08/01/2019

Be Known for Good – Even when Something Bad Happens

Managing The Lizard Scare

For the popular Irvins salted egg fish skin snack, 2019 started with a bang, after a customer found a deep fried lizard in her pack. Irvins’ co-founder Irvin Gunawan reacted to this unfortunate incident speedily. He apologized for the frightful mistake, offered to pay for any medical costs incurred by the customer. The company also offered refunds for any customer who bought the batch of fish skin snacks that expired on Oct 16, 2019, reported the matter to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), and promised further investigations into how the incident could have happened and literally close the gaps.

Mr Gunawan and his company responded to the crisis swiftly and handled it well. From the responses on their Facebook page, the majority of the people thought so too (watch how they did it).

In the pre-internet, pre-social media days, this slip-up should have ended around this point, with perhaps some aggressive advertising and promotions to regain customer confidence. But the digital world we have today is an unforgiving one. Months from now, this incident will still pop up whenever you Google “Irvins Salted Egg”. I think this is unfair to the company because I believe they will rectify and close the gaps to prevent a recurrence. What can you do in a situation like this?

Managing Your Reputation

This is where a professional, carefully planned and executed response is critical, and we are looking at the management of reputation. A good business comes from a comprehensive and holistic loop which include solid business practices, good marketing, constant customer engagement, timely and swift incident or crisis management, regular monitoring of customer feedback. And very importantly, to put all that out there so that your clients, associates and partners know that that’s your company culture.

The Venerable Poh Chai pills

The Irvins case reminded me of the familiar family remedy, Poh Chai pills. Search “Poh Chai pills” on Google Singapore and among the top stories you will see is a clarification by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) that the medication complies with Singapore’s regulations and are safe. The report by the Strait Times also pointed out that a video that resurfaced in 2017 was an old clip from 7 years earlier. For the venerable brand dating back to 1896, Poh Chai pills was certainly keen to protect its good name, especially when “a survey showed that 97 per cent of consumers in Hong Kong were familiar with the brand, along with 96 per cent of consumers in Singapore and 89 per cent in Macau”, said the South China Morning Post. The Hong Kong daily also pointed to the need for a quick and timely response in a crisis.

“In 2010, internal company tests revealed some pills were contaminated with chemicals that can raise blood pressure and cause cancer. The products were recalled, but Li Chung Shing Tong failed to tell the Department of Health, which led to sales of the pills being temporarily banned.

The episode made it clear that the company needed to be more stringent. ‘We have upgraded the standard of manufacturing as well as the stringency of quality control,’ Sum says. “We needed to put in quite a lot of resources to make it happen’ (read full article).”

Sum refers to Mr Derek Sum, Chairman and CEO of Jacobson Pharma, which bought over Li Chung Shing Tong, manufacturer of Poh Chai pills the same year.

Reputation Transcends Different Dimensions

The two incidents here show that strategic communications play a critical role in today’s business environment, especially in crisis situations. A fragmented knee-jerk response that is not properly thought-through could lead to severe consequences.

Just before Christmas, my 81-year-old mother had asked if we had any Poh Chai pills at home. She had a slight tummy upset and she was looking for her familiar remedy. She also asked if the pills are safe because she remembered the scare, which was reported in the evening dailies. So, while Poh Chai pills subsequently rectified the issues, the scare had left a negative impression with some of their old customers.

Building a Long-term Partnership

For many businesses, strategic communications is not high priority, until a crisis hits. Amidst the chaos, many managers are confused, shocked, and possibly angry. It does not help that corporate communications may be handled by someone as a secondary job. It is understandable that small or medium businesses may not have the capacity for a full-time, in-house specialist. In situations like this, it is best to call in the professionals. When you have a fire that you can’t control, call the fire service. It takes time to make a brand name, and it takes sustained effort to grow it. You put in a lot of time and energy to grow your business and you want to keep it in good shape. Partnering with an established company like beknown allows us to understand your business and know your team. We can work together so that your brand name is be known for good.

[by Danny Lee, Associate Director]

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