24 November 2020

Taking responsibility when managing issues still matters

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Paul Hemsley, Network Associate / paul.hemsley@phpr.co.nz

As someone who has built a career helping companies manage issues, large and small, I have become amused, nay concerned, about how adept some individuals and companies are becoming in minimising or avoiding responsibility when things go wrong.

I was reminded of this recently by the issue meal-kit company Hello Fresh had with the illness of 20 or so of its customers caused by scombroid poisoning.

These customers became sick, some badly enough to go to hospital, after consuming Hello Fresh-branded trevally with high levels of histamine.

As expected the company “sincerely apologised for the impact of the recall”, although the real issue was for those whose produce could not be recalled; and to be fair we do not know how the business dealt with them, if at all. We do know that it said it would give customers who ordered that product a $20 refund, something that rightly drew the ire of Consumer NZ as “the minimum the company could do”. From my experience, it was well below the minimum.

For me, perhaps that company’s most surprising statement was “…no faults have been found in its operations…” followed by “All fish from the supplier who provided the trevally had been removed from Hello Fresh’s upcoming menu”. 

Issues like customer poisonings are an opportunity to strengthen the brand, and I must question whether, in this respect, this company has made the most of this challenging experience.

In pushing its supplier under the bus, Hello Fresh was effectively intent on assuring customers the issue had nothing to do with it. Unwittingly it highlighted its role as an aggregator of meal ingredients and not a true brand.

To its credit, however, it did not fall back on the classic statement used by our own Prime Minister earlier in the year when one of the country’s critical frontline COVID-19 responses was found wanting: “…it did not meet our expectations”. THAT was about as far from taking responsibility as you can get. Is this what has emboldened others to minimise or excuse responsibility?