Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Product Crisis 

Business 2.0 has been tracking in its blog a potential product crisis. Someone has claimed that he can open the U-shaped Kryptonite bike lock using a simple Bic pen. The individual made a video of what he did and posted it on his web site where it has been copied and sent to many places. Damon Darlin, the blogger at Business 2.0 thought the video was a fake, then he contacted the person who made it -- an engineer in San Francisco. The engineer said the video was real, and he learned how to open the lock from someone else.

Quick. You are the Kryptonite company. What do you do now that someone has alleged your locks don't lock? The lock is your franchise.

First of all, you have to know about the allegation. If your PR people have not been monitoring web sites and blogs, you're in deep trouble. Secondly, you need to find out if you can replicate what the video shows. For this, you gather your engineers in a room with locks and Bic pens, and you try to open the lock with a pen stuffed into it. If you succeed, you have a BIG PR and customer service problem. If you don't, you still have a PR problem. What do you say to the world of Kryptonite lock owners? You can't say much beyond the fact that the company can't replicate the video and is continuing to research the problem. Then, you contact the engineer in San Francisco and ask him to show you how he opened the lock. If he demurs, you can be suspicious. If he accepts gladly, you have a BIG problem.

A crisis like this might mean the company may have to replace millions of bike locks -- an expensive exercise. Few firms can afford it. Or, Kryptonite would have to find a low cost way to prevent the opening the lock with a Bic pen and get that solution to the field as soon as possible. Another expensive exercise. The worst thing the firm could do would be to ignore the problem and hope it will go away. It won't. Kryptonite can be sure people across America are stuffing Bic pens into Kryptonite locks and trying to open them. If even a few succeed, its market share will plummet.

It's an interesting product crisis with many PR implications. I wish I were working on it.


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