Economy

Five lessons for SMEs from the Gasp customer service debacle

Patrick Stafford /

The public eruption over a scathing response to a customer complaint sent by Melbourne retailer Gasp this week has prompted plenty of discussion about how retailers should treat customers and train staff.

While this particular customer argues that retail staff treated her and her friends rudely, Gasp has taken the unusual approach of defending its employee and requesting that the customer does not enter the store again.

Whether the scenario is a hoax or a shocking example of how customer service can go very, very wrong, here are five lessons SMEs can learn from the Gasp debacle:

Train your floor staff

This is a classic he-said, she-said scenario. The customer argues that the floor staffer acted inappropriately while the company says the group of customers, including the one who complained, were rude and bothered other people in the store.

Regardless of which account is true the incident shows that retail staff need to be properly trained.

The customers claimed that the staff member involved walked into a changing area and made rude comments when they were leaving the store.

Retail staff are there to serve customers and making rude comments, judgements and other statements cannot be accepted on the shop floor. Ensure that your staff members are trained properly so that incidents like this don’t happen in your business.

Appoint a dedicated complaints handler

Dealing with customer complaints is a tricky business and any complaint needs to be handled quickly, efficiently and politely. The response from Gasp certainly was not.

Any business needs to streamline its complaints process to ensure that only one or a few people are dedicated to answering complaints messages from customers.

By having such a small team handle that part of the business they can be hired, trained and monitored properly.

The customer service team is the face of your business, so make sure you have employees in that area who represent what you believe are the company’s values.

Know your brand

Love them or hate them, Gasp has a good idea of what it wants its brand to be. In its response to the customer’s complaint the Gasp representative says that “we only carry products which appeal to a very fashion forward consumer”.

“Our range is worn by A-list celebrities to the likes of Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez and Katy Perry to name only a few,” the response says.

Whether or not the response is rude it’s obvious that Gasp knows what it sells and who it targets.

In an environment where consumer confidence continues to fall more retailers should have adopt a similar approach.

Get on the front foot

When customer complaints go viral it can be a nightmare for the companies involved unless they go public to provide their own version of events or at least provide a response.

Late last year Harvey Norman avoided disaster after a customer noticed a particularly offensive ad on the radio. After complaining on Twitter the ad was addressed by the company within hours of the first complaint.

Gasp representatives have appeared on various TV programs to defend their company and to explain why they feel the action taken was appropriate.

Whether or not customers agree with the approach Gasp has taken there is no doubt that the business has made the most of the opportunity to control the narrative.

Any publicity is good publicity

With the way boutique fashion has been heading lately it’s hard to blame Gasp for taking the spotlight while it can.

When the customer service issue blew up in social media Gasp didn’t shy away and wait for the whole thing to blow over, it took the opportunity while it could.

If Gasp had left the issue alone it may have done quite a lot of damage to the brand.

Now that it has appeared in public to defend itself, while Gasp may still see potential customers walk away it will also see more proponents of its approach come out to defend it.

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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