When COACH Needs Coaching …

In Customer Service!


I’ve been procrastinating from writing this story for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to give COACH ample time to research and respond. Secondly, because this story makes my blood boil on many levels — as an entrepreneur, as someone who has been on both sides of customer service, as a daughter and as a person. Over two months have passed by and no attempts have been made by COACH to contact me. So it’s time to share this story.

My parents were on vacation in the States this year. Shopping was high on the list for Mom. So we went to the factory outlet mall in Arizona. We walked into the coveted COACH store. We were greeted by 4–5 ladies within the first 20 seconds with big welcome smiles and given a rundown of their current specials. We felt welcomed and it was all happy happy. We perused the store and Mom found a handbag she liked. Before making the purchase, we went across the store to check out Michael Kors. I asked Dad to stay inside the COACH store since we were going to be right back.

Within minutes, Mom and I walked back into the COACH store. This time, everything was different. The greetings and smiles had vanished. It felt downright hostile. Something was wrong. Dad had accidentally spilled Coke on their prized corkscrew floor. We could have easily walked away from the scene, continued shopping or even left the store. But we stayed. I jumped in to help clear the mess since we created it and felt bad about it. I got down on my knees with another employee and we both wiped the floor clean. I am still unsure of how this employee was able to continue to pass the paper towels to me, while simultaneously, ignoring my very presence. It was quite an artistic move.

The tension in the store was undeniable and all employees were on high alert. Their body language and behavior clearly communicated their disapproval and annoyance. They were seething to their core and we could feel their dagger eyes. The assistant manager walked over to the spill scene like she was witnessing the scene of a heinous crime. The employees conducted themselves with incredible arrogance and moving forward, pretended like we didn’t exist. One of the employees even muttered to us with insolence, and beautifully peppered with sarcasm, how it clearly stated outside the store that no drinks were allowed.

Can you see the signs on the door stating no drinks or food allowed? The sign is only on one of the doors. And that sign is barely visible or comprehendible even at close distance. There were 4–5 ladies that greeted us when we walked in. Why did none of them approach us and politely ask us to finish our drink outside before entering the store?

Despite their less than stellar behavior, we still felt bad. I joked with my parents that given the “crime” we had committed, perhaps we were obligated to buy from the store as a gesture to bring back their smiles. And we did! Even after we made the purchase, the staff was impolite, rude and arrogant. It was as if we were vermin.

Still, I gave them the benefit of doubt. Perhaps it was an isolated incident. So the following morning, I researched COACH. I looked for their company values to better understand their leadership and foundation. While there was mention of building “rewarding” relationships with customers, I didn’t feel the warm and fuzzies. Reluctantly, I called Coach’s customer service hotline.

I asked to speak to the manager right away. The customer service agent confirmed that she would be able to help me. So I shared the details of the incident and why it was so upsetting. The agent was not fazed in anyway. In a robotic fashion, she stated that she would pass this information to the local store manager and it could take up to two weeks for it to trickle down to that level. And from her perspective, that was the end of the conversation!

Completely baffled at this response, I asked her “Aren’t you going to have a manager follow up with me?” She replied “If that’s what you want.” Seriously! Did you just say that? I stated to her in continued amazement and disbelief – “Don’t you think that a manager should follow up with me?” It became crystal clear where things stood. Regardless, just in case I was being hasty in my conclusion, I confirmed to her that I would like a manager to follow up with me. I spoke to this agent on Aug 13th, 2014. Today is Oct 22nd, 2014. I have not yet heard back from anyone at COACH.

I called their customer service number because I wanted them to restore my faith in the company and human decency. I also wanted to be heard. When you are coached, no pun intended, on how to handle customer complaints, they teach you that more often than not, customers are not looking for a freebie. They simply want to be heard and acknowledged! This is classic textbook and exactly what I was seeking.

While working in the hospitality and technology industry, I’ve handled many such customer complaints. Here’s what a good response sounds like — “I’m really sorry to hear that you experienced this at our store. I assure you that what you experienced is very much out of the ordinary and it is not a true reflection of our company. Please allow me to send this up the right channels immediately. We will research the incident and call you back by mm/dd/yy. Here is my direct number should you need anything else in the interim.”

I understand many customers make frivolous complaints. This particular response simply acknowledges that you are sorry that the customer is upset. You have not acknowledged wrongdoing. This is important in our litigious society. But then, the trick is that you actually do the things you said you were going to do and follow up with a genuine and fair response based on your findings. If you messed up, apologize and make it right. Case closed.

After my call that morning, I shared with Mom that the entire experience at the COACH store did not sit well with me. The phone call to customer service had only made the situation worse. Besides lacking common courtesy and basic manners, they were disrespectful to my parents. That was not acceptable. So I asked her how she felt about returning the handbag. It was her decision, not mine. She said yes!

While I dreaded the thought of walking back into the store, I was eager to return the handbag. This handbag did not represent class or quality to us anymore. To us, it represented a company with poor values. It’s our choice when we allow others to disrespect us. We returned the handbag within 24 hours of the purchase.

Relieved, we then headed to Hi-Health. The customer in the checkout line spilled his drink. You must be kidding! What are the odds? I chuckled inside and was dead curious to see what would happen next. And what happened next was perfect and so simple. The employee didn’t flinch one bit. He causally walked over to the spill and cleaned it up with a big smile. When the customer apologized for the mess and attempted to help, the employee asked him not to worry about either. After all, it was no big deal and he was happy to take care of it.

This Hi Health employee, Tom, acknowledged the customer’s feelings. He wore a genuine smile on his face and in his heart. He heard his customer and told him all was good, thereby making the customer feel whole and good again. The spill was gone in 30 seconds, with no incident or drama. I was amazed at the contrast at how an accidental spill was handled by two different companies. The latter was simply effortless, genuine and filled with warmth, understanding and maturity.

I’ve always believed that the true testament of a good company lies in how they handle themselves when things go wrong, not when everything goes right. It reveals your true colors and how much your values truly mean to you. Enough said.

This begs the question – If we, as adults, can harbor so much ill will, arrogance, ego and anger over an insignificant event such as a spilled drink, then how can we try to better ourselves and strive towards peace within ourselves, and our society? How do folks that harbor such sentiments live every day? How can we be so amiss of bare bottom common courtesy? And what are our kids learning from such adult behaviors?

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