Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sigg's Bottle Full of Troubled Water Pt. 2

Working our way through the four phases of a crisis, I wrote last about the Warning Phase and the multiple warnings ignored by reusable water bottle maker Sigg regarding the chemical BPA (Bisphenol A) in the liner of its pricey water bottles. In this post, I will look at the Acute Phase of the crisis.

The Acute Phase is when the fire is burning or the story breaks about an issue. Sigg set off the Acute Phase with a letter from its CEO on its Website announcing that Sigg reusable water bottles manufactured before August 2008 were made with a liner containing BPA. The announcement came three years after Sigg knew of BPA in its liner, and after years of reassuring customers that its product was "100% safe". Sigg never said their liners were BPA free, but they never corrected the perception many customers had that "eco-friendly" meant BPA free.

All news is about how an event or issue impacts people. The headlines from traditional news sites and blogs let you know exactly how people felt about Sigg's admission.

Sigg gets points for making the announcement, but not many. They had known for more than three years about BPA in their liner but told no one until they were ready to roll out their new BPA-free liner. Sigg offered to exchange the old bottles for new ones, but only if customers paid for shipping. Here's what Sigg's CEO told Simran Sethi from the Huffington Post.
"We don't believe this is a recall but we know there are some consumers out there that are concerned. If we pay for this we'll get people who aren't concerned - which is about 9 out of 10 people - sending back bottles they bought three years ago that have dents in them." -Steve Wasik, CEO, Sigg
So the company that many people feel duped them into buying its product can't spring for shipping because it is afraid of being taken advantage of.

That's what we writers like to call irony.

I guess when you've been taking advantage of people for years you expect people will take advantage of you.

The only thing that could be worse would be if Sigg replaced the returned bottles with one that included an image of Wasik flipping his customers the bird.

The torrent of customer anger led to another apology letter from Sigg CEO Steve Wasik.
"After reading and responding to hundreds of emails and viewing nearly as many blog & Twitter posts, I realize that my first letter may have missed the mark. What I should have said simply and loudly to all of our loyal SIGG fans is: I am sorry that we did not make our communications on the original SIGG liner more clear from the very beginning."
It took the crisis to get to the Acute Phase for Sigg to have an acute attack of the obvious.

Two key points to get through the Acute Phase of a crisis with as much of your reputation in tact as possible:

1) Make sure your actions match your words.
Sigg made its money playing to people's eco-fears. It is not surprising people get hostile when they feel duped.

2) Never lose your temper.
This screen capture of the former Sigg Facebook Page (since taken down) highlights the contempt some people at Sigg had for people making "all the fuss"
The "we-suck-just-as-much-as-other-people" tactic really doesn't work here.

I will focus on the Chronic Phase of this crisis in my next post. But before leaving the Acute Phase, I want to give a hat tip to the consumer advocacy blog Z Recommends. They put it perfectly when they posted:
Transparency is a value, not a strategy.

Bill Salvin

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