of reminding the public that the company has also had negative impacts of the crisis and give assurance of its unwavering commitment to do everything within its power to avert future disaster as concerns its failed vehicle. It should also go further by recalling all its vehicles in the market and undertake a market analysis on some of the best course of actions it ought to take. The above measures will go a long way in rebuilding and bolster the company profile and reputation while at the same time retaining the confidence customers have on its vehicles (Kriyantono 2012).
Compensation of Affected Customers
This is a conversational copy type of copywriting style and will maintain the style all through the blog post in response to the face book post by a client. Despite the failure and the negative publicity of the vehicle, Kuga needs to remind its customers of the good reputation the company has enjoyed over the years. The crisis was because of a technical error attributed to the engine failure in the SUV. According to Coombs crisis cluster, this is an accidental cluster (Coombs 2007, p. 164). The company has no desire to make his clients go at a loss under whatever circumstances, and it takes full responsibility to any acts of failure on the part of the manufacturer of the SUV. Over the years, since its establishment, the company has enjoyed an excellent reputation and production of good road reliable vehicles that have proved efficient and user-friendly. The company further maintains that like any other manufactured product, despite counterproof confidence of efficiency, the car may face or encounter a mechanical problem due to "human error." However, the company takes full responsibility on its part on such as scenario, and we commit to rectify and make necessary changes and modification to the vehicle in our future productions. The company looks forward to making changes to its current vehicle assembly, manufacturing, and outsourcing of some of its critical engineering services.
In line with this, any compensation or refund needed by a customer will undergo various considerations in which the company will weigh on all options available to ensure that the client is compensated by the state of the vehicle and the circumstances surrounding the perceived failure or inefficiency of the vehicle in question. Even though the issues raised by the customer whose mom had her car sent to the dealer for fixing and was only offered R240K, several factors would be considered and put into effect while considering compensation. The company has no desire to hoodwink its customers or make them go at a loss but will strive to ensure that they get their due value on the state of the vehicle. It is thus important for customers and any Kuga car owner to understand our policy on compensation and refunds. We appreciate our customer's effort to understanding the situation on the ground with our vehicle and assure them of absolute commitment to reaching out to them for an amicable settlement. Even though the company may not compensate a customer 100 percent initial value of the vehicle, it will give due consideration to providing fair and proper monetary compensation in addition to taking full responsibility for the course of action resulting in the failure. Customers need to understand the business situation of the company with the full understanding that a vehicle's value depreciates at a very high rate in the current market trend. However, the company will give due consideration to all compensations in line with its strategy to accepting responsibility for the vehicle's failure. The public is thus urged to adopt reservation and caution while working with external dealers and only engage the company's management on all issues about compensation.
Coombs, W.T., 2007. Protecting organization reputations during a crisis: The development and application of situational crisis communication theory. Corporate reputation review, 10(3), pp.163-176.
Greyser, S.A., 2009. Corporate brand reputation and brand crisis management. Management Decision, 47(4), pp.590-602.
Kriyantono, R., 2012. Measuring a company reputation in a crisis: An ethnography approach on the situational crisis communication theory. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 3(9).
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