The importance of delivering an optimal customer experience cannot be overstated. This year saw some notable blunders. Here are five that I believe stood out the most.
1. Lulumon's chairman blames customers for malfunctioning pants
When female customers of the athletic wear company started complaining that the brand's yoga pants caused their thighs to rub together, Chairman Chip Wilson blamed women's bodies, saying some figures "don't work" with their pants. Rather than apologize initially, Wilson went on a tangent and blamed the customers rather than the company's manufacturing and fabric issues. The sheer pants snafu ended with the founder's resignation, but not before the company became embroiled in a PR nightmare with the media reporting on Wilson's comments and angry customers taking to the Internet to voice their complaints. The pants were eventually recalled and Lulumon's stock dropped 4 percent.
2. Healthcare.gov goes live without sufficient testing
Healthcare.gov is a perfect example of what companies shouldn't do when launching a site. The site was launched with insufficient testing. As a result, server capacity was ill prepared for an influx of millions of visitors on a first day of launch. This was supposed to be ease and effortless for these people; instead, users were getting messages like, "please try again later," and "please wait," when visiting the site.
Amy C. Edmondson, Harvard professor of leadership and management, provides some advice in this article about what to do when launching a site: Set realistic expectations, list the lessons learned, identify intelligent failures and correct them before the next cycle starts, and remind people of what's ultimately at stake: affordable healthcare for millions of Americans.
3. CVS gives 5-foot long receipts
In August, the Internet erupted with people posting photos of their comically long receipts from their CVS purchases. The nearly 5-foot receipts demonstrated corporate waste and triggered a legion of adversaries.
When AOL Daily Finance's Matt Brownell crafted a post after one of his coworkers received a 38-inch receipt for purchasing one item, CVS's response was that the coupons it prints on the receipts use "less paper than printing coupons on additional paper or that would be required if we sent direct mail offers to our members." Still, the company added that it would be reducing receipt lengths in 2014.
4. Amy's Baking Company engages in an epic rant on Facebook
The disastrous Scottsdale, AZ restaurant became notorious after appearing on Gordan Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares in the spring. Owners Samy and Amy Bouzaglo demonstrated such bad behavior to employees and customers during the show that Ramsay walked out before taping concluded. Then in an epic meltdown on Facebook, the Bouzaglo's took to the social media site to defend themselves against negative customer reviews about their restaurant--only to get nasty with customers, spurring national attention with their social media rant.
Just when we thought it couldn't get worse, the notorious Amy's Baking Company was in the news again for another scandal. This time for its legally binding employee contract that contained rules for governing how employees may speak, act, dress, and spend their holidays.
Amy's Baking Company has brought new meaning to "restaurant impossible," and has created a list of 'lessons learned' for how not to engage with customers and employees.
5. Target plays down the severity of its compromised POS systems
It's no wonder that Target customers reacted with frustration when the retail giant played down its massive data breach that occurred earlier this month. In a notice on Target's website about the "Unauthorized access to payment card data in U.S. stores," the question of whether it is now safe to use your credit card at the company's stores is buried in the fourth question of an FAQ at the end of a 1,500 word statement.
Then this past Friday, Target confirmed that debit card PIN data was also stolen, reversing its earlier stance that the codes were not part of the hack. Until now, Target has been saavy about its customer communications, but the present incident reveals a blind eye for what consumers need to hear to feel safe.
Got another branding blunder of 2013? Share it here.