Monday, April 7, 2008

Pulling A Head out of the Sand

By Ross Hendin, Hendin Consultants

There have been a number of posts on the ABCP Facebook forum, and questions being asked in he public domain about the few hundred note-holders who purchased ABCP through Credential, a credit-union in the West who have done an outstanding job at keeping their heads in the sand until now.

Essentially, Credential is a "national wealth management provider founded by the Canadian credit union system". They have a few contact numbers on their website but, from what I have been told by Murray Candlish and have seen from the press, they are not returning ABCP client calls, and are trying as hard as possible to do as little as they can.

One of their more high-profile clients, who will not be named on this blog specifically, was told by his Credential IA when he was making the investment that "if this investment fails, the whole financial system in Canada would probably fail." They have also not yet provided their noteholders with any information or support to help their clients through understanding the restructure or the voting process (this client requested both in writing and over the phone from them a few weeks ago). The following day, this client received an email that Credential was "monitoring the situation", and the day after that, when this client got in touch with their head office to request a list and contact details of Credential's Board, Credential's staff told him to get in touch with his IA for that - which wasn't possible for him because Credential actually blocked his email address within 2 days.

While the horrible behavior and optics of this situation are worthy of their own blog on what NOT to do with customers / crisis in any industry, I want to use this space to articulate a few finer points on what both the Credential clients and Credential themselves should consider, from both a Public Relations and general strategic perspective:

Credential clients, keep focusing on telling your stories and make sure you have a very clear ask for Credential to respond to. Asking questions in public may be the only way to get them heard by the seniors at the company. What is currently being considered in the relief plan? What, if anything, can Credential do today to better arm their clients before the vote? Why is the Board so difficult to find? Why would a company block a client's email address - what questions can they not afford to have asked?

Credential - at this point, there is nothing to gain either legally or optically from blocking clients' email addresses. What you should be concerned about now is trying to rebuild your reputation and it starts by doing the best job you can for your clients. After the dust settles in this mess, they are the ones that will have to forgive you. It does not matter if your clients are not internet users, or they will be irate when they find out that their money is frozen and there is a chance it will vanish... what matters is how to tell them, how you help them, and where you go from here. Your business, and the allience your business is in, is totally built on trust and the understanding that the Credit Unions and Co-ops are NOT Bay Street players, but are real people working hand-in-hand with the communities because you are all from the same place and on the same page. As this story starts to spread through those communities, that trust will vanish and will take a very long time (if ever) to rebuild. If your clients see you as worse than the people that wear suits to work in Toronto, your business could disappear. There are a number of case studies (Tylonol is one I refer to often) that show how putting your clients above all else keeps trust and is critical to rebuilding when the dust settles. I strongly urge you to call communications specialists and get your clients armed, informed and trusting you again as quickly as possible.

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