Product liability is always a huge consideration when deciding to release a new product. What can customer service offer that alleviates concerns over possible liabilities?
For starters, customer service representatives will be responding on a near daily basis to complaints about a new product. This much is an inevitability. In most cases, complaints do not involve any danger or threat that the product is causing. Even when it does, a lot of that has to do with misusing the product or otherwise deviating from the explicit directions laid out in the product manual or information packet.
Where customer service becomes critical is when a clear and present danger emerges, and when it does, corporations need to be ready to spring to action. This can be done either by ordering a recall or by distributing more information to the public about how to improve product safety or encourage responsible use.
Customer service: The front lines of identifying faulty and potentially dangerous products
There is a reason customer service call centers are so huge. They field a lot of calls. Some of these calls may be complaints and may be irrelevant to the product. Some complaints may be irrelevant, period. However, if a corporation has to find out that their new toy is routinely leaking battery acid on the evening news, a trending Tweet, or through a report from their customer service department, one needn’t think too hard to guess from where a quality control manager or CEO is going to want to learn this information first.
That’s why customer service represents the front lines of identifying problems with a company’s products. The range of possibilities for why a corporation may need to issue a recall, either for correcting a product or removing it from the market entirely, is endless.
Some reasons for issuing a recall may include:
- Medication that is causing serious and previously unknown side effects
- New toy that presents an unforeseen choking hazard
- Defective product that does not do what is meant to do
- Manufacturing error led to a part of the product presenting a danger
- Food product is tainted with a bacteria
- Piece of the product is found to contain a harmful substance, such as lead
- Repeated use or wear of the product creates dangers, such as explosions (see the Ford Pinto as prime example of an exploding product needing recall)
The consequences of product liability for companies
Big companies can be held accountable for causing damage through their products. A big corporation’s worst nightmare when a product causes harm to its users is a class action lawsuit.
A class action lawsuit over a product is one that involves not just a single plaintiff claiming harm from the product, but a dozen, or a hundred, or thousands. The reason this is a nightmare scenario for corporations is threefold:
- Because of the number of individuals involved, all of whom likely experienced a similar harm as a result of using the product, the chances that the class action lawsuit will succeed in court is exponentially higher than an individual suit.
- Given the number of individuals involved, the amount that a corporation’s legal team will have to settle for, or be ordered by a judge or jury to pay the plaintiffs, is likely to be a very high, sometimes crippling, figure.
- Even if the company prevails in the class action lawsuit, these types of suits tend to attract significant attention from the press, and the negative media glare can be enough to do permanent harm to a company, losing investor confidence and damaging its reputation.
Customer service’s role in increasing satisfaction
Aside from picking up early red flags about a dangerous or defective product, customer service representatives can also, when appropriate, act as reassuring follow-up agents, calling back customers who have experienced problems and offering them discounts or replacement products.
These callbacks do more than just make individual customers feel like they received positive attention. It can dramatically lower the risk of that same customer hopping onto a multi-million dollar class action lawsuit.
While the first rule of customer service may be that the customer is always right, don’t forget the first rule of product recall law from a corporate perspective: loyal customers tend not to sue.