Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Gasp Email Scandal – Customer Relationship Management Fail or Brilliant PR Stunt?

Hello everyone! Just want to use this blog entry as an opportunity to discuss a recent incident we talked about in our Integrated Marketing Communications class for the Master of Marketing involving an Australian clothing label and a dissatisfied bride-to-be. We’ll start with some background; Gasp clothing, an Australian boutique chain, is gloating about the international attention garnered by its obnoxious response to a customer complaint, which turned into a viral email sensation.

Keara O'Neil was on a shopping trip with two friends at the GASP Chapel St store on September 24 when she had a dispute with a sales assistant named "Chris". O'Neil, a retail assistant herself, claims Chris was initially helpful but soon turned nasty, making a dig at her size 12 frame and yelling out as she left the store, "Have fun shopping at Supre... I knew you were a joke the minute you walked in".

Keara O’Neil, put the issue in the hands of social media, and made Gasp’s rude responses everyone’s problem.

Distressed by the treatment, O'Neil then sent a letter to the customer service centre at GASP, which was answered by GASP area manager Matthew Chidgey who further insulted her and called Chris a retail “Superstar”. The email exchange then went viral, and made the infamous boutique known to the world. Mr Chidgey later confirmed that the email was legitimate but was “written by one of the staff in head office.” During the interview on The 7pm Project, Mr Chidgey also said that the girls “walked around the store making fun of the dresses.” and when asked about the public’s response following the incident, Mr Chidgey said that “the comments we received were mostly positive with some negative”, which made him the laughing stock on National Television.

GASP Store Manager Matt Chidgey on 7PM Project

GASP also released a statement in its defence. "We respect that not all consumers strive for a glamorous appearance; some prefer to simply blend in. We respect and welcome all customers whom wish to visit our store, even though the intention to buy may not exist. But we ask that their opinions be expressed through blogs, social media or around a warm latte, but certainly not inside our stores."

Refusing to back down, Gasp has further vowed to ban O'Neil and all her friends from stepping into the stores, while thanking her for initiating free promotion. "GASP's official statement to the young lady who started this tremendous publicity stunt for our company is that, we would like to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for putting our business on the national and international stage," Chidgey wrote in an email to the Herald Sun.

"Notwithstanding your ill intentions, our business has experienced unprecedented sales volume, and we would like to thank you for all your assistance in helping to achieving this. To all the rude and obnoxious clowns, we respectfully ask that you get out and stay out, we don't want you or your business. We ask that (you) share your misconceived and unfounded remarks amongst yourselves. Have a nice day and good luck," added Chidgey, ending the email.

The announcement on GASP’s website further proved truth in the increase in sales due to this social media stir-up.

It is understood GASP later closed its Facebook page following a deluge of negative comments concerning the incident. “Gaspfail” was registered immediately after the Facebook closure which blew up across Twitter. GASP have yet to respond as they don’t currently have a Twitter account. It's important to remember that while the shelf life of social disasters is mercifully short, search isn't so forgiving. Long after Gasp Fail has faded from the social networks, Google will continue to display content related to the incident that will drag Gasp’s brand through the mud each and every time someone searches for it.

Gasp is not the first company to be brought to its knees by the devastatingly democratic demands of social media, and how they respond now will be critical to their survival. The United Airlines example is one that has become legendary. When David Carroll's complaint about his broken guitar was ignored by United, he wrote a song called United Breaks Guitars. The song has now been viewed by 10 million people online and 100 million people across the globe know his story. It has been estimated that the complaint wiped $180m off United's share value.

I’m sure the advancement in this case must have dropped a few jaws, but let’s analyse this for some insights. A few obvious ones were mentioned in class during the discussion. First one is that, not everyone at work should be allowed to write. Every company should have a complaint manager who deals with customer complaints and a dedicated writer to respond on behalf of the company. Secondly, always apologise, as your business is to an extend run by your customers, and optimise the effects of social media as much as you can to get the message out. And thirdly, train your customer representatives. How the internal company culture works is one thing, but reflecting that attitude with your customer is simply unacceptable. Now, could a business get it so incredibly wrong? Is this really a customer relationship management fail or a carefully fabricated PR stunt? Just something for you to think about until the answer unravels itself, mostly likely on social media.

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