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Costa staff throw reputation recovery efforts down the drain by demonstrating lack of empathy

Costa is back in the news, and unfortunately it's not because of reputation recovery efforts. Instead, staff have decided to show that the company – and National Rail – would prosecute kind behaviour.
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Reputation recovery efforts should mostly be composed of three basic fundamentals: show you plan to tackle the issue, make note that you care for society and ensure brand ambassadors and staff help boost your brand instead of making matters worse.

Costa staff don’t seem to have received the memo, further dragging the company’s name in the mud after a BBC investigation found “faecal coliforms” in iced beverages.

At the time, James Bickford, managing director of Reputation Institute, unveiled it was what happened after the exposure that would dictate whether customers easily forgave and forgot. Costa needed to show it was driving change in response to the allegations, through company and staff attitude alike.

But not even a month has passed and Costa is back in the news – for its brand ambassadors, aka the staff, showing a lack of care and empathy.

One Adrian Pinsent, a TV cameraman, was doing a humble act of kindness – one few people do in this day and age. He took a homeless man to Waterloo station’s Costa so he could pick out something to eat and drink.

But according to the Independent, staff refused him when they found out who the pepsi and sandwich was for. They said: “If we do that we will get prosecuted. It’s not our policy, it’s from the security of the station and the police.”

Another employee decline to serve him as well before Pinset slammed the money onto the counter and left with the goodies regardless.

In a world where the Ritz Carlton is praised for allowing employees to spend $2,000 to help guests and make their experience better, it’s easy to assume putting such policies in place won’t win the station or the company any brownie points. It’s like putting a “we don’t care” banner next to the logo – not something you want in the midst of carrying out reputation recovery efforts.

The next issue is that National Rail and Costa alike can’t remember ever putting such policies in place, meaning there was a misunderstanding somewhere down the line, or staff simply decided on their own to refuse service. Employees need to know that no matter how hard the working day or against certain people they may be, such behaviour should not be tolerated.

Pinset said of the event: “It was an utter disgrace. I asked the homeless man to pick what he wanted, a sarnie and a Pepsi, and when I tried to pay for it, they refused. This argument went on for some time before I filmed the video.

“I was amazed. As a cameraman and journalist myself, I know that the idea of Costa being prosecuted by either the police or station security as the barista says is utterly wrong.”

To the Daily Mail, he further emphasised the behaviour of the staff: “I had to get the last train so when I put the money down I gave him the food. Employees didn’t speak to him, but he did ask me ‘what about your change’ as I left, and I said forget about it as I had to get last train.

“He then went to the counter, but I don’t know what was said. He seemed concerned for me, and not about getting my change, I want to emphasise that. Until that point none of the staff spoke to him.”

With other coffee brands espousing the virtues of giving to society, and while undergoing reputational recovery efforts from last month’s issue, Costa can’t afford for staff to demean customers, whether employed or homeless.

Take Pret a Manger, for example. It launched the #MakeSomeoneSmile campaign in January, encouraging Brits to pay it forward. Every so often, a customer would receive a coffee sleeve with a smile on it. It was up to that person to “nominate” someone, a friend or a stranger that looked like they really needed it, to hand the sleeve in and receive a free coffee.

Kindness is increasingly becoming the new currency, and companies, especially those undergoing reputation recovery efforts, can ill afford to ignore it.

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About Author

Shané Schutte

Shané Schutte is a senior reporter at Real Business, with a particular specialism in employment and business law, human resources, information technology and sales/marketing.

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