Monday, May 18, 2015

Thomas Cook - how to ruin a reputation in three easy steps

If you were in the business of providing people with great experiences, you'd probably work pretty hard to make sure expectations were exceeded. If things went wrong, you'd probably do everything in your power to look after your customers, wouldn't you? Well, you're not Thomas Cook. The holiday company is turning into a case study of how to damage a corporate reputation. 

Back in 2006, a family bought a holiday in Corfu, through Thomas Cook. It ended in tragedy, with two small children dead and their parents critically ill, caused by carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty boiler. The hotel was found to be responsible, and four people were convicted of offences. No-one from Thomas Cook was found to be liable. That's the legal position. However, there's another very important issue - Thomas Cook's reputation. Here are three massive mistakes made by the company.

1) No apology

A statement from Thomas Cook says that an apology was sent to the parents a few days ago. That's a few days ago, over eight years after the tragedy. However, the parents claim not to have received the recent apology, even though Thomas Cook gave copies to reporters. 

2) No empathy

The silence from Thomas Cook, and the refusal of their representatives to answer questions in court creates an image of a company that doesn't care about their customers. It's likely that their lawyers advised them not to say anything that might incriminate them, so they said nothing at all.

3) No restorative action

Last week, it was revealed that Thomas Cook had received £3.5Million in compensation from the hotel - ten times what the parents received. The payment was in part for buying consultancy to limit the damage to their reputation - a huge irony. It would have been easy for them to hand that money to the parents, or to a charity of their choice. Nothing can compensate for the death of a child, but keeping a large payment which dwarfs the amount received by parents is simply crass.

The rules of the game are really simple:
  • Express sorrow and empathy early (that doesn't mean it's your fault)
  • People take the highest priority - go and talk to them
  • Communicate often
  • Take control and act appropriately
  • Provide help and assistance
  • Perform an act of goodwill 
I suspect that anyone looking to book a holiday through Thomas Cook will be thinking very carefully. I hope the directors at Thomas Cook have a careful think too. 


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