As consumers, we are constantly barraged by advertisements. The daily task of getting the mail shows that our buying patterns and personal information is tracked and shared. Companies have turned to third-party providers that use high-tech data mining to retrieve this data. This practice has faced criticism and for good reason. An Illinois man recently received a letter from the Naperville-based company OfficeMax. It was addressed as follows:
Daughter Killed In Car Crash
This is no hoax and now OfficeMax is in a rush to find how such a mistake could be made.
Mike Seay and his wife lost their daughter in a car accident last year. She had no credit cards and was on Seay’s insurance. The Seays were distraught over the situation and wondered how OfficeMax had that kind of personal information. They immediately contacted OfficeMax and the customer service representative for OfficeMax responded politely with an apology. This seems like the appropriate response in a crisis situation. However, managers were quick to call the Seays frauds and denied that such a mistake could be possible, even after a photo of the letter was emailed to the company.
OfficeMax has taken a beating to its reputation and has had to start damage control. The incident speaks to the company’s ability (or lack thereof) to respond in a crisis situation. Representatives should have inspected the letter more thoroughly before accusing the Seays of tampering with it. An apology should have been issued as soon as the letter was found to be real and the family should have received an explanation. This is the least OfficeMax can do considering the Seay family chose not to sue. Its next concern should be to discover how that personal information was in the address field of the mailing list and if a similar incident has happened to anyone else. This situation exemplifies the risk organizations take when using technology and data mining to retrieve personal information.
By Ali Seys
PRecisely PR is the blog of the Illinois State University Chapter of the PRSSA. We write about Chapter events, the public relations industry, member profiles, and more.