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May 11, 2021

The Touch of a Recall

During my time at a leading retailer, we processed hundreds of recalls every year. Early in this work, it occurred to me that getting accurate information to our retailers was like firing the starting pistol – the real work of brand and consumer protection was just beginning. 

A supplier’s notice of recall typically gets the ball rolling. Processing the message to the affected locations means the scope of the recall is understood, items identified, and instructions clear. However, that is only the beginning for tens of thousands or potentially millions of people, depending on the product(s) and scope of the recall.  

On the other end of things, at distribution centers and stores, are countless people who must receive the message, get the product out of inventory, and pay attention to documentation. For consumer level recalls, they must also prepare and deliver consumer communication. Not to mention manage disposal, credit requests, press, and more. It’s exhausting just listing it all! 

For most people involved in a recall, their task is both simple and challenging: simple because their specific piece of the recall process usually isn’t hard to accomplish, yet because it’s not what they normally do it tends to be at least an interruption, if not otherwise more challenging than other day-to-day tasks. 

Putting it all together, the number of people touched by a recall creates a unique complexity: each part may be simple, yet without a practiced process, the whole can easily amount to a high-stress, hard-to-manage hassle. 

In all my work in recalls, I can say confidently that those involved take their job seriously and want to follow through quickly, for the sake of their company and their customers. They understand what’s at stake and work hard to devote the appropriate urgency to the situation. However, I can also say that even with all these efforts, the end result often looks like anything but a smooth, effective process.

Communication is the thing that can make or break a recall, the difference between streamlined efficiency and chaotic confusion. Good communication, both timely and accurate, equips the responder to do their job well with clear, actionable information. Having the ability to send the message in a way that makes sense to the receiver, quickly and consistently, puts them in a position to act on it with a speed every brand owner hopes for. 

This communication usually starts at the manufacturing level. Although I certainly don’t want to throw the manufacturing community under the proverbial bus, I remember vividly a retail colleague who commented, “80% of our work is finding out the right information from the manufacturer.” No matter where a recall starts, the first distribution of information sets the stage for the whole process. Getting the right information in the right way smooths the path of the recall down the chain. 

There are many ways we can address the communication challenges of the recall process, and there are many out there doing so right now. Whether by leveraging technology, expertise, or global connectivity, communication solutions are being implemented across the supply chain. One solution I always recommend has time and again proven to be both simple and effective: regular mock recalls. 

Mock recalls that practice the recall process will prepare your team to communicate quickly and accurately every time. More often than not, standard mock recalls are just traceability exercises. While valuable for drilling into product issues and distribution reach, these mocks don’t give team members the much needed chance to practice steps necessary during an actual recall. 

Modernizing your mock recall protocols takes you into the event. Along with gathering all item attributes and having customer contact information ready to distribute, preparing your messaging and instructions will help you practice communicating well so your customers can act quickly to protect your brand and consumers.

Recalls can be very stressful and I care deeply about reducing their impact on all those affected. It is important to me that consumers are kept safe, the many people who touch the various parts of a recall are equipped to do their job well, and companies are protected from reputation-damaging events. Mistakes happen, but the right practice can keep them from being unnecessarily complex or costly – a little communication goes a long way. 

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