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A Store Owner Is Criticized Publicly For Videos Posted In Private Group

A disgruntled ex-employee is behind the attacks.

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ZACH KEITH WAS the owner of Artista, a young, hip design shop in an upscale suburb of a large Western city. In the 12 years since opening the store, Zach had built a business based largely on outstanding reviews and personal referrals. Having started in the jewelry business while still in high school, Zach believed in hiring people who fit the store image and training them in-house. He had higher than usual turnover, but that was a price he was willing to pay to have younger, high-energy people representing his brand.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at [email protected]

Tech savvy and always looking to learn from his peers, Zach also spent a good deal of time engaging with industry social media pages, including several private trade Facebook groups. In fact, he had actually become a bit of a celebrity in several forums since he started using a fun animation app to make and post hilarious video memes depicting exaggerated versions of problem customer stories. In virtually every case, the customer was portrayed as foolish, unreasonably demanding or just wildly annoying. Group responses to Zach’s posts were overwhelmingly positive, suggesting that he was simply speaking out loud what most other business owners thought to themselves daily.

Last September, in anticipation of a stronger than usual Christmas season, Zach hired Molly Klein, a young woman who had recently been a top producer for a major chain store. He’d heard through the grapevine that she was a bit temperamental, but after lengthy conversations in two interviews, he was convinced that he could work with her and that she had the potential to be a real star in his environment.

Things went pretty well for the first few months, though Molly’s sales were not as strong out of the gate as Zach had hoped. Then, in early November, her behavior began to change subtly. She seemed less engaged and even distracted, coming in late from time to time, overlooking important details, and even getting into silly arguments with other associates. On the Monday before Thanksgiving, Zach watched a customer walk in the door and walk right past Molly while she was looking down at her phone — which should have been in her locker. Once another associate had picked up the customer, Zach walked up beside Molly and got close enough to notice that she was scrolling Facebook before she saw him and put the phone in her pocket. Since the store was very busy, he reminded her to keep her head up and said that they would need to have a conversation later. Toward the end of the day, Zach took Molly into his office and asked if there was some explanation for her choosing to keep her phone on the floor when she knew that was a violation of policy. She became belligerent and said that restricting access to a personal device was a terrible practice and that she needed her phone to text her customers.

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When Zach pointed out that there were several store devices to use for customer contact and that scrolling Facebook was not the same as texting customers, Molly angrily accused him of spying on her and walked out of the office, saying she had a headache and was leaving for the day. On her way out, she told Zach that from the videos he posted, it was clear that he spent quite a bit of his own valuable work time on Facebook.

Zach wondered how Molly had been able to access any of the supposedly private groups for business owners — the only place he posted his video creations — but then he remembered several friends mentioning that that there were lots of employees among the members of most groups. The conversation faded into the back of his mind as the season shifted into high gear. Molly’s performance was passable, but her attitude with Zach and with her co-workers seemed to deteriorate by the day. By Christmas Eve, Zach had decided that Molly would be leaving as soon as the holiday dust had settled, and on January 4th, she was let go. Molly did not take the news well.

That evening when she got home, Molly complained to her parents about how badly she had been treated at Artista and about what she viewed as Zach’s ineffective management style and hypocritical behavior. When they asked what she meant, she pulled up one of the Facebook groups on her laptop and showed them Zach’s videos, pointing out that on the Artista website, he spoke at length about how every customer was treated with respect. Over the following week, Molly had similar conversations with a number of friends, all of whom were outraged at the way Zach talked about his customers behind their backs.

Several of her friends thought it would be a good idea to post questions about Zack’s “dual personality” on the store’s Facebook page. With Molly’s encouragement, one of her former chain store co-workers (who was also still a member of the private group) took screenshots of some of Zach’s posts showing harsh comments made by other group members and posted them as pictures accompanying a scathing Google review of the store.

Zach was furious when he saw the review and the posts to the store’s page. He had no doubt that Molly was behind it all — but before he could even think about how best to handle the situation, he read an email from one of his VIP customers saying that a colleague to whom he had given Zach’s contact info the day before had just sent him a copy of the Google review. He asked Zach if what he saw was actually true.

The Big Questions

  • How should Zach answer his VIP customer?
  • Is there any way for him to contain the problem at this point?
  • Is there any context in which it’s OK for a business owner to vent publicly — even in a supposedly private group — about customers?
Peggy W.
Chesapeake, VA

I cannot even fathom publicly shaming my customers on any form of social media. This is beyond unprofessional. The owner may wish to rethink his business model. Jewelry is an emotional and personal experience and should remain as such. Every customer, no matter how they behave, should be treated with respect. When I post photos of pieces we have made for customers, their names are NEVER mentioned. Twice I have posted engagement photos because the couple asked me to. And once a video of a customer receiving her custom piece because she asked us to. I would never violate a customer’s privacy in this way. I don’t care how difficult the customer may be. Perhaps there is a reason this store has so many difficult customers?

Stacey H.
Lincolnwood, IL

Zach should have his lawyer write an employment contract that specifies that actions of this sort (Molly’s) will be not only be grounds for termination, but will also result in a lawsuit. The contract should specify that any complaints the employee has about policy, whether in “real life” or on social media, must be addressed to management.

As for the social media fiasco, damage control. The customer should be taken out for a fancy lunch and told that bad reviews on social media are often the result of angry competitors seeking revenge, and that “we are working to improve our customer service every day, and we would be honored if you would write a review based on your own real-life experiences here at Artista.” Also, as long as no customers’ names are revealed in the mocking posts, they can be dismissed as a part of an online community of other jewelers who use the hardest situations as a way to help each other learn how to deal with difficult customers, which we all have.

Kelly D.
Chattanooga, TN

Nothing is private on the internet! That being said, there will always be someone trying to spoil the fun. Tell them to take it with a grain of a salt and just keep doing your thing!

Bruce A.
Sherwood Park, AB

Going forward, Zach needs to appreciate something that I have always stressed to my children: The “send” button is permanent, and it is naive for him to believe posts would be kept secret. He had nothing to gain by his posts, but worse, he left himself open to various interpretations. Resolution of this type of issue does not involve Molly. It involves himself.

Jennifer F.
Colorado Springs, CO

“Say it, forget it. Post it, regret it.” In this day and age, we can never assume anything posted online will remain private. Forums can be a place to commiserate, but it is important to remember how easily things can be taken out of context. This is PR 101! The best course at this point would be honesty with the client AND publicly on social media. Zach should take the power away from the disgruntled employee by admitting humanity. Sharing with his client base in the same way he makes his private videos can restore his edge. Admit on social media that there are 99 percent gems and 1 percent duds, and that every patron who ensures you can open your doors day after day is appreciated, no matter how quirky their interactions can be. The former employee should beware that in a tightly woven industry like ours, burning a bridge and “outing” a former employer may mean others will take a hard pass on hiring her in the future as well!

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Rex S.
Houston, TX

Honesty is the best policy. Zach should speak with his VIP client and explain that this was the action of a disgruntled former employee and that the examples were taken out of the larger context. He should further explain that the videos were meant to speak privately about frustrating situations, vent and bond with industry peers who would understand in a supportive manner, and not employees or non-business owners. These videos were never intended to be public. That being said, in 2021, no one should expect any sort of privacy with anything written or recorded by any device that connects to the internet in any way. If it is electronic data, and that data can get online, there is a decent chance it will one day become widely available. Thus, one should never write or record anything that one is not willing to own and stand behind.

Cindy C.
CA

Zach could have avoided the situation by acknowledging that a new employee’s performance at the start of employment will be the best they will ever provide. If there is a problem with performance early on, it needs to be addressed immediately. The employee should have been let go as soon as Zach realized she was not a fit for the company culture he was striving to create. He would be doing her a favor as well. She was not happy and underperforming. Help her move on to a company where she could fit in and be better than a mediocre employee. I recommend the book LEADING WITH QUESTIONS by Michael Marquardt for strategies to effectively ask the right questions to help you handle even the toughest problems.

Linda F.
Timmins, ON

“If you don’t have anything nice to say …” still goes. There is no such thing as a private conversation, and with today’s social media “take no prisoners” atmosphere, this is especially true. We are a family-operated retail jewelry store in a small town, and news has always traveled fast, especially bad news. Now, social media is the new “small town,” and bad news always gets the most clicks, unfortunately.

Jim D.
Kingston, NH

Zach fell for the folly of social media stardom. He is not the first and won’t be the last to be chewed up and spit out by online meatgrinders like Facebook and Instagram where people just wait to pounce on anyone who makes a mistake. He can’t deny what he did, though his customers may think it is like him kicking a puppy on live TV. My sympathies to him and his business; he is now the Paula Dean of his market area. Once on the web it will never go away and may haunt him for many years to come. That is one of the better things about your magazine is that you ask for similar customer issues, but you publish them anonymously.

Ralph H.
Connersville, IN

OK, first, call the customer and apologize for being such a dumb ass on social media. Second, remember the first rule of computers: Don’t let them rule your world (more accurate would require mechanic’s language). Remember, you’re likely not as funny as you think. Finally, remember everything from or on the computer can go to anyone. Never put humiliating customer images online, even in jest. Someone is reading every post and will find a way to harm you. Computers are wonderful … all should come with a big hammer.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. jewelry store, you’re invited to join the INSTORE Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the jewelry industry. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at [email protected].

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