Ian White reckons The Carphone Warehouse’s reputation is in ruins following a series of errors exposed in a BBC1 programme
Psst… Want to hear some lawyer jokes? Why won’t sharks attack lawyers? Professional courtesy. What’s the definition of mixed emotions? Watching your lawyer drive over a cliff in your new car. Heard about the lawyers’ word processor? Everything comes out in fine print.
Mildly amusing as they may be, they are not nearly as hilarious as the cruel joke Carphone Warehouse’s lawyers played on their famous client.
On national BBC1 television, on the evening of May 9, the company’s legal eagles ensured Carphone’s once proud reputation as a customer champion was thoroughly trashed.
The punch line of this bad joke is how an original demand for £2,500 compensation spiralled into a £150,000 bill for legal costs
The cost in lost goodwill must be in the millions of pounds, as most of the viewers who saw the episode of See You In Court – the BBC1 series on legal grievances – probably vowed they would never set foot in a Carphone store.
The programme may still be on BBC iPlayer, so you can watch the entire car crash at your leisure. Or you can ask Tim Whiting for a copy. I’m guessing the Phones 4U boss has been playing re-runs all week, scarcely believing how his arch-rival not only shot itself in the foot, but blew both its legs off.
Here’s what happened. Around 18 months ago glamour puss and top tabloid totty Danielle Lloyd bought a new phone from Carphone’s Harlow shop.
The helpful chap behind the counter allegedly offered to transfer the content of Lloyd’s old phone to her new device.
According to Lloyd, he found pictures in the memory of her old phone showing her in a state of undress, which revealed scars on her breasts caused by a medical procedure.
At this point, you would think the lads in the shop would have had a snigger and that would be the end of it. Nope.
The ‘entrepreneur’ who discovered the pix reportedly attempted to tout them to the tabloids for £100,000.
Lloyd got wind of this. She called her lawyer, who immediately fired off letters to editors warning them not to touch the stolen pics.
At this stage her legal costs were a piffling £2,500. And there the matter should have ended – with the staffer responsible sacked or disciplined and a £2,500 cheque and apology winging its way to the aggrieved celeb. You would think.
What followed was an extraordinary tussle of legal obfuscation and refusal by Carphone to give Lloyd a penny.
Eventually, after 18 months of trying to intimidate Lloyd into giving up her claim, Carphone coughed up £150,000 in legal costs for both sides and £10,000 out-of-court damage settlement for Lloyd.
Who knows the damage to Carphone’s reputation, though? The BBC programme portrayed the company as utterly failing to condemn a possibly criminal act of theft and blackmail, carried out by one of its employees in the course of his duties.
Here’s Lloyd’s solicitor speaking on camera: “You’d think Carphone Warehouse, as a brand, would be saying, ‘Gosh, if something awful happens to you at the hands of one of our employees we are so sorry and we take full responsibility.’But absolutely not.”
We have no idea what Carphone’s point of view was, as no spokesperson was fielded to give an explanation. As a case study in how to screw up a famous brand, it comes close to Gerald Ratner’s infamous company-killing “total crap” speech of 1991.
We can only imagine the horror that Charles Dunstone felt when he saw his oncegrand temple to customer care being demolished by a wrecking crew of bone-headed lawyers, whose knowledge of law and process was in inverse proportion to their common sense.
Dunstone’s jaw probably dropped as he watched his organisation’s reputation eviscerated on camera by Lloyd and her solicitor. I would be surprised if he hasn’t ordered an enquiry into why his people failed to kick the lawyers into touch and take control.
Carphone broke every rule in the crisis management book.
Surely the words ‘topless’, ‘model’, ‘tabloids’ , ‘bare’, ‘breasts’ and ‘BBC’ must have rung at least one alarm bell?
Anyone who had read the first chapter of PR For Dummies would have nailed this within five minutes: fulsome apology, costs paid, donation to a charity of her choice, grovelling statement (“Lessons have been learned… Procedures in place… Thanks to Danielle for bringing this to our attention”), etc.
Brownie points all round. Instead, for no reason that can be discerned, Carphone’s reputation is in tatters. And that’s the sickest lawyer joke of all.