The opportunity in a commercial crisis frequently is overlooked

Taxi drivers, rice and potato farmers and some top business executives all have one trait in common. They cannot handle crisis well.

A classic example now is the licensed taxi drivers who are blockading highways, throwing eggs and otherwise protesting the unlicensed Uber Internet firm. For years the licensed taxi drivers have been threatened with locally grown unlicensed competition. The competition is the so-called pirates or porteadores. 

The taxi dispute resulted in many more blockades and protests by both sides, but in no case was the plan established to improve customer service and to promote that improvement.

Uber obtains its customers via smartphones and an Internet Web page. Instead of competing with Uber head-on, the various associations of taxi drivers want to ban the Internet access.

The rice and potato farmers want to restrict lower-cost foreign imports. And many business executives who face some sort of public crisis with their company, take as their first action  declining to answer the telephone.

The various free trade agreements were based on the assumption that competition would promote efficiency. That may have been incorrect as far as Costa Rica is concerned. For many here fail to see the opportunity in competition and crisis.

Would capitalizing on their licensed status and the creation of an advertising campaign help local licensed taxi drivers?  Taxi drivers already have access to a smart telephone system similar to that of Uber, but the fact has not been promoted aggressively.

A successful taxista marketing campaign could address the safety in riding with a licensed driver who also has mandatory liability insurance. And the licensed taxi drivers could stress the lower cost of their services and the use of the taxi meter to determine the distance traveled. Everybody knows that the taxi meter, the so-called maría, can determine the fare to the nearest 10 colons.

Rice farmers are lucky because there is a government agency

waiting to purchase their crop at a price above the world market price. Most Costa Ricans do not know that they are paying extra to subsidize the farmers.

The quota on rice imports, established by the Central American free trade treaty, is growing each year and eventually the tariff will be eliminated. So rice farmers will face more competition.

When Costa Rican voters approved the free trade treaty in 2007, some of the liberalization deadlines were far in the future. Now eight years later, more and more tariffs are being liberalized. By 2027 all but a few tariffs will be gone.

That means most agricultural producers will have to improve their efficiency or lose market share.

The road is a rough one. The Ministerio de Agricultura y Gandería is being accused of using sanitary rules to prohibit foreign products.  The most publicized is the country’s ban on hass avocados from México.

Eventually local producers will have to design publicity campaigns promoting local origins.

Crisis management is a skill that seems to be in short supply. Just this month, tourism was threatened by the possible presence of the mosquito bearing the zika virus. Yet, except for a press release from Casa Presidencial, there does not seem to be any organized, governmental or industry effort to show international tourists that visiting Costa Rica is safe.

The 1982 Tylenol murders presents a classic case of successful crisis management by the drug firm. The company, Johnson & Johnson, was proactive once investigators linked deaths to Tylenol laced with cyanide.

The firm recalled 31 million bottles of the pain reliever and eventually created the current tamper-proof packaging.

The company’s response is required reading in university public relations courses, but the principal rule, always tell the truth, sometimes is lost on company executives facing lesser crisis here. Frequently a Spanish-language newspaper article reports that company executives either declined or were unable to be reached for comment.

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