Last month, I wrote about this new era of immediacy in which we live. A condition of this era is that we must constantly be listening to learn and listening to respond – every single day. This listening is complementary to the other marketing we do, it doesn’t replace it, and it requires lots of “new” things – training, processes, skills, mediums and content. I also talked about the best way to request these new resources when planning, one of them being relevant examples. So that’s the purpose of this blog: to highlight an example of how this listening and responding is mandatory, not just nice-to-have. The example is Chobani Greek Yogurt and it demonstrates how, in this era, the difference of just a few days can determine whether your enthusiasts will support you or turn on you. In this case, it resulted in what has been described as the first “crowdsourced recall.”
On August 22, 2013, some Facebook posts started appearing on Chobani’s wall regarding the quality of the company’s yogurt, describing swelling packages or odd-tasting products. Truth be told, it probably wasn’t the first time a product complaint had been posted, and the company’s response was what you would expect from any company lauded for its customer service and engagement: empathetic, professional and offering to replace the product. But for all intents and purposes, it was probably seen by the company as just another isolated product complaint that was quickly resolved.
By August 28, however, it was clear there were more than a few isolated incidents. An increasing number of Facebook posts were accurately describing the bloated lids and “fizzy” texture of the product, and tweets on the topic were also increasing in frequency. Up to this time no news outlets had commented on the issue, so Chobani’s response on social media remained consistent – polite, empathetic and always requesting more information. I am of the opinion that this was the inflection point in the storyline. By this time Chobani knew there was an issue and as a result had quietly been pulling affected product off shelves. And I don’t think this was devious on their part, I honestly think they felt they could quickly and easily address the issue without having to make a big deal out of it. Case closed. But that’s what is different in this new era. There is no case closed, and you have to address issues quickly and openly. I believe if they had been more open and transparent at this stage, the rest of the story may have been very different.
On September 1, John Sowell, a reporter at the Idaho Statesman, broke a story about the removal of Chobani yogurt from store shelves, pointing out the company would not call the removal a “recall.”
“Chobani says the removal of its yogurt from retail stores does not involve a food safety problem. In a blog entry posted Saturday on the company’s website, Chobani says it discovered a problem that causes its yogurt ‘to go bad before its time.’ ”
Within days of that story, the company would reveal they were in discussions with the FDA and on September 4 officially announced a recall, replacing any claimed product with no receipt and publishing sincere, pervasive communication about the problem.
Chart and timeline courtesy of www.jusido.com
You might be asking, “What’s wrong with that? Sounds like a pretty quick response.” And true, at first glance, it is hard to critique the company for how long it took them to respond. Within ten days of the first complaints, the company was removing all product from the affected lot off the shelves and replacing previously-purchased product sight unseen. Ten years ago this would have been a case study in effective crisis management. Instead, the company has faced a firestorm from their most loyal fans, their enthusiasts. Why? Because within days of the first complaints, everyone could see this was an issue.
Up until the actual recall, the company’s communication appeared to deny or deflect anything was wrong. From their blog during the days before the recall:
“When we heard quality concerns surrounding certain cups, we thoroughly investigated and proactively decided to replace product on shelves across the country. We were able to isolate the issue and determine it is one of quality, causing product to go bad before its time, not one of food safety…”
Yet an examination of the tweets and Facebook posts from August 22 (the first Facebook posts) to September 1 (Statesman story) reveal there was a groundswell of concern and complaints about the yogurt by people who loved Chobani’s products. It had to be abundantly clear to Chobani that there was a problem (because it was to everyone else), and to the company’s enthusiasts it had to be disheartening to only see polite, careful but almost dismissive responses. The result was that their voices grew louder and louder until the company issued a voluntary recall on September 4, from all appearances, because of their customers.
Someone at Chobani saw the light, because since the recall their response has been, in my opinion, remarkable. They’ve clearly explained what happened, continued to replace any product sight unseen and consistently responded to social media commentary in a respectful, caring way – the way their customers expected them to respond in the first place. While I’m sure their third quarter results will reflect this imbroglio, I think they’ll be fine because of what they’ve done since then. But let this serve as an important lesson to the rest of us: If there is even a small problem or issue with your brand, don’t think it’s going to just blow over or that nobody will notice. All it takes is one person to start a movement, and if they happen to be one of your enthusiasts, I can guarantee you’ll have to deal with it at some point. Might as well be sooner than later.