Thursday, June 24, 2010

Investments in Good Will Eventually Pay Dividends

I recall, after a major chemical spill at my company, an environmental reporter went door to door to find some dirt that would balance his article. He told me later he couldn't find a single neighbor who had anything critical to say about our chemical plant. Therein lies the value of investing in community relations.

Giant Eagle, a supermarket chain based in Pittsburgh, apparently has had similar success. "The online site Wallet Pop ranked Giant Eagle among the top 5 least favorite grocery stores, according to a report by WPXI last week. ( Complaints from the survey stated that Giant Eagle's prices were high, sales weren't always recognized at the checkout, produce wasn't always fresh, and the quality of the meat was questioned.
A union group attempting to organize workers seized on the opportunity to its own advantage. "Representatives from the UFCW said the group is charging the company with squelching workers' right to free speech and threatening employees if they wear member stickers or talk about their contract. 'We should not lose our constitutional protections the minute we clock in,' said Derek Watson, an employee of Giant Eagle and union member. 'They are trying to take away our rights like they own us and that is not only unfair, it's not legal.'" The company accused union organizers of harassing customers after the release of the negative survey results.

At the Institute for Crisis Management, we regularly run into business leaders who claim, "No crisis will ever happen on my watch." Bull-oney! No CEO could prevent the release of negative survey results or mud slinging by union organizers. However, last week's negative news about Giant Eagle bounced off the company's back because of the good work it had invested to satisfy its customers. Even though the on-line survey was critical of the supermarket, when a reporter went looking for unhappy customers, she didn't find any because of the way the company treated its real customers. It could have been easy to find customers willing to bad-mouth Giant Eagle. Instead, all the TV station could find was happy customers glad to speak positively about the grocer.

"'I'm very shocked because it's great, very good to kids. Everything's great.'"

"'Their bakery is wonderful. I've gotten cakes from there for school, for my family. It's a wonderful place.'"

"'It's a real good grocery store. I'm in the grocery business as a salesman. It's one of the best.'"

"'Other stores in this area don't have as much natural food and organic food as Giant Eagle.'"

Giant Eagle issued a statement that claimed its own surveys showed favorable comments from its customers. People in the store backed that claim.

What would your customers and other stakeholders say about your organization? If you said you enjoyed a positive reputation, would your stakeholders back you up, as customers did for Giant Eagle? It's important to make regular deposits into your bank account of good will. If you fail to deposit enough into your account, there will be nothing there to withdraw when someone has negative things to say about your organization.

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