Will this apology make a difference?

FL-WA_GruppeSIGG CEO, Steve Wasik, is sorry. SIGG, which is, or was, a leading maker of reusable water bottles recently admitted that prior to August 2008 and contrary to what consumers believed, its popular bottles contained the chemical Bisphenol-A. BPA can leach into water and apparently poses health risks.

As most people know, SIGG was forced to admit that the company’s bottles in fact contained BPA. Prior to this admission, SIGG chose not to correct the misconception that its products were BPA-free.

Certainly the August letter from the CEO does well to show that SIGG’s intentions were noble as it voluntarily weaned off BPA liners while the FDA and scientific community continue to debate the chemical. Unfortunately, this initial admission appears far too self-serving and evasive. Or at least this is what consumers and media concluded during the backlash following this first letter from Wasik.

So, as much as it’s good that the CEO did a better job of apologizing in his second letter, it’s hard to believe that this late mea culpa matters much. SIGG profited nicely from consumers believing they were buying a BPA-free product.

This type of corporate profiteering, while bad at any time, looks worse given the public’s preference and demand for credibility, especially from companies that call themselves green. Additionally, SIGG should have known that the dialed-in, socially connected people who buy its products would make a lot of noise. Not that a good corporate citizen would want to take advantage of even the most unsophisticated shopper but you’d think that Wasik and his communications team know their customers better.

Wasik’s first message, more or less, should have been, “I am sorry that we did not make our communications on the original SIGG liner more clear from the very beginning.” I know that this statement isn’t perfect but the company would have found itself in a better position with less damage to manage.

There are a few guiding principles when managing a crisis. One that stands out for me is to determine what will end the problem and work towards that solution. SIGG should have confessed (as much as its legal counsel would allow, I suppose), apologized, stated how it would fix the problem and prevent a repeat and then put its words into action.

Instead, this once green, reusable water bottle leader is now another example of how not to treat customers.

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