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FairPrice's mislabelling accusation: Need brands always respond to consumer cries of foul play?

FairPrice's mislabelling accusation: Need brands always respond to consumer cries of foul play?

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NTUC FairPrice was accused of foul play as a TikTok user called out the brand for incorrectly labelling the weight of the boneless chicken breast she bought from the store.  The brand quickly responded to the issue over the weekend, apologising for the error and said it will “honour a full refund or exchange for products that have been inaccurately labelled”.

Since about an hour ago, the brand updated its statement and shared that it has contacted the customer to address her concerns and investigated the cause of the alleged mislabelling. “We agree that such an error should not have occurred. Our staff at the frontline are working hard, and we ask for patience and understanding during this challenging time. All our weighing scales are also independently calibrated by authorised vendors certified by the authorities,” said the brand.

It also acknowledged that the video with a price label pasted over an erroneously printed label was posted by the customer suggesting possible dishonest practices, and said the brand “does not condone any unethical business practices and takes such allegations very seriously”.

In a rather sternly worded statement, NTUC FairPrice added, “We will safeguard the integrity of our reputation against false allegations if necessary. We advise the public not to circulate unverified claims which may cause unnecessary public alarm.”

It also asked customers to contact the brand directly to express their concerns to avoid any misunderstanding. Comments around the incident were mixed with some calling out NTUC FairPrice’s customer service quality, and others saying that the front line workers are indeed working hard and this could just be a case of human error.

While the news of this incident has been picked up by several media outlets, it does raise the question on whether every complaint on social media which finds traction needs to be addressed. According to Danny Tan, managing director of Grayling, in principle, brands should be consistent with how they choose to engage their customers. He said:

You cannot be responsive to praise and silent on shortcomings.

Assuming the complaint is legitimate, the brand’s response should always be accompanied by the actions taken to address the issue – much like what NTUC FairPrice has done. “In this case, NTUC FairPrice did well to respond as swiftly as it did, reminding its customers of its full refund or exchange policy for inaccurately labelled products, and encouraging them to reach out directly to staff in-store to check if they were uncertain,” said Tan.

On the other hand, Freda Yuin, director, White Label PR said that while brands should get in touch with customers to address feedback directly, not every negative customer feedback needs to be addressed publicly. However, as social media has become the main source of information today, owing to its pervasiveness and speed in disseminating information or even misinformation, should a grievance start gaining traction on social media and then be covered by media platforms, then yes, a public comment is generally recommended, she explained.

Steps to take

Yuin said that the first step should be to reach out to the consumer without issuing any public comment and resolve the real issue before putting out a comment. This is to ensure that the brand is adequately equipped with all the necessary facts and details of the situation so that they will be able to release a factually accurate statement and proposed resolution to the situation. Otherwise, the brand may be caught in a back and forth with the complainant publicly which will further damage the brand's reputation.

At the end of the day, brands have to thoroughly and promptly evaluate any issue that arises - particularly those which are social media-led given the nature of how they can spread and diverge, added on Julia Wei, managing partner, AKA Asia.

While most companies probably have their own distinct priorities and criteria when it comes to what to respond to, Wei also outlined a helpful checklist.

1. Step 1: Does the negative feedback attack or contradict a core value or brand proposition of the company?
2. Step 2: Is it a matter of fact or opinion? Is it irrefutable or is it obvious that it is merely one person's subjective perspective?
3. Step 3: Is the source credible or influential, and is it gaining reach?
4. Step 4: Lastly, who is your core target audience and will this affect your reputation with them?

If the negative feedback has already gained traction at this point and it's a matter of fact rather than an opinion, then silence will likely not be an option, said Wei.

Wei added that sometimes the cases might also involve getting in touch with the key sources that have played a role in amplifying the feedback. “Keeping employees in the loop on the situation and the company's stance would also be key at this stage,” she said.

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