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Want to Ruin Your Relationships With Customers? Ignore Them

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A guest post by Tea Silvestre of WordChef.com.

Chances are you've had at least one rotten experience while shopping at a brick and mortar store. We all have. And it's such a shame.

Why?

Because interacting with someone face to face is your best opportunity to create a raving fan.

Yep. Even with all the social media and digital hype, real-life conversations work fastest to either cement or destroy a relationship with a potential customer.

I recently had one of the latter...

It was a Sunday morning, and I was shopping with my sister-in-law at a local mall. This was her first weekend outside the house in almost two months. (She had just finished up her last round of chemotherapy and received the green light from her doctor to spend time again in public. Woo-hoo!)

This should have been an awesome day for her. But it wasn't.

Here's the email that I sent to the store's corporate office a few days afterward.

From: Tea Silvestre <tea@thewordchef.com>
Date: Wed, Jun 13, 2012 at 4:39 PM
Subject: Question about your policies
To: "shop@papayaclothing.com" <shop@papayaclothing.com>

Dear Papaya Corporate Folks,

Do you have a policy that says your employees may not remove an item from a mannequin to sell it?

I was shopping at your San Jose location (Blossom Hill) this past weekend and saw a scarf on the display, which drew me inside. I looked for it on the rack but there weren't any left, so I asked the clerk about buying the one on display. I was informed that someone else already had it on hold.

Disappointed, but determined, I kept looking. On another display I saw a different scarf---this time there were three different mannequins wearing the same scarf yet none to be had on the rack. The clerk had a line of customers so I very carefully removed one of the scarves in order to bring it to the cashier. (Note: The scarf was simply resting loose around the mannequin's neck, so it wasn't difficult to remove).

No sooner did I have the scarf in hand than the clerk was there, reprimanding me (in front of other customers!). I apologized for touching the mannequin and then explained very nicely that I was only trying to help because I could see she was knee deep in customers. She took the scarf from me and said first that customers were not allowed to touch the mannequins. But then? SHE REFUSED TO SELL ME EVEN ONE OF THE 3 SCARVES. When I pressed her as to why, she said nobody was allowed to remove anything from the display. "Company policy."

I'd really like to know if you have such a policy. I'm going to blog about this and would like to know your side and have an explanation as to how this policy works. My readers are other small-biz folks who love to hear about real life marketing and customer service stories.

Thanks in advance for your speedy response. If I don't hear from you within 7 days, I will assume you have no comment.

Sincerely,
Tea Silvestre
TheWordChef.com

p.s. My sister-in-law and I ended up leaving your store empty-handed and pissed off. She is recovering from chemotherapy, and this was her first time out in public in a long time. Unfortunately for you, I'm sure she won't forget this one...

I waited a few days for a reply, but never even got an automated "Thank you for your email" message.

So, I took my attempts to the Twittersphere:

Still no reply.

Then, I tried the Facebook route.



Still nothing!

Because I was getting nowhere fast, I went digging on their website. What exactly IS the Papaya promise?

Here's what I found.

Papaya Clothing


That's right. That's the home page. (You can see the whole site for yourself at PapayaClothing.com).

The only promise I found is one to save you a little money.

"Okay," I thought. "Maybe it's in their back story." Unfortunately, their About Us page looks like it was written by the corporate lawyers.
ABOUT PAPAYA

Papaya Clothing is a wholly owned subsidiary of Cornerstone Apparel, Inc. Cornerstone's experience in the retail fashion industry is derived from over twenty-five years in operating retail clothing businesses focusing primarily in the junior and petite apparel markets. Cornerstone is driven by the same ownership and management team responsible for prior successes in retailers Everblue Casuals and Career Image. In Papaya, we've created a more contemporary, upscale shopping environment for customers in the 16 to 25 age bracket...

There's no link to the parent website nor could I find one by searching through Google. Hmmm.

As a last ditch effort, I decided to call them and see if I could get through to someone in charge. The number they list on their website is only for online transactions, but the woman on the other end was smart enough to get me the right number. Which I called. And was happily transferred to "Cassandra," who works in the In-Store marketing and customer service department.

I explained the situation to her and she thanked me for bringing the situation to her attention (no apology, just a thank you), and after giving her my contact info, hung up the phone and went about my day.

Just a few hours later, I received this email:
Papaya Norcal norcalpapaya@yahoo.com (<--No corporate email addy?)
12:59 PM (56 minutes ago)
to me

Hello Ms. Tea Silvestre,

I do sincerely apologize for the unpleasant shopping experience that had occurred at my Oakridge Mall Papaya store (located at 925 Blossom Hill Rd). There was no excuse for my employee to have embarrassed you in front of other customers. If there was any problem, the employee should have quietly and privately spoken to you about the problem. Also, while it was true that display items were not for sale; this was an older policy of ours and has since been changed for some time. To put it simply, now we do take items down from our mannequins that are on our display windows, so, again, I regret that any problem had occurred during your shopping experience.

Next, I would like to ask you three simple questions; if you cannot answer them, it is perfectly fine:


  1. As I would like to take disciplinary actions on the employee and her superiors, would you, by chance, happened to have read her name on her name tag?


  2. Do you recall the date and time of the incident (estimated time will suffice)?


  3. Can you describe the employee's physical features to your best knowledge?


I would like for you to know that corrective and preventive measures will be taken to ensure there are no repeated incidents:


  • Within the next month, I will hold employee meetings and management meetings at all my stores to help educate and re-emphasize the store policies


  • I will send in more secret shoppers to this particular store to verify that no act of rudeness occurs again


As a token of my gratitude for informing me of problematic situations at my store, and your sister-in-law's successful chemotherapy recovery, I would like to send you and her a gift card. If you can kindly provide me with a mailing address, I will send it right away. If you feel uncomfortable providing me with personal information, please come into any of our stores in the Northern California region to claim your gift card. If you do enter our store, please have our associates call one of the following three people: Krishia Sevilla (district coordinator), Chris Kim (assistant district manager---this is myself), or Michelle An (general district manager).

I hope you and your sister-in-law will not let one misshapen action of one of our employees affect your future shopping experience, and we would love for you and your sister-in-law to come back so we may amend our mistakes.

Thank you for your time Ms. Tea Silvestre, and feel free to contact me anytime with any further questions.

Sincerely,

Chris Kim
Assistant District Manager
Papaya
Cell: (714) 337-7896

P.S. I also want to apologize for the time it took for us to reply to your email, but, as you can see the forwarded emails, when one complaint comes in, 4 departments are informed prior to us receiving the message. Thank you, and I hope you had a wonderful father's day and hope you enjoy the upcoming 4th of July.

I replied to Chris, letting her know that I did not remember the name of the clerk. I also shared my social media experience and said she might like to let corporate know that the folks on the front lines aren't responding---either because they don't know how, or because they haven't been empowered to---and that non-responses tend to be taken by folks that you're ignoring them.

The thought crossed my mind that they might all do well to read my book (especially Chapter 6), but in the end, I decided against it. They're probably not all that interested in building relationships with folks (let alone fans!).

The Big Moral of the Story: Train and Empower Your Employees


Encourage your employees to communicate with the customers (especially if they're running your social media channels). It shouldn't take an entire week to respond to one email, a tweet, a Facebook post, and a phone call.

Your customers should NEVER have to inquire about the validity of a policy---or be made to feel like a total afterthought. Not only will it lose you sales, it'll ultimately kill your business.

Your customers want (and need) to see that you're serious about sticking around for the long haul. Yahoo email accounts for your staff = a yahoo operation. Do you mean business? Then act like it. Even if you're just a one-man-band, you should have a branded email account, an About page that tells us why you do you what you do, and a commitment to have two-way conversations on social media that build your brand.

Here are some additional tips about what you do to help your customers' experiences with you.


  • Regularly train your employees. Make sure they're up to date on your policies and procedures---especially where interactions with customers are involved.


  • Know your customer touch points and put a communication plan in place for each of them. If you've got a contact form on your website, know who's getting those emails. Make sure that person understands how to respond and where to route inquiries. The same goes for your social media channels. Whoever is in charge of posting items, should be empowered and encouraged to respond here as well.


  • Make sure your branding is consistent across all media channels: email, website, social media channels. Ensure that all staff who communicate with the public have a corporate (branded) email address. Use an email signature. And most of all, use your website to tell your story.


***

What about you? Are you guilty of any of these faux pas? How often do you see other businesses operating this way? Let's talk about it in the comments!
As a marketing coachsultant (yes, that's a word), Tea specializes in helping her small biz clients find clarity about (and then share) their Secret Sauce. She's also the founder of the Tastiest Small Biz Brand Awards and the author of the new book "Attract and Feed a Hungry Crowd: How Thinking Like a Chef Can Help You Build a Solid Business." Connect with her on Twitter @teasilvestre.

(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Talk to the Hand)



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Comments

  • by Annie Sisk (Stage Presence) Tue Jul 24, 2012 via blog

    Excellent story, Tea - glad it finally had a relatively happy ending, but you should not have had to jump through so many digital and offline hoops just to get someone to hear you and respond. As for the social media #fail (which was HUGE), it doesn't surprise me, sadly. There are so many brands out there claiming profiles because they've been told they "have to be on social media" (which - whatever, but no) and have NO clue - let alone policies - about how to use it effectively. Having an active profile and *not* responding to customer inquiries is far worse, in my book, from a marketing perspective than not having a profile at all.

  • by Sheila Diamond Tue Jul 24, 2012 via blog

    I hope your sister in law is feeling better.

    What tenacity and perserverance on your part. Great end to an unhappy story. I totally agree, customer service will make or break your company.

  • by Clare Price Tue Jul 24, 2012 via blog

    Wow. What an experience and good for you on being persistent in your quest on and off-line. You might send them your book under separate cover. These are insights we can all learn from.

  • by Tea Silvestre, aka the Word Chef Tue Jul 24, 2012 via blog

    So true, Annie. I think we've been "trained" to expect responses on social media (it's social, after all) and when we don't get one, it's 100x worse than not finding someone's account at all. Thanks for adding your POV.

  • by Tea Silvestre, aka the Word Chef Tue Jul 24, 2012 via blog

    Thanks, Sheila. She is recuperating and building up her strength for the next round. So, yes -- at the moment feeling much better.

  • by Tea Silvestre, aka the Word Chef Tue Jul 24, 2012 via blog

    LOL...I'm sure they've heard enough out of me, Clare. To their credit, I DID finally receive those gift cards they promised. Am passing them both on to my sister-in-law and hoping she'll find a couple of beautiful scarves for her summer wardrobe.

  • by Jen Tue Jul 24, 2012 via blog

    Wow, Tea. That is really lame!

    I've been there. We've all been there. If a customer is so irked that she bothers to try to connect with the company about it, then there really is an issue that company needs to solve. Aside from the obvious problem of NOT having a place to send and receive direct messages, I'd go further and say Papaya has bigger issues. Would the company "discipline" an employee for providing excellent customer service if she had done the right thing in the store? Sounds like they should give employees freedom to make the right choices rather than have so many silly rules.

  • by Gloria M. Miele, Ph.D. Tue Jul 24, 2012 via blog

    There are so many take-aways here, I'm in disbelief. At least your got a thorough response from the store manager once it came. I tell my clients this - social media is social, so if you're going to set up your online presence, you'd better be ready to engage, esp. if you're using it as a customer service conduit. My daughter occasionally shops at Papaya, so I'll be extra attentive to the service next time we're there. Thanks for an excellent article (and glad your sister-in-law is doing better).

  • by Tea Silvestre, aka the Word Chef Tue Jul 24, 2012 via blog

    Let me know how it goes at your local Papaya. SoCal might be totally different!

  • by Tea Silvestre, aka the Word Chef Tue Jul 24, 2012 via blog

    Oh, I'm sure I uncovered just the tip of the iceberg on this one, Jen. And as a follow-up, you should know that they also had the employee in question (the one who was out of touch with the current policy) email me an apology from her OWN email account. I just keep scratching my head about this and wonder how a company could grow with this kind of weirdness going on with management.

  • by Gerhard Tue Jul 24, 2012 via blog

    I would agree that the manager in the end set up a well worded reply to your mail. Of course, no other customer would have been so patient and persevering like you. Usually customers treated like that complain maybe once and then they just don't show up anymore. Which makes store owners often believe everything would be fine again. It's not.

    Your story reminded me when i bought a pair of earrings in a department store. The presentee was not that happy about my gift cause there was actually only one item in the box. I didn't check before as it was already giftwrapped. When I returned the box the saleswoman eyed me suspiciously and insisted on a kind of "proof" that I recieved only one earring (how the heck should I proof that?). "Reaaallyy, Sir, there was only one in the box??" At last she was so generous to refund me.

    Ha ha, as you said, everyone has its story . . .

  • by Manmohan Wed Jul 25, 2012 via blog

    I guess the clerk has never heard the saying " Customer is the King "

  • by Carol Lynn Wed Jul 25, 2012 via blog

    Considering how many times you were ignored, the fact that you could still publicly post your inquiries to them is pretty impressive! I'm a pretty short tempered consumer. Ignore me once and all wrath shall be wrought! In fact, I'm never shopping at Papaya just because they ignored YOU! That's how easy it is to lose my patronage. Oh, and I doubt I'm alone. I think you were exceedingly patient, maybe in the interest of collecting fodder for a blog post, but still, good for you :)

    And even their eventual reply (four departments? really? all routing through Yahoo emails? reaaaalllly??) sounded like something put together by an apologetic eighteen-year-old.

    Pre-social media days I think "being ignored" was sometimes par for the course. But social has opened up a whole new world and if your company is going to be on there, you better have your act together. No excuses, I'm sorry. You can do social "bad" but if you're there, you don't get to "not do it" at all.

    Psh. I hope you get a nice juicy gift card!

  • by Corinne Wed Jul 25, 2012 via blog

    One of my daily online reads is The Consumerist and sad to say, there are too many stories like yours! Next time something like this happens, you should share your story with them.

  • by Tea Silvestre, aka the Word Chef Wed Jul 25, 2012 via blog

    One earring?! LOL Glad you got your refund. I know back in the 80s wearing one earring was pretty popular, but sheesh. Thanks for stopping by, Gerhard!

  • by Tea Silvestre, aka the Word Chef Wed Jul 25, 2012 via blog

    Truth is always stranger than fiction, right? And yes, the gift cards (2 at $20 ea) finally arrived just a day or two ago. I'm passing them both on to my sister-in-law. Thanks for sharing your passionate perspective!

  • by Tea Silvestre, aka the Word Chef Wed Jul 25, 2012 via blog

    Thanks, Corinne - I'll check 'em out.

  • by Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D. Wed Jul 25, 2012 via blog

    Tea,

    Thank you so much for your perseverance and willingness to share your experiences with us. As pointed out in the comments, few customers would have done more than just get upset, rant and storm out of the store.

    As for Papaya, they are indeed mushy fruit. In the day of social media, it doesn't take much for a thoughtful, tech-savvy and determined customer to put the word out to the "world." Their eventual response is in no way acceptable. As for their generous offer of a gift card? Yuck!

    Like Carol mentions above, now they have not only given you a bad experience but have put a bad taste in the mouths of all of us who have now read your article. I had no plans to shop at Papaya in the first place, but now I will definitely not shop there.

    The power of social media is very effective for getting the attention of companies. In the past these arrogant companies effectively hid behind corporate doors and ignored customers until we went away. No more.

    A few years ago I had a dispute with a hosting company that renewed my accounts weeks before the renewal date, and their excuse was that their policy had changed to make all accounts renew automatically. I was especially upset because I had already planned to cancel and move to a new host.

    A sparring match with tech support ensued, and to show they recognized they were wrong, they offered me a partial refund. No way! I spread my story on Twitter, and within a few days I received a full refund. More power to social media!

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