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Ford, WPP and Kidnapping: A Cautionary Tale

5 Apr

You trust your employees, right? They’re smart and work hard, otherwise you wouldn’t have hired them. Maybe you can let yourself slip. Go on sabbatical. Finally road trip to that house shaped like an elephant.

I bet that’s what Alan Mullaly thought. The Ford Company runs like a well-oiled machine! A Toyota, for example. It can take care of itself for a while. But then, as good ol’ Alan is staring out of a window in Dumbo’s ear canal, he gets a text message. It’s just a picture.

Ford ad


elephant house

Not as cool as the elephant shaped like a house.

If you need an explanation (though why would you?), that’s former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the front seat, giddily flashing a peace sign after kidnapping three prostitutes. Just to remind you, THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT FOR THE FORD MOTOR COMPANY. Alan Mullaly is no longer quite so happy to be visiting an elephant in Margate, NJ.

In the words of America’s greatest showman: But wait! There’s more!

Another version shows Paris Hilton ­similarly kidnapping a trio of Kardashians, while a third (tame in terms of the clothing at least), has Michael Schumacher toting Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, and Lewis Hamilton.

Apparently, advertising firm WPP created these posters to promote the Ford Figo – a car available exclusively in India – and its extravagant trunk space (not as much trunk space as the elephant house, though).

Following the poster’s appearance on website Ads of the World, WPP released a regretful statement to the Huffington Post:

“We deeply regret the publishing of posters that were distasteful and contrary to the standards of professionalism and decency within WPP Group,” the statement said. “These were never intended for paid publication and should never have been created, let alone uploaded to the internet. This was the result of individuals acting without proper oversight and appropriate actions have been taken within the agency where they work to deal with the situation.”

The key there? “Individuals acting without proper oversight.” If you’re running a business, you have to be able to accept that people make mistakes. But it’s your job to make sure those mistakes don’t become public and hurt your business. I can guarantee that WPP and Ford are both taking a long, hard look at their internal practices. This might be an opportunity for you to do the same.


This is weird, but at least it’s not criminal. Unless those people are also kidnapped.

There are lot of ways that you can evaluate your business, depending on your goals. We’ve already talked about some simple things you can do to improve your customer service. Try to keep your technology up to date. Make sure employees are well-trained, and that you have clearly delineated business practices for them to fall back on in unusual situations (like, say, a cartoon ad coming across their desk featuring any number of felonies).

Going back to basics may seem… well, basic. But it’s also the best way to avoid a catastrophe on the scale of Alan Mullaly’s ruined vacation.

Bad Service Is Your Funeral

29 Mar


Here’s a hypothetical:

“Malus domestica” is your first step towards business success!

You start a company offering a subscription service – let’s say in the emerging field of door-to-door fruit delivery. Being the business-savvy pomologist you are, you lock all your clients into a two year contract, then sit back and reap the fruits of your labor (so to speak).  Unfortunately one of your valued subscribers passes away, and his daughter – allergic to all things Hesperidia – tries to cancel the account. She explains the circumstances of his passing, and even sends in a copy of the death certificate for good measure. What do you do? Cancel the account, right?

Well, you, the friendly fruit peddler, might. But that’s not what one major cell phone provider did in exactly this (non-hypothetical) situation.

Let’s break down where they went wrong.

Lacy sent the phone company a death certificate, showing her father, Bill Young of Calvin, W.Va., died in June. But not until repeated phone calls and a complaint to the media did Verizon finally cut it off — last week.

First big mistake: Don’t make your customers work. It should never be incumbent upon a patron to follow up. Once you know the problem, you should be fixing the problem, and keeping in contact about it.

It seems Lacy did not have her father’s PIN (personal identification number) to access the account. So the representative refused to help her.

Real zombies. Not this guy.

Be flexible. Yeah, you have corporate policies. So, too, does every company in the era of plausible deniability and suing the internet. But try to be understanding in cases of death, unless you want to be first on the chopping block during the zombie uprising.

“Well, there’s nothing else I can do for you,” the representative said before laughing and hanging up the phone.


“This is wrong,” a frustrated Lacy said. “I’ve already sent them the death certificate.”


“OOOOH! Making fun of me! REAL ORIGINAAAAAL!”

Here’s where Donald Trump asks if the death certificate was long form (Wait, don’t leave! This happened in 2010, so it deserves at least one three year old joke!).

Seriously, though, is there anything more legitimate than a death certificate? Would they have agreed to cancel the account if Lucifer appeared on the back of a winged demon, carrying a flaming document emblazoned with a contractual out clause?

With a contract on Young’s house, the family needed to close out the telephone bill for the incoming owners and to settle his estate. The unsettled telephone bill could hold that up.

Okay, I think it’s time we organize a protest march. Someone order pitchforks and torches.

The representative did not handle the case properly—

You don’t say?

–and has since been reprimanded and given coaching.

Coaching? Like wind sprints?

“The account in question has been discontinued and backdated to Sept. 1,” [a spokesman] said. “The daughter will receive a credit/refund for the months she paid since September.”

All’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. What are the odds that poor woman decides to use that service ever again? How much other business did the bad publicity cost them? The Donald may be happy about their diligence with the regards to the death certificate, but even he wouldn’t like the lost cash.

The moral here (beyond don’t hire idiots who laugh about dead fathers): customer service is the face of your company. Make sure that your employees are well-trained, and that your phone service is as powerful and personalized as possible. Helping your customers feel like people – in the face of minor inconvenience or personal tragedy – will keep them coming back to you.

Lesson #4: It Helps To Know Who’s Calling

28 Mar

Do you still think you can get away with not having caller ID?

Well, you can’t. Knowing who’s calling is essential to making your customer service as effective as possible. In fact, now you can greet your customer by name every time they call. And while hiring Miss Cleo to do it may seem like the most practical solution, you don’t need ESP, voodoo, or even an elaborate version of “The Name Game” to make it happen. All you need is RingByName.

RingByName is a cloud-based phone service with limitless possibilities. It greets your contacts by name, it allows you to group your callers, it remembers the last associate your customer talked to (though unfortunately it does not slice, dice, or make julienne fries). If you really want to know your customers, sans mystical seer, there’s only one solution.

Lesson #3: Use All The Technology You Can

26 Mar

Think your current setup is working just fine? That there’s no need to upgrade your phone/computer/printing press/horse and buggy? Alexander Graham Bell agrees!

It’s time for modern day companies to move past the industrial revolution. Yes, everyone loved the 1800’s – except the people that lived in them – but these days when your customers call they don’t have the patience to deal with long holding times, bad connections, or any other maladies that might afflict your outdated phone system.

RingByName offers seamless integration of the latest technology, unlimited to calls to the US and Canada, and even personalized greetings, completely free of wacky British inventors. Give them a look.