Vent2Me’s Executive Director was invited to provide comments for an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 24 November 2011. The article titled ‘Are you being served?’
The article was in relation to the GASP debacle that preceded the following month. Read our full comments regarding the issue
Are you aware of any facts/reports kept on complaints about fashion retailers (ie number of complaints annually, growth in number of complaints)
Reports on the number of complaints generated annually are difficult to find, because consumers are no longer relying on traditional complaint resolution methods. This can be seen in the increasing trend of using social media to vent or complain about fashion retailers and poor customer service.
The power of social media was seen earlier this year, when Harvey Norman received massive backlash from consumers regarding what was deemed to be an out of touch business philosophy. Instead of writing traditional complaint letters, consumers went online to voice their concerns and as a result Gerry Harvey backed down on his claims that the GST should be added to purchases conducted on overseas websites.
Gone are the days where consumers might tell nine people about a bad customer service experience, instead consumers can now share their bad customer service stories with millions of like minded consumers with just the click of a button.
In our opinion, social media has resulted in the biggest change to customer complaints because it allows fashion retailers and other businesses to get instant and up to date feedback about their products and services before a complaint may actually occur. Which is why tools like the Twitter search function is becoming a popular tool to uncover changing trends for the retailing industry.
What constitutes complaint-worthy behaviour from a fashion retailer? What are the penalties for retailers?
Anything and everything! Complaint – worthy behaviour can range from the product not meeting the standards of consumers, to the sales assistant not greeting the customer when they enter the store. Retailers need to realise that when purchasing clothing, consumers are not just purchasing fabric, but they are purchasing an experience that commences from when they first enter the retail store to when they exit the store (with or without a purchase).
The penalties can result in fines being issued from government bodies such as the ACCC, but often the penalties that are the most devastating for a business are the ones that fashion retailers may not see immediately, and that is the erosion of their brand positioning and status in the market. Again, the GASP complaint is a perfect example of the power of social media and how one complaint can go viral within a matter of hours.
Developed in 1985, the Gaps Model is most commonly used tool to explain why complaints occur within service environments; essentially the central focus of the Gaps Model is ‘the customer gap’, which is the difference between customer expectations and what a customer actually receives.
In order to ensure long-term longevity and profitability, retailers need to close the gap between customer expectations and actual service outcomes. For instance if you are a fashion retailer such as Supre who prides itself as being the life of the party, fun and young at heart, a consumer would expect that when they enter the store they would be greeted by a fun, young and hip teenager who is loud and vibrant. If this was not the case, the consumer would likely feel confused and question whether the brand is the right fashion retailer for them.
What is the process if a customer feels they have the right to make a complaint? How long does it take from beginning to conclusion?
There are many ways that a consumer can complain to an organisation. Traditionally customers would complain directly to the organisation and wait for them to respond, however in this day and age where communication is instantaneous, this is slowly becoming a less popular method. Government bodies such as Consumer Affairs Victoria or NSW Fair Trading can be used as facilitators but the perception of consumers is that this is a complicated and convoluted method for complaint resolution.
Generally with customers the following behaviour occurs;
- They feel outraged by a particular issue, they decide they want to make a complaint.
- After a few days the enormity in doing so sets in, so they question whether a complaint is justifiable. The majority of these consumers will decide not to continue with the complaint
- The others may search to find out whether the complaint is valid – which is why at Vent2Me we have seen a growing number of consumers ask us if their complaint is valid.
This is why at first instance any business needs to take a complaint seriously, whether it’s been received through traditional methods or posted on social media websites. The worst thing an organisation can do is ignore the complaint, instead acknowledge it and do whatever is possible to rectify the issue.
In fact, any successful business should have a service recovery strategy in place. A service recovery strategy is important because if service failures are left unfixed it can result in customers leaving, spreading negative word of mouth, or even challenging the organisation through third parties. However, through the popularity of social media and websites such as Vent2Me gaining customer feedback is not as difficult as it once was. Although social media has empowered the consumer, it has also provided new opportunities for businesses to undertake inexpensive mystery shopping audits.
Regarding timelines, industry best practice would be to have the complaint resolved within two working days, as after this time consumers become increasingly dissatisfied. However, the more serious the complaint the longer it will take to resolve. I have heard of stories of complaints taking longer than six months to be answered by organisations!
How do the offices of Fair Trading liaise with the ACCC and other protection agencies in these circumstances?
Generally speaking, protection agencies and government bodies only get involved if there are a serious number of complaints generated towards a particular organisation. For instance, in the case of the GASP complaint letter, the ACCC is not going to get involved because it is just one complaint against the retailer. In reality, protection agencies can provide recommendations to retailers on how they should conduct their business and provide tools for consumers. If a business does nothing illegal, the protection agencies are limited in what they can do to stop it and in fact could at times be considered toothless tigers.
In this instance, social media is a much more powerful tool for consumer protection, because it allows consumers to share their opinions in an informal environment with like minded individuals. In the 21st century the most successful businesses will be those who acknowledge their consumers feedback on these non traditional complaint resolution platforms.
Comments provided by Julia Makin, Strategic Director
Julia Taine, Executive Director of Vent2Me, is a marketing problem solver and mentor. A mover and a shaker, Julia sees a niche in an industry, and takes it, by making it her own. Julia started Vent2Me, because people she knew were struggling with their online presence and their digital strategies. Julia knew she could help these people, and so here she is today.