Taco Bell mystery meat lawsuit has important business lessons

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Taco Bell is suffering a public relations nightmare because of allegations about “mystery meat” that really highlight the importance of building a relationship with customers based on transparency.

I was amazed at how quickly bad news traveled about the class action lawsuit alleging that the fast food giant’s beef is actually a “meat mixture” filled with extenders. The company has since come out and denied the allegations as baseless. But they were guilty in the court of public opinion before they even had a chance to respond. And that’s done terrible damage to their reputation.

People don’t trust any institution — be it government, banks or industry — and practically expect to be lied to and disappointed. Yet if you own your own business, the more you disclose upfront about what you’re doing the better.

So what should Taco Bell do now, or what should any business in a similar situation do? As a general rule, it’s always better to act, not react. Share your story upfront and be clear with nutrition disclosures if you’re in the food business. The more transparent info you present in a simple way, the better the relationship will be with the customer.

If the allegations against Taco Bell turn out to be false, they will still have a long slog ahead of them to recover their reputation. Honesty and forthrightness are the keys.

The whole episode makes me think about the cell phone business. Cell carriers are going crazy over a proposal that would require them to send out alerts before they hit customers with overage charges. Overage charges are such a huge revenue stream for them, so it’s no wonder they’re fighting this proposal ferociously. But alerting customers before overages is the way they should do business in the first place.

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