Toyota and Its Gas Pedal, Apple and Its Antenna, and Dell and Its Computers

The consumers are different and the products worlds apart but there is a common thread.  When the sudden acceleration issues with Toyota vehicles first emerged, the company hedged on a floor-mat cause, opted not to make disclosures and filings, and generally hoped the problem would just go away.  It did not, has still not, and the recent data concluding that drivers are to blame in some accidents should not result in oh-what-a-feeling there at Toyota. When Apple customers, emerging from the queues with their latest iPhone, began to complain that the phone antenna did not work as they held the phone a certain way, Apple gave a classic Henny Youngman one-liner in response, ‘Well, then, don’t hold it that way!”  Apple also hoped that the whole thing would just go away.  It did not, has not, and the ongoing explanations have not offered either reassurance or solutions. When Dell began to receive complaints about its computers failing from mathematicians at the University of Texas, Dell had a classic response, “Well, you have to quit doing so much math!” and hoped it would all go away.  It did not and has not.  Dell has finally reached a point of introspection and admission of fault.

 What do you learn from all three companies?

 1.  When a customer complains, do not attribute the problem the customer has found to the customer’s lack of skill or intelligence.

2. Regardless of your personal and company doubt, explore, explore, explore until you have done a root-cause analysis that makes sense and fits with the information customers have given to you.

3. Go public, go public, go public.  The irony about forthrightness by companies is that the more information they release, the less interested the media are.  When companies are honest and forthcoming, the media conclusion is,  “No story here.  Just a company telling the truth.”

4. If you have made a mistake, say you have made a mistake – early and often.

5.  Fix it.  The cost will be more than recovered through the goodwill you earn in the press as well as in those customers who began with a simple complaint.  This is a forgiving nation.  Dismissiveness, denial, and doctored data are the stuff of brand destruction.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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