We know good customer service can keep customers coming back. And most of us understand the power bad customer service has to hurt our business.
Yet this simple lesson still falls on deaf ears at some large, well- known companies. Take Abercrombie & Fitch for example. A $3.5 billion-dollar retailer known for attitude in their advertising apparently has plenty of attitude in others parts of their company. Recently they were fined $115,264 by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights for discriminating against a disabled customer in their Bloomington, MN store.
It should have been more. Much more.
First, the behavior of their employees, as reported by Minnesota Public Radio, the StarTribune and others, suggests they have no idea how to handle any but the most common and simple situations. The situation started because a girl needed to accompany her autistic sister in the dressing room to try on clothing. The Abercrombie & Fitch employees said no. Apparently, they felt the girls were lying because they could not verify the disability.
Imagine if this was your daughter.
Second, the girl’s mother tried repeatedly to resolve this issue with various levels of management. She got nowhere. No apology. No resolution. Nothing. So, she dug in her heels and brought out the big guns. This eventually led to an investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.
Third, the company seems to have stonewalled this case at every turn. According to news sources their actions caused the matter to take longer and cost more than it otherwise would had they been more cooperative. MPR tells it this way:
The company “adopted a litigation strategy of ‘admit nothing,’ refusing to admit the existence of [the girl's] disability until the outset of the hearing, and denying even the possibility that she had suffered from the experience at Respondent’s store. These decisions escalated the cost of this proceeding for all parties,” Office of Administrative Hearings officials wrote.
And it gets worse. The StarTribune reported this:
In its legal battle, the company challenged the family’s claim that Molly was disabled, requesting medical and school records and subjecting the girl to an interview with a forensic psychologist…
What I didn’t see in any of the reports is anything that showed Abercrombie & Fitch has even the slightest concern for how this girl was treated in their store, by their employees.
Maybe I missed that part. Or maybe they simply don’t care.
This seems especially unwise considering the sorry state of retailing these days. In fact, according to recent financial reports their revenue is down 5.6% and net income is down by 42.7%.
Whatever happened to admitting you made a mistake and offering an apology?
They could have avoided a lot of legal fees and bad press had they chosen to apologize. I have hard time believing incidents like these are profit neutral. I would guess this incident will end up costing Abercrombie & Fitch over a million dollars in direct costs and lost business. And this is not the first time this company has been embroiled in such a case. A Google search brings up others.
Treating people badly is bad business. Even worse, it’s just plain wrong. I can only hope this case encourages Abercrombie & Fitch rethink how they treat their customers. Maybe they’ll realize fashion and friendliness can co-exist just fine.