Half knowledge about your company can damage its public reputation

I was first introduced to Bath and Body Works (BBW) scented candles, during a visit to Dubai last year. I became a fan instantly. So I visited a high-end mall there which had their store. I picked four candles and then decided to also pick four body moisturisers as they seemed really good.

We all know that their products are priced at premium rates. I am one of those buyers who on a normal day will not go brand shopping, but if its value for money – I will ‘invest’ in it. For me, this was one of those shopping moments. I loved the product so much that on returning to India I thought ‘oh I should have picked more’ as they were not available in Mumbai then. I had heard of a store in Delhi though. I asked my DXB cousin to buy four more candles for me to be sent with anyone coming to Mumbai. When I checked online on one of the e-shopping sites, the prices were too high and that too for the lower range candles I had seen in Dubai. But I’m thinking ‘Wow, people in India are still buying them!’ In a way I was also proud of the fact of how Indians have upgraded in their purchasing power. “Third world country? Think again!”

While I was coordinating the purchase from Dubai, I came across a full-page advertisement in a leading newspaper announcing the launch of a new BBW outlet in Mumbai. I was happy beyond words. I waited for the launch day and since it was close to my place of work, I even went to the store launch. There was already a long queue to get in. So after almost three hours I finally got the BBW products and in my city. I picked two candles and four of their other products.

The “What!” moment

Last week I was travelling to New York and the only shopping I wanted to do was pick the BBW candles from its country of origin – (besides fridge magnets from my travels). While visiting a friend in Long Island NY, she mentioned there was a store close by and took me there. At the store I felt like a kid in Disneyland. In my excitement when one of the attendants approached us, I mentioned how I loved their products and I am glad that they opened shop in my city too. To that, the attendant said and I quote “We only have presence in the US and not outside the country. Others buy our products and sell it further”. My first reaction was shock and I tried correcting her by ‘informing’ her that she was wrong and that my first purchase was at a large BBW store in Dubai. This means they have international presence. But she was adamant about her knowledge of the company and quite arrogant at giving that false piece of information too. She constantly tried to imply that “BBW is an ‘American brand’ and you won’t find it outside America. If you do, it’s probably people buying our products and then reselling them.” The argument continued and at that moment I almost wanted to walk out of the store without a purchase. There were so many thoughts in my mind. Did I purchase counterfeit products in Dubai and India and at a premium price! I felt cheated. How did these store owners in Dubai and India manage to get a store full of BBW products and invest in buying a shop in high-end malls while paying high rents for them to only brand the shop ‘Bath and Body Works’. Eventually yes I was convinced that the attendant had no clue about the company, beyond the store she worked in. But for me the damage was done. I did check the company website where it clearly says, BBW has presence in more than 20 countries through 80 stores operating under franchise license and other forms.

Takeaways from this incident

1) Why would a company invest in international operations but not in their own employee’s education on the company? Why would they spend billions on advertising internationally and not on educating their own employees about those same service offerings?

2) A premium international brand like Bath and Body Works defaults on educating their own employees on their company and product information and that too within the geographic presence of their origin. How well can they then manage it internationally where they already have presence or aspirations to open shop in new countries?

3) An employee may not be required to have knowledge of the entire company’s business functioning, depending on his/ her position, but basic knowledge and understanding of the company is a must. This is especially important, if they are facing customers directly.

4) ‘Customer is always right’ if your sales representative does not have the right information.

I think it is a lesson for all brands to learn, irrespective of geographic presence.

The views expressed here are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Reputation Today or the organisation she represents.

Flovie Martins
Flovie Martins is Head, Corporate Communications and CSR at Future Generali India Life Insurance Company Limited.
Flovie strongly believes that everyday is a new day for course correction in life and an opportunity to learn something new..

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