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Effective communication of a product recall

Last updated 16:00 31/10/2013
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ANNOUNCE EARLY: First inform journalists and the media, and then the general public.

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For many organisations, having to recall a significant amount of product is an absolute worst case scenario. However, a number of recent incidents - such as the Fonterra product scare - have highlighted the fact that product recalls are sometimes necessary, even among the most established and respected businesses.

Obviously, the best approach to limiting the impact of a product recall is to commit to ensuring such a measure is never necessary, by investing heavily in health and safety testing before sending products to market.

However, it is also important to acknowledge the possibility of a product recall and put in place strategies for ensuring that any potentially dangerous goods can be taken out of stores and consumers' homes as quickly and as safely as possible.

With that in mind, here are three tips for handling communication with both the media and the public during a product recall.

Announce your recall early

In September 2011, Healthworks Collective reported on a special meeting hosted by the Marketing and Communications Committee of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council into best practice product recall techniques in the healthcare industry.

At the meeting, experts suggested that organisations break the news about product recalls early, first by informing journalists and the media, and then the general public.

The experts on the panel noted that informing journalists about the recall at an early stage can help to build up the trust and credibility of your organisation. It can also ensure that reporters are fully briefed and educated, which can help prevent misinformation from spreading.  

You also want to take the time to inform your internal staff members about the recall. They will likely be concerned, and providing them with essential information will help ensure that everyone in the organisation continues moving toward the same objective.

Use social media to spread the word

Social media is having a significant effect on the world of product recalls. In 2012, Consumer NZ editor-in-chief David Naulls explained to Stuff.co.nz that the rise of platforms such as Twitter and Facebook would likely lead to more businesses issuing voluntary product recall notices in the future.

According to David Naulls, it is "impossible to order a product recall", except in special circumstances. Instead, most product recalls occur because consumers use social media to inform other customers about potentially dangerous products.

It's important to realise that social media can also be an asset for organisations during a product recall. You can use social media platforms to spread the word about product recalls and deliver essential information that might otherwise not have been communicated.

Writing for Mashable in 2011, Levick Strategic Communications Senior Digital Strategist Patrick Kerley encouraged businesses to "contribute to the conversation" during a product recall.

"Content gets buried quickly on social media. Make sure that you repost and update often enough to keep your messages up top and easily within view of the people who need to access them," wrote Mr Kerley.

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Communicate your reverse logistics strategies

Reverse logistics play an important role during product recalls, allowing you to get product out of circulation and into a safe area as quickly as possible. However, merely having reverse logistics strategies is not enough - you also have to communicate these strategies to consumers.

Let your customers know what they need to do in order to return affected products. Do they need to organise for the goods to be shipped themselves? Can they simply return them to the place of purchase? Alternatively, if it is not cost effective to physically recall the item, you might suggest consumers dispose of the product in exchange for a full refund.

Making this information clear will help to eradicate confusion and ensure that everyone understands the role they need to take to make the product recall process as seamless as possible.  

If you need further assistance in managing and coordinating your returns process, get in touch with New Zealand Post's Globalist Logistics team. They can help you design and implement a comprehensive reverse logistics strategy. Find out more at nzpost.co.nz/global.

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