Make cus­tomer care a top pri­or­ity

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Living - Star2@thes­tar.com.my

IF noth­ing else ma­jor hap­pens, United Air­lines will prob­a­bly go down in his­tory as net­ting the prize for the big­gest PR fail this year.

Beauty and fash­ion brands, how­ever, face con­sumers’ wrath on a daily ba­sis when dis­sat­is­fied cus­tomers bang on their doors and de­mand for re­funds, jus­ti­fied or oth­er­wise.

Re­cently, a friend of mine un­cov­ered a dis­turb­ing sit­u­a­tion whereby a six-month-old beauty prod­uct (which she spoke well of in her re­view on my­wom­en­stuff.com) was re­called and dis­con­tin­ued pend­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Ini­tially, when Paris B first con­tacted the brand’s Malaysian of­fice for clar­i­fi­ca­tion a cou­ple of months ago, she had no re­sponse. She then reached out di­rectly to the brand’s New York of­fice via Twit­ter.

She was in­formed through pri­vate DM that there was a “qual­ity is­sue likely due to mi­nor raw ma­te­rial vari­a­tions, which caused some con­sumers to ex­pe­ri­ence skin dis­com­forts”.

In the mean­time, she con­nected with other beauty blog­gers and read­ers in Aus­tralia and In­done­sia, who in turn, con­tacted their re­spec­tive brand reps in their own coun­tries. While these re­sponded swiftly to the read­ers’ con­cerns and ba­si­cally gave the same ad­vice as Paris B re­ceived, our Malaysian rep only replied when it seemed the sit­u­a­tion might get out of hand.

The group’s cor­po­rate PR (not the brand) fi­nally in­formed Paris B that con­sumers could take the prod­uct to any out­let and get back a full re­fund in line with their cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion guar­an­tee, even with­out re­ceipts.

While there hasn’t been any ma­jor com­plaints from the pub­lic about the said prod­uct caus­ing skin prob­lems, the brand deemed the prod­uct “in­com­pat­i­ble with its high qual­ity stan­dards”, and rightly so, took ac­tion be­fore it es­ca­lated into some­thing big­ger.

What was puz­zling though was why up till to­day, the brand has not e-mailed an of­fi­cial re­sponse to Paris B, nor has there been any rec­om­men­da­tion to con­sumers to stop us­ing the prod­uct. There has also been no of­fi­cial state­ment from the brand glob­ally.

As a rep­utable global brand, I feel the PR could have been bet­ter han­dled. The is­sue with the prod­uct was pos­si­bly some­thing very mi­nor and prob­a­bly eas­ily tweaked, but the fact that ques­tions went unan­swered im­plied the is­sue was be­ing swept un­der the car­pet as the brand clearly wanted it all to go away.

In to­day’s dig­i­tal-savvy world, how­ever, the more you try to evade some­thing, the more peo­ple will dig deeper. I would have thought that the right course of ac­tion would have been to give con­sumers im­me­di­ate re­as­sur­ance, and come up with a plau­si­ble rea­son rather than ig­nore queries.

Con­versely, I’ve noth­ing but re­spect for Paris B, for the way she in­ves­ti­gated the whole is­sue, rather than just go­ing off the han­dle like some blog­gers do. Run­ning a re­spon­si­ble beauty web­site, she laid out the facts and sought proper clar­i­fi­ca­tion from the brand, and prob­a­bly gained more read­ers along the way as they tuned in to watch the next scene un­fold.

That’s what I miss in to­day’s news con­tent – in the bid to be faster than oth­ers, peo­ple put up sto­ries on­line which some­times are no more than ru­mours and gos­sip – with­out ver­i­fy­ing sources and val­i­dat­ing the facts. And what’s worse, trollers jump on the band­wagon to comment, and by the time things turn out to be un­true, the dam­age would have been done to the rep­u­ta­tion of the com­pany or per­son(s).

I also had an un­pleas­ant en­counter of my own which left a bad taste. In­ter­ested in pur­chas­ing a par­tic­u­lar gad­get, I had agreed to test it out for a month. I had to pay a de­posit and use the gad­get for x-num­ber of hours a day, if not, it would be for­feited.

I re­turned the gad­get be­fore the month was up as it didn’t suit my needs. How­ever, I re­ceived a text that said my de­posit would be for­feited as, ac­cord­ing to their data, I had not ful­filled the num­ber of hours of use.

This was be­cause I was away over­seas for a week so I didn’t bring it along in case it got lost or I ab­sent-mind­edly jumped into a pool with it.

One might say that the com­pany had spelt out the terms from the start. But rather than call­ing me up to find out why the con­di­tions were not met, I just got an im­per­sonal text to in­form me I was los­ing my money.

Nat­u­rally, I hit the roof and only later did they call to meet “for a dis­cus­sion”.

Isn’t the pri­mary ob­jec­tive of the de­posit to en­sure that the gad­get, which was quite ex­pen­sive, was re­turned in good working or­der? Surely the cus­tomer re­serves the right to de­cide on the us­age of the prod­uct, and why con­tinue if I al­ready know that it’s not right?

Thanks to pro­fes­sional PR in­ter­ven­tion, I got my money back. But I won’t be rec­om­mend­ing this com­pany to oth­ers in the fu­ture.

I will never for­get renowned chef Tet­suya Wakuda who told me in an in­ter­view, that it was his cus­tomers he val­ued most. No mat­ter how won­der­ful your food (or prod­uct) may be, if your ser­vice sucks, they will not come back, he said.

I firmly be­lieve the same prin­ci­ple ap­plies, no mat­ter the sit­u­a­tion.

Peo­ple re­mem­ber bad con­sumer ex­pe­ri­ences a lot longer than good ones. Share your thoughts with star2@thes­tar.com.my

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