The Power Report: Brand promises are risky if you’re not crisis-ready
by Megan Power (@Power_Report) Brand promises. I like them bold and unwavering, honest and no-nonsense. But, most of all, I like them kept — and, in an ideal world, that’s not too hard. But, for most businesses today, the environment is unpredictable, the potential risks growing and constantly changing. Too often the pacts that brands make with us are broken, with trust eroded. It’s why anticipating, and preparing, for potential worst-case scenarios before they hit is critical.
Ready vs management
It’s about being crisis-ready. Very different to crisis management, which involves mopping up after the horse has bolted. Many reputable businesses have crisis management plans — with designated people and protocols — in place. I suspect a great deal fewer are truly crisis-ready.
A retail CEO told me the other month that he didn’t think a dangerous product defect that affected a global brand a few years ago (with its damaging impact on reputation, revenue and stakeholder relationships) could have been anticipated. Of course, it could. A robust vulnerability audit of a product or service identifies all manner of hazard. A good starting point is preparing for the top five high-risk threats.
A crisis is dynamic and no amount of preparation leads to a perfect fix but, when your team is ready for the worst, having mapped out as many key scenarios as possible, with all the obstacles and resolutions thought through, things are less likely to spiral out of control. It’s got nothing to do with Plan B; this is Plan C and D territory. It’s about having the difficult discussions upfront, drawing up practical action plans and identifying resources — ahead of time. It’s about considering the full scope of your high-risk situations and examining all likely eventualities linked to them. It’s about doing everything possible to mitigate risk — and avoid upsetting customers.
Which is why what happened to NetFlorist, South Africa’s leading online florist and flower delivery site, on its busiest trading day of the year in February 2019, is surprising. NetFlorist promises on its site that “delivering flowers on time with NetFlorist is never a problem”. But it was indeed a very big problem for it and the thousands of customers it let down by failing to deliver Valentine’s Day flowers and gifts on the day of love, breaking hearts and promises across the country. Of the bouquets that were delivered on the day, many didn’t live up to expectation. Social media lit up in outrage and the brand took a hammering.
Phone calls and emails from customers querying the delays went unanswered after the sheer volume of enquiries overwhelmed NetFlorist’s systems. The retailer’s social media channels didn’t offer any immediate clarity, either. Weeks later, customers were complaining of refund delays, admin glitches, and poor communication. It seemed an inadequately prepared NetFlorist had been totally blindsided.
Heartfelt mea culpa
In a heartfelt mea culpa the day after Valentine’s, MD Ryan Bacher posted a video message on You Tube saying the company has been “hit with a horrible combination of severe rain and loadshedding”.
But it’s what he said about his company’s preparation for the big day — a day with reportedly 15 times the orders of any other day — that was most revealing: “We spent the whole year planning with our teams and our growers to make sure we deliver on time… We felt prepared for our deliveries yesterday …” Bacher says in the video. He then concedes: “We weren’t prepared for this; we should have been. It’s our fault and as a result we let down our customers and their loved ones.”
Here’s a company that claims to have spent a year planning for Valentine’s Day but yet admits to its customers it wasn’t prepared? How does that happen? Is adverse weather and loadshedding really not a foreseeable issue? Besides, there was reportedly no rain in Durban or Cape Town or Limpopo where some customers also got stood up.
As for loadshedding, it’s a major risk to be factored into any preparation. As I type this, we’re into day four of rolling blackouts throughout the country. It’s simply not business as usual. A NetFlorist tweet in the days leading up to the Valentine’s disaster would suggest power cuts were certainly on the retailer’s radar at the time: “Not sure what @Eskom_SA has planned, but we’ve predicted #Stage3 clothes shedding on Valentine’s Day! And another: “Don’t let loadshedding put out the spark this Valentine’s Day! Visit our fiery range for some unforgettable gift options #Eskom #Stage3.” Talk about tweets not ageing well.
Commenting on the delivery bungle, Bacher was quoted in a media report as saying, “I don’t know how we can plan for conditions like those in future, but we have to find a way.”
Indeed, it does. Besides, it’s not as if Bacher and his team are newbies to Valentine’s Day delivery drama. It’s happened before. In 2014, after NetFlorist left at least 500 customers crying on Valentine’s Day (it wasn’t all roses in 2013 either), I interviewed Bacher for the Sunday Times. In the article, “Where have all the flowers gone?”, he gave various reasons for that year’s shambles. They included a driver going AWOL with 27 orders, server problems, an entire batch of roses being sub-standard, and only 20 of 120 temporary drivers hired for the day turning up. Sweltering heat meant the flowers that were delivered were wilted and chocolates melted. Also, it had been a Friday, Bacher told me, and people had left offices early before deliveries could be made.
Just two weeks after its most-recent, and seemingly its worst, Valentine’s Day (a day that ironically coincided with the retailer’s 20th birthday) someone tweeted: “Is it safe to use Netflorist again?”
NetFlorist shot back: “100% safe.”
Perhaps the disclaimer “As long as it’s not February 14” would have been more honest.
Megan Power (@Power_Report) has nearly 30 years’ experience working in South African media, including investigative journalism and news editing; she now runs Power LAB, a strategic communications and customer experience agency focusing on customer journey audits, crisis readiness and brand reputation. Megan’s consumer column, The Power Report, ran weekly in the Sunday Times for six years and has now found a new home on MarkLives.
— One subscription form, three newsletters: sign up now for the MarkLives newsletter, including Ramify headlines; The Interlocker, our new monthly comms-focused mailer; and Brands & Branding, launching soon!