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Real Deal: The Open Forum Meets the High-Maintenance Customer

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[dropcap cap=A]s much as Nancy Wright loved the ease and convenience brought by modern communication technology, there were times when she longed for nothing more than the old “come in and talk to me” days! This was one of those times.[/dropcap]

Nancy worked hard through college, studying business and marketing while continuing to work in her mom’s store. She’d been a part of the team at Adamas since she was a small child, and never even considered a future that did not include the business she loved. In the 12 years since her graduation, she had put her creative energy into the physical and technological renovations that helped moved Adamas from a small-town jewelry store to a major regional player producing five times the annual volume it did in her graduation year.

The new store they’d built around the corner from their original location was a retailer’s dream – beautifully designed with all the “cool” touches – and Mom’s eye for the next great innovation in design kept Adamas on the leading edge of fashion. Of course, everything at Adamas was built around a dedicated service culture, and it was the job of every member of the team to ensure that clients’ expectations were exceeded every time – without fail.

It was the Adamas website, however, that Nancy believed to be the cornerstone of the store’s success. She’d hired top professionals to design, build and manage it and had won numerous local and state awards for the efforts of her team. The feature most often cited in glowing reviews of the site was one Nancy called The Forum. Through the Forum, Adamas invited clients and the community at large to post questions or comments, and to engage in discussion about the interests and concerns of today’s fine jewelry shopper. The open and uncensored nature of the discussions and the site’s large and diverse following kept interest and involvement unusually high, and that kept contributors – even those with complaints – unusually honest in their presentation. Both Nancy and her mom attributed many of their most successful innovations – including many of the new store’s design concepts – to ideas garnered from Forum discussions.

Now, as Nancy sat at her desk reading the most recent Forum entry, she couldn’t help but miss the days when solving a problem was face-to-face easy. It was the first time a client had presented a problem on the Forum that was not only complex, but that was presented in a way that skewed the facts and misrepresented the context:

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Comments: Nancy, I have a question about the cost of rhodium coating. I was coming in every six to eight months to have my rings recoated, and I don’t wear them very often. I only wear them when I go out and about. I don’t wear them at home. I don’t wear them when I garden, or do house work. Really, they only get worn when I go to an event or shopping. A sales associate named Karen usually takes care of us each time we go in, and each time the price has gone up considerably. While I think Karen is very nice, I really don’t want to deal with her in the future. (for reasons I would rather not get into on the Internet). When I asked her why the price kept going up, she said that it is because rhodium is like gold. I researched it, and found that while it is a precious metal, it is not gold. My research also explained that 0.25-0.50 microns of rhodium should last 6 months to a year and should cost $25 to $30. The site I found went on to explain that a 2.5 to 3.0 micron coating should last 5 to 6 years and cost $100.00. I have been paying $100.00 and it only lasts 6 to 8 months. I love my rings and your store. I love and respect the way you run your store, but I have not returned to have my rings recoated for fear that we are being overcharged. I have price compared and your competitors charge prices more in line with my research. My rings are in need of the free cleaning and check up. They are also in need of rhodium coating, but I want to make sure I am getting what I am paying for. Nancy, I am not trying to be offensive or nasty. I am just a working woman on a tight budget wanting to make sure that the jeweler I trust the most is giving me the best deal for the money. As I said earlier, I love my rings, and get tons of complements on them. I think your business is great and I’ve sent all of my friends and coworkers to your store. I just can’t help but feel like in this situation, I’m being taken advantage of. I’m curious about others’ experience with rhodium coating. – Chandra

A little research told Nancy that Chandra’s first visit that included a rhodium service was on her wedding ring was on 7/27/09 and she was charged $35. In January, 2010, she brought in 2 other items and was charged $80 total. She brought the same two pieces back in July of 2010 and was charged $100. In short, the store’s price went from $35 to $40 to $50 per item. In the context of her research, Nancy also learned that shortly after the second visit, her sales associate Karen had begun receiving inappropriate e-mails from Dana’s husband. The e-mails stopped after Karen sent a clear and explicit turndown message to him – copied to Nancy.

[h3][b]The BIG questions:[/h3]  How should Nancy reply to this Forum posting? Should she defend Karen and the store? How much “real” information should she put out there? How does a store owner address the price of rhodium as costs continue to skyrocket? Should Nancy look into the quality of work in her shop? [/b]

Editor’s note: Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved. The names of the characters and stores have been changed and should not be confused with real people or places.

[span class=alert]To be eligible for publication in INSTORE, responses must include your name, store name, and the city and state in which your store is located. [/span]

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