Corporate Flubs Provide Teachable Moments

James McDonough blog sizeWho is America’s King Consumer? Well, actually, it is the Queen who rules; women account for 85 percent ($7 TRILLION!) of all consumer-purchasing decisions, especially in apparel. So you’d think that any company targeting that audience would bend over backward to meet their needs. A no brainer, right? Well…

Recent news stories about two national retail giants provide teachable moments and epitomize the need for ongoing employee training, diversity awareness, as well as creation of corporate cultures that foster communication. Both retailers offended key consumers—women—in different ways. In one situation, a store employee embarrassed a breastfeeding mother by admonishing her and asking her to move to a bathroom. Colorado law protects a mother’s right to breast feed anywhere in public, so this behavior was perfectly legal.  The result? A crowd of breastfeeding mothers conducted a “nurse-in” to protest, gaining national attention. To their credit, the company issued an apology and welcomed the “nurse-in” as a show of support and to mend fences. They hosted the “protesters” with a circle of comfy chairs and refreshments. Bravo for turning lemons into lemonade!

In the other situation, a teenage girl from Arizona called a sports retailer on the carpet for not including a single female athlete in their 2014 basketball catalog. Even though women account for 80 percent of U.S. sports apparel purchases. Nope. Not a one. The result? Again, national publicity and an apology from the CEO.

What went wrong? Certainly human imperfection; people make mistakes. (I’m not perfect, just ask my boss!) Both companies quickly responded to the problems and took ownership. They handled the fallout admirably well.

What else should be learned from these embarrassing customer flubs? A few lessons come to mind…

Companies need to pay close attention to key details of their customers’ experience. The organization needs to foster a greater sensitivity to diversity and KNOW their customers. A big part of that is employee training; employees need to be continually given opportunities to discuss ideas, learn new “stuff”, express concerns, ask questions, etc.

Companies (a.k.a., supervisors, managers, leaders) need to listen internally and make it safe for employees to speak up and voice concerns. When the basketball catalog was being proofread, I’ll bet someone noticed there were no female athletes. But he or she didn’t feel safe to say anything. Or, if no one noticed, then the company needs to add a “rabble rouser” to their staff to inject diverse viewpoints!

Consider discussing these stories at your next staff meeting and see what lessons can be learned by everyone!