Companies in Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean are known for not communicating problems to customers. Because the competition, especially in areas such as banking and utilities, is nonexistent or limited rather than multiple choice, companies sometimes decide not to report problems to customers, hoping that there will not be too many complaints or that the complaints will not reach the mass media.
This is not a customer service problem; this is a public relations problem. Public relations is about the relationship you have with your stakeholders. A stakeholder is a person or an institution with a stake in the business, whether that is an equity stake like a shareholder, a contractual stake like an employee or an emotional stake like a customer. The more important the stakeholder is to your business, the better the relationship you want to have. Your most important stakeholders are those who, at any given time, can cause your operations to cease. Sometimes employees do not think of individual customers in this way, but any one of your customers can throw your organisation into a communications nightmare.
You are a bank; your debit cards are offline, or your company has been hacked, and persons’ private details have been stolen. At what point, then, do you inform customers that there is a problem? The automatic thought is immediately, but the instincts of some people running the business are, unfortunately, not to protect the customers but to protect themselves and their jobs. The higher the value of your organisation, the more critical it is to have a strategy in place should mishaps happen.
Every good communications team has templated responses ready to customise and distribute for a whole host of crisis scenarios. Although the communications personnel take the blame when information is not shared, they are often crippled by legal departments and financial managers who interpret communicating that something is wrong as accepting responsibility and liability. The real question is, what is the cost to the company’s reputation? That is the price companies pay for hiding information from customers. A tarnished reputation is very hard to salvage. Unfortunately, in the Caribbean, although companies may have a bad reputation for hiding information or even misleading the customer, there is sometimes nowhere else for the customer to turn.
However, lack of competition does not mean that our companies should not strive for a higher standard of conduct and good customer relations because should another player enter the market, these factors would help to retain loyal customers. As a best practice, companies should strive to have a transparent public relations strategy—one that communicates both good and difficult information to the customer. Customers are people who understand that crises happen; they do not understand companies that try to hide problems that impact them directly.
Dr. Pamala Proverbs, is the managing director of PRMR Public Relations Consultants Inc.