Equifax customer experience: “No law can fix stupid”

You have probably heard of the Equifax scandal by now, which has ratcheted up to being called “a tragedy.” 143 million accounts — that would be equivalent to about 40% of the people in the United States — were compromised.

Their former CEO, Richard Smith, testified before Congress recently. This is one part of the exchange:

“It’s like the guards at Fort Knox forgot to lock the doors and failed to notice the thieves were emptying the vaults,” Greg Walden, the chairman of the House energy and commerce committee, told Smith. “How does this happen when so much is at stake?” Walden said. “I don’t think we can pass a law that fixes stupid.”

Gloves are off.

And they should be.

As Congress noted back to Smith, “the entire corporate culture needs to change to be one that values security and transparency.”

That’s true, although telling Smith isn’t necessarily going to solve that — he drew a $90 million golden parachute as he exited. (He also “retired” as opposed to being fired.)

It’s easy in these situations to talk about the lack of customer experience, and it’s obviously a valid discussion.

The biggest problem with the Equifax situation is simply how long it’s gone on for. The hack initially happened in mid-to-late May, was acknowledged in September, and then dragged on through September. This included the period where they sent people to a bogus phishing site. Basically, they spent the entire month of September embroiled in a customer controversy — and in reality, the actual repercussions may play out for decades.

There’s also this, from that Wired article (the last link):

There are still numerous outstanding questions, particularly about what Equifax general counsel John Kelly knew about the breach when he approved nearly $2 million in company stock sales for three executives at the beginning of August. But just these additional time stamps alone paint a picture of a severe lack of emergency protocol and general urgency.

On the surface, this situation seems to be about:

  • Poor oversight
  • Unclear processes
  • Slow response
  • Greed

That’s a deadly foursome.

If you’ve worked in customer experience for years — or even if you’re new to it — you probably understand that downturns in customer experience are closely tied to PR. You need to fix the situation immediately. Just like you enter a role and need to earn the right to the work, so too in times of crisis you need to act decisively. Make it right for customers. Look at what Southwest did during Hurricane Harvey — not a PR crisis, no, but they took a negative event and found ways to benefit customers.

Equifax messed up. They should have plugged the dam much quicker than they did. Richard Smith got away with millions (which should never be allowed), but their brand and customer relationships will suffer. The lesson to other brands, in and out of that industry? Don’t let your CX disasters drag on. Get on top of them ASAP.

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