After all the recent furore involving BrightHouse, boss Hamish Paton explains how the company plans to come through the controversy and why it believes in its business model.
When I sat down to write this column, I had to ask myself whether I really wanted to see BrightHouse in print again this year.
We’ve had quite a profile since late October, when we announced a £15m customer redress programme to put right historical problems relating to affordability checking and payment refunds.
We were well aware of how this would land in the public arena and did what we could to prepare our colleagues for the resultant media interest.
As expected, the coverage was national and negative. Though our apology – explaining how we’re committed to putting things right and determined to make sure this never happens again – all came through clearly.
It was tough, but the fact is that we had failed our customers and were ready to accept the consequences.
After a week the noise started to die down and we were able to give our full attention to ensuring that the customers affected got their money back as quickly as possible.
And then BBC Panorama broke the story of the Paradise Papers. Its lead revelation was that the Queen had a £3,000 investment in BrightHouse through a chain of offshore trusts. It would have been hard to make it up.
Suddenly we found ourselves front-page news from Delhi to Durban. This time the media coverage was blistering and we were in the eye of the perfect storm.
The news was carried by broadcasters and newspapers all around the globe. However, I didn’t truly realise just how big a story it was until I spotted Blower’s retail cartoon in Retail Week the second week of November.
When things get really challenging and you are being asked difficult questions, it’s important to fall back on why you do what you do – why your company exists and the reason you come to work.
“Through this whole time, it was our people – serving customers, answering the phone, making deliveries and repairing products – who were at the sharp end of it all, and kept us going”
BrightHouse helps people on low incomes or with poor credit histories enjoy the everyday things that many of the rest of us take for granted. Yes, it’s possible to buy a washing machine or a television for less if you have access to the cash. But our customers can’t because they don’t.
With our unique offer they can afford the things they need, while also knowing that we’ll assist them through the financial ups and downs of their lives.
In many more important ways, we strive to treat our customers with respect and they appreciate us for that. Which is why, if you were listening over the noise of the storm, you could hear the voices of our customers who are very thankful that BrightHouse is there.
Many of them came into our stores and some even took the time to call radio phone-ins to speak up for us. Customers like Lindsay, who left us a message as soon as the announcement was made:
“I’ve been a customer for years. I have just read about compensation to some people. It wasn’t the best statement regarding BrightHouse, but I would like to say thank you. Thank you for being there when I couldn’t afford to pay for something outright.”
That is why BrightHouse exists. Even if we haven’t always got it right – and we haven’t – it’s what we have always sought to do, and always will. It’s the essence of our business.
Through this whole time, it was our people – serving customers, answering the phone, making deliveries and repairing products – who were at the sharp end of it all, and kept us going
They did it because, like me, they believe in what we do. That makes me proud, and I can’t thank them enough.
Hamish Paton is chief executive of BrightHouse