What happened: On February 6, a netizen named @再见啊旅人 revealed on Xiaohongshu that Chinese mid-level fashion retailer Initial sent her a funeral wreath after a dispute with its customer service. Since then, the company has followed the Weibo hot search trend due to this disrespectful customer service disaster. During the Spring Festival, the netizen wrote online that she had received a notice from customer service at Initial’s online flagship store Tmall that they had ordered a funeral wreath for her following a mix-up on an order.
The well-known Hong Kong brand was founded in 2000 and has cultivated a predominantly young clientele. It offers men’s and women’s clothing designed by an in-house team and falls under parent company Belle International Holdings Limited.
The Jing Plug: Since this transgression came to light, Initial issued an apology on its Xiaohongshu account, saying it fired the offending employee while halting its operations.
However, this decision did not appease the anger of Chinese netizens. A citizen, known as Nn, wrote on Xiaohongshu that “we must be careful [where we] shop online in the future because we don’t know when they will ship a funeral wreath. But elsewhere, several other netizens suggested that firing a staff member was not the best way to deal with the problem. “Obviously the customer service training is not good enough,” commented another user (Chongchong or 虫虫).
But the problem becomes even more complicated because Initial is not the only brand that Internet users have accused of not understanding the value of customer service. On December 4, 2021, the Cartier store in Hangzhou MixC faced widespread criticism for discriminating against customers. A customer named Mr. Chen said he heard sales assistants questioning his ability to make major purchases, even though his shopping spree led him to buy a wristband worth $64,924. Cartier remained silent on the matter.
Companies need to remember that their employees are, in fact, their best brand ambassadors. In light of this, luxury houses should make concerted efforts to ensure their employees know the value of their customers. Staff should treat consumers with respect, regardless of the size or scale of a luxury store or brand, online or not. In the age of e-commerce, the behavior of customer service personnel will have a huge impact. China, after all, relies heavily on word of mouth.
The Jing Plug reports on high-profile news and features our editorial team’s analysis of key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product declines and mergers to heated debates popping up on Chinese social media.