Over the last few weeks, Ford Southern Africa CEO Jeff Nemeth and FNB CEO Jacques Celliers tried to contain the damage caused by problems with their products.
The motoring and banking industries are different, but the way Ford and FNB handled problems with their products was very similar.
Instead of immediately taking responsibility for the issues which occurred, they hid behind legalese and corporate speak – which left affected consumers feeling betrayed.
It was only after their clients fought back, and in the case of Ford when the National Consumer Commission got involved, that they changed their tact and acted in a customer-centric manner.
How the companies changed their tune from when the incidents happened, to when the affected clients fought back, is detailed below.
Ford Kuga debacle
In December 2015, Reshall Jimmy died when his Ford Kuga caught fire. Independent investigations led the family to believe a mechanical or electrical fault with the Kuga was to blame for the inferno.
Ford did not take responsibility for the incident and even after other Ford Kuga owners reported fires, the Kuga was not recalled.
Kuga owners whose vehicles caught alight said Ford refused to investigate the cause of the fires.
The South African police even accused Ford of deliberately obstructing detectives in their investigation into Jimmy’s death.
The issue hitting the mainstream media, after around 40 Ford Kuga vehicles caught fire, was still not enough for Ford to recall the cars.
It was only after the National Consumer Commission (NCC) got involved, following numerous complaints by consumers, that Ford decided to initiate a safety recall.
It took Ford over a year to issue a recall after the first Kugas caught fire, which placed owners in serious danger during this period.
However, when Nemeth discussed the problem in January 2017, he said the safety of their clients was a top priority.
This was a slap in the face to thousands of Kuga owners.
For a year, Ford allegedly dragged its feet and, according to the police, deliberately obstructed detectives in their investigation.
It took an intervention by the NCC to force Ford to recall the Kuga – after which it claimed it always put customers first and acted as swiftly as possible.
If the company really cared so much, why did it take independent investigations, a fightback from consumers, legal threats, media reports, and an NCC intervention before a recall was tabled?
FNB safety deposit box theft
In December, the safety deposit boxes of hundreds of FNB clients were stolen from the Parktown and Randburg FNB branches.
According to the victims, FNB took no responsibility for the incident – stating it was the responsibility of the victims to insure their goods.
The victims felt FNB was negligent and that the bank should take responsibility, as it did not deliver on its promise to keep their valuables safe.
Without a satisfactory response from FNB, the victims decided to fight back. They joined forces and hired investigators to find out what really happened.
They said they were considering legal action against FNB to be compensated for their losses.
In a Carte Blanche interview, the customers’ spokesperson Kelly Fraser said Celliers spoke to several clients and indicated that his feedback to them was less than helpful.
“Jacques [Cilliers] actually spoke to the people I have met in this group. They would have something to say about him,” she said.
Carte Blanche CCTV footage of one of the heists shows the robbers pulling the safe door open without much effort.
“They hit the jackpot,” said Carte Blanche.
After the issue hit the mainstream media and the victims launched an investigation and legal threat, FNB said it was helping affected customers.
FNB said impacted customers will be reimbursed for reasonable costs incurred for the replacement of marriage certificates, identity documents, birth certificates, and passports.
It said customers who submitted successful claims to their insurance companies would have their excess payment reimbursed.
“FNB will, despite not being legally obliged to do so, take a further step to help impacted customers by initiating settlement discussions with uninsured Randburg, Parktown, and Sunnypark customers who had their safety deposit boxes tampered with,” said FNB.
While these actions are commendable, it should not have taken independent investigations, legal threats, and reputation damage to force it to act.
Acting quickly and proactively
FNB and Ford can learn how to handle incidents which adversely affect their customers from South Africa’s telecoms industry.
When Telkom users were impacted by network problems last year, the company proactively gave its subscribers free data as an apology for the downtime.
Afrihost did the same when it gave its mobile data subscribers an additional 1GB of data for free as an apology for an MTN network outage.
What Ford and FNB must learn is that companies which act quickly and proactively in the interest of their customers when a problem occurs can avoid reputation damage.
Problems should be turned into opportunities to show customers that companies care – and not used as an exercise in avoiding responsibility.