Customer service defines a company’s image and can either make or break any business. Online marketing professionals and conventional public relations departments spend billions of dollars annually to project positive images of their organizations as companies that care about their customers. Profitable companies value their customers and make every effort to keep them coming back in the future. However, some of the best lessons in business come in the form of “what not to do.”
The belief that “the customer is always right” as a popular service motto is obviously not the slogan that the designer fashion store, GASP, follows when dealing with the public. In a highly-publicized incident, Keira O’Neill was publicly chastised by a GASP employee for not buying a dress she tried on. The salesperson pulled her aside when she said she needed to think about it, asking her, “is it the price?” He went on to say, “With your figure, I really think you should buy it.” On that note O’Neill left the store angry, with her bridesmaids right behind her.
Peggy Morrow claims “it is important to compensate a customer for a perceived loss.” The sales associate should have never let O’Neill leave the store upset. Morrow points out “a customer whose complaint is satisfied will actually use more of your service or product in the future.”
Instead of apologizing for the sales associate’s rude behavior, GASP management actually thanked O’Neill for generating the press surrounding the incident, as a final slap in the face to her when she complained to them. The customer service nightmare continued when news of the incident gained viral popularity online along with an e-mail message distributed by GASP internally that referred to O’Neill as immature and fat.
Bad press may be good if for movie stars promoting controversial films, but not for a retail operation trying to survive a bad economy, GASP should have made some effort to rectify the situation before it escalated. At the very least, management should have apologized for the employee’s behavior, promising to reprimand him. In most companies, an employee in such a situation would be put on probation or simply fired for acting in such an unprofessional manner. A free gift card would’ve been another simple way they could have tried to smooth things over with O’Neill to salvage her patronage.
Customer service training teaches employees that listening to angry customers to let them vent is an important way to validate them and prevent future bad feelings about the organization. GASP not only treated the customer poorly in the store, but continued to treat her disrespectfully when she reported the incident, making a bad situation worse. Once the Internet picked up on the story, things only went downhill. GASP was forced to shut down their Facebook page due to excessive negative feedback. Even then, followers of the story continued to discuss it on Twitter, and people continue making fun of GASP’s “polyester” fashion. GASP has provided retailers worldwide a perfect case study of poor customer service and its consequences.
Here are four tips to help you avoid the mishaps GASP went through:
- Although it sounds a cliche, the customer is always right. As shown through GASP’s case, the Internet allows disgruntled customers to amplify their bad experiences.
- All businesses make mistakes. Successful businesses, however, are quick to admit to their detriments. If you upset a customer, don’t further exacerbate the problem. Instead, admit your wrongdoings, and turn the negative into a positive.
- Don’t be shy to invest in your customers. If you make a mistake, be quick to give the customer incentives such as gift cards. It might be a small cost in the short run, but this is an investment that will pay great dividends.
- Streamline your company’s customer service principles. In GASP’s case, both the company and its employees could have snipped the problem in the bud. However, the lack of a cohesive customer service mission caused the problem to snowball.
About the Author
Elaine Hirsch is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and videogames. This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites and writing about all these things instead.