Armchair Activists

The Australian

March 27

I WATCHED the manager of a prestigious beauty salon handle a client who fronted up with a six-month gift voucher that was about to expire. She wanted to make an appointment. At such short notice, there was “no way” the salon could squeeze her in before the expiry date. And no, they wouldn’t extend the gift voucher a week or two. It was policy. It was written in the fine print. The woman had her reasons for not coming during the six months. The manager would have none of it.

The client was getting teary. Her four best friends had put in $400 for her birthday. Surely it wouldn’t harm anyone to extend? “No,” said the manager, with a visible sneer and a flick of her hair. A young woman sitting next to me shook her head. “That’s at least five people and me they’re going to lose as actual clients, and potentially hundreds more as the story goes viral,” she said.

“Each woman will tell five others who will tell others the dreadful story of ‘Blah’ salon that denied a sick woman her 50th birthday present. Then someone will post it as a tweet or on Facebook, and a whole tribe of women will boycott the salon. Social media can shut down businesses.”

It’s not an overstatement. Recently consumers, fuelled by Greenpeace, attacked Nestlé on Facebook for using Indonesian palm oil, the production of which is destroying the rainforests. The story went viral as outrage grew; mainstream journalists reported the reaction; faced with damage to its reputation and/or share price, the company compromised. Gone are the days of businesses holding us to ransom. Technology has led to the era of ­people-power. “It’s the era of the consumer,” says Australian social media expert and top blogger Laurel Papworth.

Sites hitting back at companies and products are springing up. It’s citizen journalism. And not just at a corporate level. People are tweeting in real time from establishments about bad service, nasty waiters and rip-offs. Says Papworth: “Some are live-streaming from their iPhones and posting it on YouTube” – for example, catching designer John Galliano’s anti-Semitic rant. “Clever companies are starting to employ full-time Twitter, blog and Facebook watchers so they can see their names come up and put out fires on the spot.” The voice of the disgruntled consumer will not be silenced. And establishments will have to stay on guard. I hope the nasty salon manager takes heed. She is no longer the powerbroker in this world of armchair activism.


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11 Responses to Armchair Activists

  1. Helen 30 March 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    One thing I have learnt over the passing years is to deal direct about any grievance with a person or a business. It’s how I would like others to deal with any grievance they may have towards me. It’s an honest and respectable way to resolve conflict.

    One of my regulars once wrote me a letter disputing the cost of a piece of cake. (He is in his nineties, hence the letter but oh so charming to be back in those days) I invited him back to talk about it and I explained why I had to charge xxx dollars and suggested alternatives that were more affordable for him. As mentioned he is a regular of mine, so this communication and a listening ear on both sides resolved the situation for the good of all.

    Win win. Not a hard principle to try to live by.

    Whether the manager should have honoured the nearly expired voucher is a matter of opinion. The woman could have asked to see the owner or communicate directly with him/her and see if there was any better outcome possible under the circumstances. Perhaps she (and you )would have been pleasantly surprised.

    If you want to make a stand yourselves then don’t return there. But why summon up an army and set out on a mission of destruction? Lots of innocents become hurt in these campaigns like the staff and customers who do enjoy going there, and last but not least, the owner who invested heart and soul, because that’s what it takes to run a business these days.

    And as for facebook and twitter etc. Just another communication tool, that hopefully will be used for good.

  2. morris 29 March 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    Funny; the older you get the more you know, including that luck plays such a big part in life: the Japanese beat all the records in longevity and then sh-t happens.

  3. vanessa 29 March 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    Surely a business must put flexibility high on its list of desired business practise.
    Pissing off the customer with this lack of flexibility is just bad business.
    Business beware!

  4. Pam 28 March 2011 at 6:39 pm #

    The manager of the beauty salon was wrong not to extend the gift voucher on compassionate grounds. However, Ruth, you missed an opportunity to help two sisters. Had you quietly gone up to the counter and expressed your opinion that it would be good all round for her to bend the rules this time she may well have had second thoughts. If she didn’t you could have offered to give your appointment time to the sick woman knowing that you could come back at another time. Either way everyone would have had a better day and the manager would have food for thought. Kindness is a more powerful teacher than revengeful vitriol.

  5. Ruth Ostrow 27 March 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    Thanks Deb, most fortunately the young woman next to me, and myself, had also been given vouchers (her for Valentine’s Day, me for my birthday) so we weren’t paying.
    But that was a lovely and sensible suggestion – and clearly you do think of others.

  6. Deb 27 March 2011 at 7:17 pm #

    Your article has me baffled as I cannot understand why all of the clients in the salon didn’t just chip in and buy the voucher from the woman and use it against the value of your own treatments that day. This would have made good of what now seems to be a very bad situation for everyone.

  7. Helen 26 March 2011 at 7:03 pm #

    Just been there myself and loved the service too..”and what side would you like the dressing on Madam?” one cheeky waiter asked me. Great service..But again, point is, it wasn’t free and neither did I ever expect it to be free. Loyal customers are our treasures and there are loyalty programs such as every ..nth coffee free, buy one get one free.

    Unfortunately this still doesn’t guarantee one’s survival in business. Stats tell us 90% fail in the first year and 5% in the following five years… it’s not as simple as give good service and everything will just work out dandy.

    There are many challenges the small business owner faces but as long as you love what you do, they are always rewarding.

  8. Ruth Ostrow 26 March 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    And the clever business always spoils the loyal customer, which keeps them coming back. In return the happy customer tips well and refers friends. It’s a two-way street. Having just returned from travelling around America, I was so grateful and appreciative of the fantastic service I got, I never begrudged tipping the manditory 15 per cent and then found myself often giving a decent amount on top to say a thank you. Gotta love American salesmanship. They’ve got it down to an artform.

  9. Helen 26 March 2011 at 6:42 pm #

    Sorry my mistake I am out of touch with prestigious salons myself. As for Fair Trade, be more balanced then. And less judgemental of the business world. Good service is not free service. The reasonable customer knows that.

  10. Ruth Ostrow 26 March 2011 at 6:00 pm #

    Thanks for an industry POV Helen,

    It wasn’t a hairdressers it was a beauty salon, offering massage, hot stone treatments, and all those things that cost $120 before you blink. She was doing the half day pampering apparently for her big 50.

    Secondly, the voucher hadn’t yet expired, it was the establishment who didn’t have staff available to service their client, and from experience most of these places bring in contract massage therapists when they have a certain amount of bookings, so the onus was upon them to either call in extra workers or give the woman a small extension.

    As for charging for a cup of boiling water, it sounds like the restaurant owner was talking a whole heap of bullocks in trying to justify his position. Good service, kindness and generosity from establishments will earn you good tweets and blogs, and businesses who provide quality service and products will attract a massive volume of good will traffic in this brave new world – just as the poor performers will lose theirs. I call this Fair Trade.

  11. Helen 26 March 2011 at 5:23 pm #

    Firstly, whoever spends $400 dollars on their hair in one visit deserves to have their gift voucher (which had expired), dishonoured. Colour, cut, blowwave…what else can one do to their hair for $400? I’m sure there’s an old can of something or other in my pantry that has expired. You reckon I can get my money back from Coles? Or was it Woolies? I’ll have to dig up the receipt before I’ve got any chance of blaming whoever it is I bought it from, for my tardiness.

    Secondly, sounds to me that these “prestigious salon”s probably have a lot of idle rich customers who have got not much better to do than to start a hate campaign. And if people want to boycott, greenban, blackban, spread rumours, tell their friends, colleagues, neighbours and the dog too, about this heinous crime, then who’s really the monster in the end? Does the crime really fit the punishment? This has been going on way before multi media. The phone did/does the job pretty quickly too. It’s sheer vindictiveness.

    In my industry a restaurant was charging customers for cups of hot water. An outrage right? Hate articles towards this then, popular establishment, even made it into the community newspaper.

    But did those customers consider the situation from the other side of the counter? Sadly, not. The restaurant suffered a huge loss in business and was sold. That naughty business owner charging for something that s/he had to pay the electricity company for, the waiter for and the dishwasher guy for as well.

    Oh well. If it’s not free it’s just bad service, I suppose. Want to use your expired voucher? Sure. Would you like a slice of lemon in your free hot water as well? Sure. Would you mind if I charge you for your meal?

    I can go through a few other business points and funny situations here but who’s really listening out there apart from other business owners who have the vantage point of seeing situations from both sides of the counter.

    Some balance would have been nice here Ruth, since the power of the word (talking about power) is a lot greater than many small businesses, just trying to make a living, really have.

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