Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Some Thoughts About Marketing
...and Complaints

Abercrombie and Fitch T-shirts, short-lived designs

Images courtesy of: http://www.medialiteracy.net and http://www.konformist.com

My daughter is home from college for Spring Break, so naturally, we had to go clothes shopping. (Why couldn't DRA-2005 have slashed retail prices, too?) We went to the regional hoity-toity fashion mall, and commenced charging. My poor AMEX card will never be the same.

We had one mildly disheartening experience at Abercrombie and Fitch, you know, the place with the suggestive photos of young people almost wearing their wares? Well, today, the mannequin was wearing the shirt that took my daughter's fancy. We looked all over the store--no other such shirts. We collared a sales-droid who checked in the back and--no other such shirts. We asked if we could buy the shirt off the mannequin's back--Oh no, those belong to the Visual Department, and we can't sell them. We asked a manager, and, in a tribute to consistency, we received the same story, with considerably more attitude. This made no sense to us, as the shirt had a proper price tag, and appeared ready to be set free from its bondage. So, I asked if there was someone in Corporate I could call, and I was given the number for Customer Service.

I stepped out into the mall, and called, and eventually I was connected with a supervisor named Curtis. Curtis was very pleasant and patient, and explained that yes, the displays are indeed owned by Abercrombie Central, and moreover, they are not saleable as they have been cut, re-sewn, and otherwise disfigured to look good on the mannequin. This is why they cannot be sold, not simply the ownership issue the sales kids were trying to cite. He offered to order the item and send it to us with no shipping charge, which I declined, but I did thank him for it. He asked if I would like to file a complaint, and I did. Here it is, petty though it is: Putting an item on display when there is no such item for sale within the store is really bad advertising. If I had wanted to order from the catalogue, or from their web-site, I could have done that without driving several hours to the big hoity-toity regional fashion mall. It makes more sense to remove such a display until such time as the item is actually available within the store. Curtis promised to pass along my complaint to the national office.

There are good and bad ways to market your products and your name, and there are good and bad ways to handle complaints. The shirts seen above are examples of really bad marketing. Curtis, on the other hand, properly dealt with my complaint, although I have very low expectations of my advice being followed. Still, I may someday set foot again into an Abercrombie store, and possibly even buy something, which I might not have considered without his ministrations. On the other hand, simply repeating a programmed mantra ("Corporate owns the display", "Our other customers want it that way") is not a good practice. Demeaning and discrediting the complainer, especially without dealing with the complaint, is definitely on the bad list, and can have very serious consequences such as losing the customer permanently.

I know I sound like the consumer from Hell, and I try not to be. I realize that this is an imperfect world with imperfect products built by imperfect people, and I am far from a perfect radiologist, believe me. But I have this old-fashioned Nordstrom-like belief that the customer is paramount, and at the very least deserves to be heard. He or she might actually have a valid point that could save someone some money. Or time. Or maybe save someone's life. From the Restaurant Doctor:

Stamp out inconveniences before they become irritations.

Stamp out irritations before they become complaints.

Stamp out complaints before they become problems.

Stamp out problems before they become crises.

Notice that there is no mention of stamping out the complainer!

Remember, the "C" in PACS stands for "Communication". I think this has become a lost art in the 21st Century. There is much talk, but little listening, and even less hearing, not to mention a desire to shift blame anywhere possible. That is how complaints turn to crises.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

The motto of PACS vendors:

We return all calls promptly until the contract is signed and/or we receive a check.