© 2007 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 15,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
Editor's Note: It's my experience that companies who put customers first invariably experience fewer crises and, when crises occur, survive them much better than companies focused much more on the bottom line. Former investment manager James P. Owen has written "Cowboy Ethics," a book which answers the whimsical questions, "imagine what could happen if Wall Street firms, and businesses in general, looked back to a simpler time when a handshake was enough to seal a deal, and right and wrong were as clear as black and white. What if executives, analysts, managers and sales staff decided that some things arenŐt for sale? What if every major business in the country agreed to live by the principle that the client always comes first?" In this book, Jim Owen discusses "The Code of the West," which I'm pleased to bring to you. Pass it on!
The Code Of The West
By James P.Owen
1. Live each day with courage
2. Take pride in your work
3. Always finish what you start
4. Do what has to be done
5. Be tough, but fair
6. When you make a promise, keep it
7. Ride for the brand
8. Talk less and say more
9. Remember that some things arenŐt for sale
10. Know where to draw the line
Used and reprinted with permission of James P. Owen, copyright 2004. "Cowboy Ethics" is available at Amazon.com and other major resellers.
Editor's Note: And now an example of a company who clearly hasn't read "Cowboy Ethics," brought to you by returning guest author Steve Stern.
Vonage: A Brief Study In How To Lose Customers
By Steve Stern
The following is as classic an example as there is of how not handle crisis communications and the perils of using form letters in a crisis situation:
In June, 2006 Vonage issued a news release with the following quote:
As a leading developer of VoIP technology, Vonage respects the valid intellectual property rights of others. Vonage believes that its services have been developed with its own proprietary technology and technology licensed from third parties and intends to vigorously defend the lawsuit. Vonage has not previously been notified by Verizon regarding the seven patents identified in the lawsuit and has engaged its outside intellectual property counsel to investigate the matter.
As a Vonage customer, we received no personal communication on the matter, nor did we see any reference to it on the Vonage Customer website. It was, however, posted on the Vonage corporate site, a venue most customers rarely visit, as the Customer site, known as the "Dashboard" provides the tools for managing accounts.
March 9, 2007 (New York Times)
A federal court yesterday ordered the Vonage Holdings Corporation, the Internet phone provider, to pay $58 million for infringing Verizon's patents, dealing a blow to a company already showing signs of stress. Vonage, based in Holmdel, N.J., said yesterday that it would appeal the decision, and vowed that the situation would not affect the service it offers. "Of the seven patents Verizon originally sued on, they prevailed on only three and we expect that verdict to be reversed on appeal," Vonage said in a statement.
March 24, 2007 (New York Times)
A federal judge said yesterday that he would order Vonage Holdings, the Internet-based telephone service, to stop using technologies patented by Verizon Communications.
The decision, which could force Vonage to close or to install new systems, follows a jury decision this month that awarded Verizon $58 million and monthly royalties.
But the judge agreed to postpone the effective date of the injunction for two weeks while he considers a request by Vonage for a stay pending what could be a lengthy appeal.
When we read that the loss of this technology could place Vonage customers in a position where they could only communicate via phone with other Vonage customers, our concerns about viability were raised considerably, especially since there had been no communication from Vonage to customers on the matter.
As Stern And Company is a crisis communications firm, we thought we ought to start some contingency planning and as Vonage had not been at all proactive in reassuring us that service would remain in a "business as usual" mode, we contacted the company via email:
We've been Vonage customers for three years and have been pleased with the service. However, the apparent outcome of the Verizon litigation has made us rather uncomfortable to say the least. We are quite concern about the continuance of service. Please discuss with us the steps you are taking to continue service without interruption and the redundancy systems you have in place to effect that continuance.
Thank you for your interest in the Verizon lawsuit. Please be re-assured, you should not expect any changes to your phone service.
Vonage is confident we will continue to supply you with outstanding phone service and customer support at all times as we vigorously defend your right for a better phone service.
We know you depend on your phone service and you can continue to rely on Vonage.
We also would like to thank you for being a Vonage customer and we re happy you've chosen us as your home phone service provider. We are committed to you and look forward to providing you with excellent phone service for many years to come.
For more information, please visit: http://pr.vonage.com/press.cfm
We hope this answers your inquiry.
If you have any questions now or in the future Vonage Customer Care is eager to assist you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Please visit our help center at http://www.vonage.com/help.php or send us an email from our Contact Us page at http://www.vonage.com/help_contactUs.php. You can also call us Toll Free at: 1-VONAGE- HELP (1-866-243-4357).
Apparently Vonage's crisis communicators want customers to take it on faith alone that service will continue. We responded:
Thank you for your communication, but this doesn't explain what Vonage is actually doing to continue its service. Would you please explain in some detail.
Thank you for your interest in the Verizon lawsuit. We understand you would like to know if Vonage is going out of business.
No. We are confident this litigation will not impact on our ability to serve you or any of our Customers. There are many options available to us and we are prepared to implement them as necessary.
We hope this answers your inquiry.
Clearly these responses are unsatisfactory from a customer point of view. Moreover, Vonage has not yet posted news on its customer website, nor taken the time to be proactive in discussions with its customers. (Stern And Company is in the process of switching service providers.)
Crisis Communications requires experience, thought and strategy if a company is to survive with its customer and other constituencies intact.
Steve Stern is president of Stern And Company, a Las Vegas public relations firm that develops and implements strategic and highly defined corporate communications programs for its clients. Website: www.sdsternpr.com. Blog: www.asternglance.com. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
CRISIS MANAGER BUSINESS ANNOUNCEMENTS
Keeping The Wolves At Bay 3.0 Reviewed
"Keeping the Wolves at Bay" is much more than another media training guide - it is perhaps one of the most concise, insightful, useful and savvy guides to strategic thinking about reputation issues available.
Founder & CEO of PIER System and host of Crisisblogger.com
I deal with the media everyday, yet I was still able to finish with a number of practical take-aways that will help me in my business. I wish I had written "Keeping the Wolves at Bay!"
Richard S. Levick, Esq.
Levick Strategic Communications, LLC
Co-Author (w/Larry Smith): Stop the Presses: The Litigation PR Desk Reference
It's like a Swiss Army knife -- lots of cool tools in a compact package. In case of emergency, grab this.
Steven R. Van Hook, PhD
Publisher, About Public Relations
The spiral-bound print manual is available for $25, the PDF version for $10. Both can be ordered at www.thecrisismanager.com.
Version 2.0 of the spiral-bound manual has, while supplies last, been marked down to $20 for all purchasers.
Disaster Prep 101
Bernstein Crisis Management is pleased to present one of the most comprehensive and user-friendly family preparedness texts available today. "Disaster Prep 101." by Paul Purcell, goes above and beyond the simplistic "72-hour kit" concept and provides simple, yet detailed educational material that will drastically improve the ability of any family to respond to all manner of disasters or emergencies. This preparedness package contains over 400 pages of well-organized, original preparedness material written in an easy-to-understand, non-panic format; 80 pages of family data forms and worksheets (many of which are also useful to the employer); and a 2-CD set containing two interactive and searchable links collections for additional educational sources; all the family data forms and worksheets in softcopy format; and a complete emergency reference library of over 450 additional books and training manuals! US$59.95. Available here.
PLAIN ENGLISH DISCLOSURE
Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. has formal or informal co-promotional and mutually beneficial business associations with a number of the services we mention periodically in this newsletter. No, we can't go into details because that's confidential, proprietary, etc. But our relationship is NOT "arm's distance" and you should know that, since we regularly write about these services as we use them for crisis and issues management or other purposes. That said, you should also know that Bernstein Crisis Management sought the relationships because its staff is convinced that these services are the best of their kind for Bernstein Crisis Management's needs and those of its clients. If you have any questions about these relationships, please contact Jonathan Bernstein, (626) 825-3838.
ABOUT THE EDITOR & PUBLISHER
Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com, a national crisis management public relations agency providing 24/7 access to crisis response professionals. The agency engages in the full spectrum of crisis management services: crisis prevention, response, planning & training. He has been in the public relations field since 1982, following five-year stints in both military intelligence and investigative reporting. Write to email@example.com.
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