By Marshall Ogen, Vice President of Business Strategy at CannabisBPO

Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.” (Confucius)

In 2007, Colgate-Palmolive Co. warned counterfeit “Colgate” toothpaste that may contain a toxic chemical, diethylene glycol, a chemical found in antifreeze, had been found in stores in the United States. But by 2010, Colgate-Palmolive’s share of the global toothpaste market had increased to 44.2%, remaining number one.

How did Colgate-Palmolive overcome the possible mass loss of consumers, and gain even more clients after the potentially devastating bogus toothpaste, also labeled Colgate, contaminated their market? And to challenge Colgate-Palmolive further, their formidable competitor, Crest, simultaneously issued a press release exclaiming that their toothpaste was ‘free of toxicity.’

Colgate-Palmolive thrived because they immediately pressed the start button on their pre-designed consumer affairs strategy, and promptly tackled the problem with a multi-channel messaging campaign, and the headlines read, “Colgate warns consumers.” Because there was a plan in place to deal with a product-contamination situation, the states where the counterfeit was found did not ban their product. More important, they accomplished all of this without a single consumer becoming ill.

The vaping health crisis connects Colgate and cannabis. Foreign chemicals have been found in bogus brand-name THC vaping products resulting in illness and death. The CDC said the deaths were linked specifically to illicit-market cannabis vaping products. How does the legal cannabis ecosystem protect itself from counterfeiters, possible product contamination, and still thrive? Do like Colgate-Palmolive.

Colgate worked with the FDA, and media to notify consumers, and retailers to remove the products from the shelves, along with a simple, yet effective statement, “Counterfeit toothpaste is not manufactured or distributed by Colgate and has no connection with the company whatsoever,” adding that Colgate is working closely with the FDA “to help to identify those responsible for the counterfeit product.” Colgate assured consumers who suspect they may have purchased a counterfeit product with Colgate’s toll-free number at 1-800-xxx-xxxx.”

The FDA did not ban Colgate toothpaste because Colgate-Palmolive protected its consumers first with a well-designed consumer affairs plan which includes a recall strategy, starting with the first and easiest step in the process, providing a 24/7 toll-free number along with additional contact center touchpoints on both packages and product labeling. This is not revolutionary as this strategy is employed for most consumer-packaged goods, the same as on a tube of toothpaste.

The cannabis industry is not shielded from product liability lawsuits. Even if the manufacturers are not aware of a defect, they can still be held liable for any harm to a consumer. With this fact established, and the current alarm over counterfeit cannabis products, it is imperative that companies have a well-documented recall plan in place. If they don’t already, cannabis organizations should have a designated recall coordinator and associated team, who are responsible for building and maintaining the recall plan – hopefully, to never enact it.

Dan Berman, CEO of CannabisBPO echoes this point, “product recalls are not always for public safety, it can also include leaking tinctures and the like. If your organization does not have a plan in place that includes both the supply and the contact center side to ensure items are pulled/replaced and customers are touched via a multi-channel approach, call a company like CannabisBPO to start contingency planning.”

In addition to the counterfeit vape issue, the cannabis industry is not immune to other recalls. For example, from November 2018 through February 2019 almost nine pounds of medical marijuana and infused products were recalled from Elite Wellness Vassar in Michigan for too much chemical residue to pass lab testing, according to the state’s Bureau of Marijuana Regulation (their seventh recall this year). Fortunately, no patients reported illness, but that’s not the point. This should be a warning shot for all cannabis brands.

The status quo is not good enough for the cannabis industry. We need to ensure our recall strategy breaks the following unfortunate norms. According to the October 2019 Consumer Reports article ‘When Recalls Fail,’ “Almost 70 percent of Americans said that they had not heard about a recall in the past five years for any product they own. And only 21 percent of Americans said they had heard about a recall and responded to it in that time frame.”

As a contact center organization that specializes in cannabis and comes from the pharmaceutical industry, we have seen the best and the worst of recall strategies. As the Confucius quote states, previous preparation is the key to managing through a crisis with a steady hand. If you don’t have a good plan in place, remember that you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

CannabisBPO is a specialty provider of contact center services for the cannabis industry. With locations in Canada and the US, the company offers outbound and inbound contact center services in a 24/7 setting. The company’s core service channels are text, email, mail, phone, chat and social media for customer service, sales, and technical support projects. CannabisBPO helps cannabis companies drive revenue and mitigate risks. For more information, visit Follow us on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, and Twitter.

Marshall Ogen is the VP of Business Strategy for CannabisBPO and has over 25 years of experience in outsourced contact centers, quality assurance, having consulted with many of the world’s most recognizable brands to ensure successful customer engagement activities. He is a strategic advisor to the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, a member of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) Marketing and Advertising Committee and the co-chair of the Mid-Atlantic Professional Association of Customer Experience (PACE).