How not to handle a customer complaint

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Shopping bags on a wooden floorReceive good customer service and you might tell a few friends, receive bad service and it now has every chance of going viral and doing irrecoverable damage to your business.

A lesson that retailers should take on board following the appalling customer service an Australian fashion store delivered to a customer by making jibes about her size 12 figure and calling her "a joke".

Following a social media storm the offending branch of the chain has, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, closed its doors earlier this week. The store's operations manager claimed the letting arrangement was on a casual basis, however the branch in question came under scrutiny earlier this year when the treatment of a customer in the store and the subsequent follow up went viral.

The belief that the customer is always right and disputes should be resolved with respect and politeness appears to be quite the reverse at a fashion chain store down under. So what can we learn from them on how not to handle customer complaints?

Be rude and belittling
The Herald Sun reports how bride-to-be Keara O'Neil was on a shopping trip with friends to find bridesmaid dresses for her wedding and an outfit for her hen night at the GASP store in Chapel St, in the South Yarra district of Melbourne, in September.

O'Neil, a retail assistant herself, was served by a sales assistant named Chris who she claims was initially helpful but soon changed. When trying on a dress and requesting the next size up, O'Neil claims the staff member pressured her by repeatedly saying "you should just get it."

On saying she would think about it, he asked: "Is it the price you're worried about?" followed by: "With your figure I really think you should buy it".

On leaving the store empty-handed in frustration, the retail assistant yelled after O'Neil and her bridesmaids "Have fun finding something at Supre [a budget-friendly Australian fashion chain]. I knew you girls were a joke the minute you walked in."

Show no remorse
The Herald Sun reports that O'Neil sent a letter to the customer service centre at GASP to complain about the poor customer service, and received a shocking reply from the area manager Matthew Chidgey.

In the email, Chidgey said GASP aims to appeal "to a very fashion forward consumer" and that the sales assistant O'Neil made a complaint about was a "retail superstar" whose "only problem is that he is too good at what he does".

Exclude potential customers
The response concluded: "So if you would like to do us any favours, please do not waste our retail staff's time, because as you have already seen, they will not tolerate it. I am sure there are plenty of shops that appease your taste, so I respectfully ask that you side step our store during future window shopping expeditions."

The bizarre stance on customer service and aim to only appeal to "cutting edge" customers was further backed up by GASP in a statement that read: "We respect that not all consumers strive for a glamorous appearance; some prefer to simply blend in."

Chidgey has since described the negative coverage of its company's behaviour as "the best thing that has ever happened to our business" and publically thanked O'Neil for inadvertently boosting business for the retailer.

Get above your station
While the retailer boasts of dressing celebrities such as Katy Perry and Kim Kardashian, with prices of £75 to £800 its collection actually caters for a range of budgets.

Following the incident, many people took to Facebook and Twitter to badmouth the retailer, including Australian model and MTV presenter Ruby Rose. According to the Herald Sun she tweeted: "I am actually laughing... I can't believe gasp called themselves fashion forward. Sweetheart you sell polyester dresses u ain't no Prada.

"This can't be real hahahaha, GASP sells the most cheap tacky clothing in Australia," she said.

Read O'Neil's full complaint and GASP's response here.

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