It’s been said many times that the wrong employee can cost your business money. It’s also been said that a single influencer can make or break your business. This past week we’ve been gifted with an example of the best of both pieces of advice. One employee, by treating an influencer poorly, single-handedly sank a retail store’s reputation and gave it worldwide attention for the wrong reasons.
Multiple news sources have the story of Oprah Winfrey visiting Trois Pommes, an upscale boutique in Zurich, Switzerland,
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where she asked to see a $38,000 handbag. The store employee said that she didn’t want to offend Oprah, but that it was too expensive for her. Winfrey asked twice more and received the same response. The employee even said she didn’t want to disappoint her.
Winfrey sarcastically agreed and left without another word.
The immediate fallout was the loss of a potential $38,000 (even if Winfrey later said on Twitter that she wouldn’t have bought it anyway). Though Winfrey opted not to identify the boutique, the name was revealed hours later. Since then, store owner Trudie Goetz has issued an apology, as has Switzerland’s national tourism board. Swiss residents by the hundreds have visited Winfrey’s social profiles to apologize.
We’re actually privileged to see this because it’s a perfect example of a customer service fallacy that continues well into 2013. I’ve worked with clients who assume that everything is fine specifically because people aren’t complaining to their faces. Just because people aren’t complaining doesn’t mean that they aren’t upset. Winfrey herself made the decision to not raise a fuss in the store, because why bother?
Online, it’s a different story. People may not be interested in the trouble of raising a ruckus to you directly, but everyone has a network of people who listen to their trouble. In Winfrey’s case, that network includes 8 million Facebook fans, 20 million Twitter followers, and 170,000 YouTube subscribers. Not to mention a vast network of celebrity friends and press connections who picked up on the story within minutes. Those celebrities and outlets all have their own audiences, who retweeted, responded, and shared with gusto. In less than twelve hours googling Trois Pommes brought up page after page of this story.
Businesses make less public mistakes like this all the time. They assume that business interactions are limited solely between the business, the customer, and several family members and friends. They still believe that word-of-mouth is a slow process driven by phone calls and business lunches. As often as it’s been said, sometimes it takes an incident like this to learn that there’s no gradual process of word-of-mouth anymore, especially when it comes to influencers. People tweet, post, and share to hundreds of people at a time, and businesses are going to need to train their employees accordingly.
It also doesn’t hurt to recognize international media moguls when they enter your store.