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How should we react as consumers when a business we support makes a mistake?

As humans, we often make mistakes. With humans running a business, a company isn’t immune to mistakes either.

But the thing with businesses is that mistakes are costly, and I don’t mean just in terms of profits. Mistakes can ruin a customer’s day. They can result in public backlash and scrutiny. They can break not just a company’s reputation but also that of the person in charge.

In big corporations like Meta and Amazon, plenty of criticism is thrown at Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos directly instead of at the businesses themselves. Having grown into such visible public figures, it’s an unavoidable part of their entrepreneurship journey.

There are lots of arguments to be made for and against the harsh criticism they receive, but what we’re focusing on in this article is: do smaller businesses that make a mistake deserve the same treatment?

Double standards, justified

Mistakes committed by a big company versus a small one are very different and here’s why.

In a big company, we know the mistakes are done by a huge group of people. There are more layers and SOPs to their workflow, which means that any mistake should be ideally caught at an early stage. In fact, a big company’s mistakes should be not just fixed faster—they should be predicted beforehand.

But in a smaller business, manpower is usually limited. Each person ends up wearing multiple hats, so they’re more prone to making mistakes with their attention spread thin. 

On the flip side, of course, we can argue that small companies need to be better because they have a smaller clientele to satisfy. They should be able to curate better and more personalised experiences for their customers.

Economies of scale definitely come into play though. Mega corporations like Amazon can afford to ship their products at the speed of light (metaphorically), but a small company that depends on third-party couriers may not. In other words, we must be more compassionate to small local entrepreneurs.

Still, we have to draw a line somewhere. Some Malaysians drew the line at being stood up on V-day.

Case Study: Love, interrupted

On Valentine’s Day, a Malaysian online florist, 50Gram, got into some hot water by failing to deliver pre-ordered flowers to awaiting customers on time.

Complaints began to pour in over the internet. Customers claimed that they had been waiting for hours and calling the company numerous times to no avail.

In a post made on February 18, 50Gram explained the situation and apologised, offering refunds to affected customers.

The apology was made four days after Valentine’s

The post, which garnered over 1.4k reactions, received a good chunk of positive and supportive comments. But of course, if you scroll down, you’ll also see some negative feedback regarding the wording and timing of the post. 

For one, the post had been made 4 days after the original incident, and some commenters felt as though 50Gram saying that the affected orders accounted for 8% of their total orders was an attempt to downplay the fact that they had even messed up in the first place. In essence, a significant number of commenters felt the post lacked sincerity.

Feedback, analysed

I can only wonder what these commenters are thinking when they hit enter. Maybe they intend for their comments to be constructive. Maybe they’re just sharing their opinions.

The truth is, some comments more often than not come across as hateful instead of helpful. Some may not even be part of the affected customers, but simply want to share their two cents. And sure, there’s some merit to that, you don’t have to be a customer to hold a business to better standards.

But when the comment grows into something hateful with little to take away from, such as ridiculing the business or founders, it is now just an attack.

Both positive and angry comments found their way to 50Gram’s social media accounts

A company that genuinely wants to change would attempt to take all the feedback into consideration, but there’s a chance that overly negative comments will only make the receiving party recede into their shell and wait for the storm to be over. 

The right reaction, explained

I think 50Gram’s customers have a right to be angry. I, too, have been affected by companies who fail to hold up their end of the bargain after all.

But even though I believe customers should have the right to complain, I think there’s a right way to do it.

I’ve written bad reviews before, but I’ve never gone out of my way to diss a company and undermine its reputation entirely. One thing instilled in me is also to provide solutions instead of arguing for the sake of winning.

Customers would know best what they actually want, and should relay their feedback in a constructive manner for the company to come up with solutions for.

There were a few comments on 50Gram’s post that did as such, but it also looks like many commenters were unwilling to change their stance, or see things from a different perspective. Supporters continued to shower the company with encouragement, while those who had a bad experience honed in on their faults. But customers must understand that their experience with any company is not universal.

50Gram announced that they will be refunding affected customers and resolving outstanding issues, though the reality is that not everyone will be satisfied with such a conclusion. For a business that’s operated for 6 years, customer expectations would be expectedly higher and less forgiving.

While it’s good that 50Gram didn’t shift the blame to other parties, what could reassure existing and future customers better would be to outline what exactly went wrong, and the steps they will take to prevent the same from repeating.

At the end of the day though, customers have a choice in where to spend their money, and if a company is unable to please them the first or second time with no indication of improvement, then their money is better spent elsewhere.

For a small company, losing a chunk of sales could be a potential death sentence, and might just be the needed wake-up call.

Mistakes, categorised

In the hypothetical tier list of every mistake that a company could make though, there are worse crimes that could be committed.

For example, discrimination cases or abuse of power in the workplace, just to name a few. When it crosses over from just being a simple operational issue to one that negatively reflects the core values (or lack of) in a company, that’s where I draw the line. This applies to both small and big companies.

I’ve stopped listening to music I love and eating at some of my favourite restaurants because I realised that my money was going into something that I cannot stand for. My personal priorities are supporting a company that has great values such as sustainability, ethical sourcing, and livable wages, for example.

With that said, I understand that not everyone has that privilege. Maybe it’s accessibility or affordability. But those who have the ability to make more informed decisions should utilise that ability properly. 

When a company we like messes up, we have to recall our responsibility as consumers. We have to accept that our purchases are not just a simple transaction—our money is used to ensure the business’s survival. Each purchase is a stamp of approval to allow the business to continue its behaviour.

Forgiveness, deserved?

But what if the business changes its behaviour? I believe in second chances, but I also think we should forgive but not forget. We should continue to be vigilant of the company.

Still, forgiveness is easier said than done, especially for problems that relate to a company’s culture—how can we trust that a company has truly improved instead of sweeping things under the rug? 

As cliché as it is, I believe time will tell. We have to be compassionate enough to give companies the time to enact change, but be firm in our personal limits with regards to their operational conduct.

So, how should we react as consumers when a business we support makes a mistake? We keep a calm mind in analysing the situation, try to see things from the business’ perspective, make our expectations clear, give constructive feedback, and continue to hold them accountable.

Then the ball is in the company’s court to ensure they live up to these expectations and earn their forgiveness.

  • Read more opinion articles we’ve written here.

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(UEN 201431998C.)

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