Customer Experience News & Trends

10 words GM wouldn’t use – but you should

General Motors Co. told its people to avoid certain safety related words — and it seriously backfired. Here’s what they wouldn’t say — and why you must be more transparent with your customers. 

It was a training directive geared toward engineers — who, it’s been uncovered, were reluctant to send reports with negative info up the chain of command and potentially out to customers.

As a result, GM was slapped with a $35 million fine this past week for seemingly downplaying issues and dragging its feet in the recall of millions of cars with faulty ignition switches. The delayed outreach to customers is tied to 13 deaths and 32 crashes, according to one estimate.

Why the hush?

Although GM hasn’t said why it created what to some appears to be a hush culture, some analysts and attorneys believe the automaker wanted to avoid government investigations of safety defects.

Under one law, GM’s required to report safety issues within five days of discovering them. And if trigger words — such as “defect” — aren’t thrown around on paper in conversations, the potential issue has more time for internal review.

GM isn’t alone in instructing employees to be careful writing emails and memos. But GM stands out because it gave a specific list of words to avoid at all cost.

Some of those words included:

  • defect (to be replaced with “does not perform to design”)
  • bad or good (to be replaced with “above/below/exceeds specifications”)
  • safety (to be replaced with “has potential safety implications”)
  • problem (to be replaced with “issue, condition, matter”)
  • serious
  • failure
  • crippling
  • powder keg
  • death trap, and
  • evil.

GM’s defense in encouraging employees to avoid the words — and thus avoid having them seen or heard by customers — is that the words are vague and non-descriptive.

Sure, none of us want these phrases or words associated with our companies, products and customers, but GM’s decision to muzzle employees and deny customers information was dangerous and expensive.

Be transparent

Regardless of the industry you’re in, hiding issues from customers is a bad idea — especially if customers’ safety is at risk. Transparency in the company’s mission, intentions and issues is key to continuing strong relationships with customers.

Here are three important ways to improve your transparency with customers:

  1. Post complaints. Social media gives you an opportunity to show warts and all. Keep negative rants and legitimate complaints out there. Don’t cover them up. And include your offers to fix issues. Oftentimes, those who complain will follow up and post praises for what was done. But even if they don’t, customers should see your mess-ups, too. If it’s found you covered them up, things will turn out far worse.
  2. Provide info in the name of helping customers make decisions. You can’t do everything right in the eyes of all your customers. Allow them to make decisions knowing everything about your operations. For instance, The Corner Bakery Cafe posts nutritional information even though it’s not required so customers can decide whether to have the excess calories or not. Nike displays a Materials Sustainability Index so environmentally conscious customers can decide if they want to buy its products.
  3. Give employees a voice. If your company is transparent with customers and employees, you shouldn’t have to fear what they say about the organization and its products or services. While employees shouldn’t discuss personnel issues publicly and in social media, they should have the leeway to share what they think of products and processes when it benefits customers.

5 Essential Strategies for Managing a Multi-Generational Workforce in Your Contact Center

Take a couple minutes today and simply look out onto the production floor of your contact center. Chances are pretty great that you are seeing a diverse group of people that span across several generations.  Read more!

Subscribe Today

Get the latest customer experience news and insights delivered to your inbox.