A customer complaint about finding a caterpillar inside a capsicum could cause a public relations nightmare for the business that sold the vegetable.
But when Coles received that exact complaint earlier this week, the supermarket giant’s social media team saw the lighter side – and won fans along the way.
South Australian shopper Matthew Wilson posted a photo of the creepy crawlers on the Coles Facebook page on Monday, along with a tongue-in-cheek comment that he would like to thank Coles “for providing me with groceries that are indeed fresh”.
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Wilson said he purchased the red capsicum on Sunday and intended to eat it on Monday night in a chicken stir-fry made by his wife – “it’s a real cracker”.
But he got more than he bargained for and “took some friends home with us, a whole family in fact”.
“Ive never had Chicken Caterpillar Stirfry, though I don’t think I will and I probably will look for caterpillar-free red capsicum in the future,” he wrote, before wishing Coles a “good winter”.
Taking Wilson’s humorous lead, Coles’ social media team thanked Wilson for finding the caterpillars for them.
“Thank goodness, we’ve been looking everywhere,” they said.
“We’re sorry to hear the caterpillar family almost made it into your dinner, but we’re glad they’re safe and sound in their new home. We hope the joy of being new foster parents to this army of caterpillars bring you much warmth this winter.
“We’re disappointed to hear you’ll be having capsicum-free stir-fry tonight, so please return your receipt the next time you’re in store for a full refund or replacement.”
Almost 10,000 people have liked Wilson’s post, while around 1500 have liked Coles’ response. The post has attracted more than 3000 comments and has been shared more than 500 times.
Wilson’s post has also inspired other Coles’ shoppers to post photos of the capsicums they’ve bought from the supermarket chain, cheekily asking why they missed out on caterpillars.
Coles social media team has also responded to acknowledge the customers’ disappointment.
And Wilson took the time to send Coles another message on Tuesday evening to let the supermarket know he was looking forward to his stir fry using his “worthy and tasty replacement” capsicum.
“Anyway, the caterpillars had a good night here,” he wrote.
“We bonded and I felt like I had found a great inside pet. The big ones name is Bob. Though since then I have decided not to keep them inside. The presence of animal rights activists is a real, and quite frankly, scary prospect. They have been released into the garden, where I hope they live long and prosper.”
Social media and communications expert Catriona Pollard praised Coles’ for its “very clever” use of social media for customer service, telling SmartCompany this morning this is a “classic example of how humour can work really well on social media”.
“They took the cue from the customer,” Pollard says, also highlighting Coles was able to maintain the same tone through its responses to other customers too.
“The customer was complaining in a light-hearted way. They followed that cue and ran with it.”
But Pollard warns other businesses to understand the tone of a customer complaint before considering using humour online.
“The critical things is you can’t make fun if the customer doesn’t set that tone in the first place,” she says.
Pollard also says Coles’ offer of a replacement capsicum or a refund is an important part of the response.
“It’s really important that while it is humorous, it is a customer service issue and the business has to deal with it,” she says.
SmartCompany contacted Coles but did not receive a response, or indeed any offer of caterpillars, prior to publication.