GM’s Recall Response and The Court of Public Opinion

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    Meeting legal obligations doesn’t win you any favors in the court of public opinion

    Auto recalls have been big news over the past couple of years. One of the most serious came as a result of General Motors ignition switch issues, which have reportedly caused more than 50 deaths over the whopping 11 years the issue went unaddressed. GM’s recall response, however, isn’t coming anywhere near living up to the degree of the crisis.

    Instead of handling claims in a way that demonstrated compassion and personal care, GM outsourced victims’ claims to a dispute-resolution attorney, a move many see as a way to create distance between the brand and the fallout from an insanely callous business practice that cost many their lives. Not only that but reports state as many as 3,000 of the just-over 4,000 claims submitted have been thrown out by this attorney, some for reasons as outrageous as the fact that the person killed was a passenger in the car and not the owner/driver. Of course, in any case like this, there are false claims submitted, but public sentiment and statements from the family of victims clearly show the process is causing more problems than it solves as far as GM’s reputation goes.

    Even worse, despite begging from U.S. lawmakers, GM closed claim submissions on January 31.

    We can’t speak to GM’s intent, but what this looks like to the public is a massive company trying to avoid as much damage as possible. Remember, you can be as technically correct as you want, but the court of public opinion judges on feeling and perception, not merely a fact.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is vice president for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]

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