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Where's the pain?

VW tries to win back trust

VwSometime this week, Volkswagen will announce a giveback to customers stung by its manipulation of emission data on its diesel-powered cars.

Affected owners will get two prepaid debit cards, one they can use anywhere, the other at a VW dealership. The cards will reportedly be worth $500 each. Plus, the company will add three years of free roadside assistance. And there will be no strings attached. Customers who accept the cards will still be free to join the inevitable class action law suits that will emerge.

It's all part of a plan to regain public trust.

I dealt with a lot of crises when I was at AT&T (though thankfully none that involved corporate larceny). And I learned the importance of (1) accepting responsibility for the problem, (2) apologizing for it, (3) fixing it, and (4) giving something back. 

Volkswagen is apparently working its way through all those steps.   

I credit my former boss, Marilyn Laurie, for point 4.  She realized that trust had emotional as well as rational elements. When a problem grew to crisis proportions, it was not always due to the size or even the notoriety of the problem.

What makes a problem a crisis is the level of betrayal involved. That's largely an emotional issue that can't be addressed with facts, figures, and engineering diagrams. Trust is not only what people think of you, it's how they feel about you.

When AT&T's telephone network went down for several hours, we immediately took responsibility, apologized publicly, fixed it quickly, and then gave our customers discounted calling on Valentine's Day. That last bit was Marilyn's idea and it became part of our response to any major crisis.

Note: Sometimes "giving back" means publicly punishing those responsible, especially if they knew what they were doing was wrong. Before this is over, Volkswagen will have to do some of that too.





Great post. This scandal is hard for those of us who grew up with the brand. They were our beloved first cars; their ads made us dream to be copywriters; those flower painted busses became the era's icons. And it wasn't like they were good cars, or good-looking cars, or even safe cars (mine rolled over on 95). But they were cheap, cool and always started up. They were our generation's "coming of age" cars, and they'll never be another's.

-- Shelley Spector, owner of a red, '65 bug bought in 1973 for $250. After rolling over twice on 95 in E. Greenwich, RI, it started right up.

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