Kay Jewelers’ Social Media Brushfire

Why small retailers sometimes handle customer complaints better than big ones

It started with an article on BuzzFeed, which reported how women seemed to be complaining about issues with their rings—and in particular, ring repairs—on Kay Jewelers’ Facebook page.

In all, BuzzFeed News counted dozens of complaints concerning engagement and wedding rings made on Kay’s Facebook page between February 15 and April 21:

Eight people said their inspection or certification records were misplaced. Three said they got a worse diamond replacement.

Twenty-two said their repairs were bad or the ring came out of repairs looking worse.

Six said their rings were lost when Kay took them for repairs.

Normally, one negative article—while not anything anyone wants—wouldn’t be a big deal. But, as tends to happen in the Internet age, the story didn’t end there. It metastasized, spawning similar pieces on Refinery29ConsumeristYahoo NewsJezebellocal news shows, and Today.com.

With each article, the company’s Facebook page drew more and more complaints. Eventually, the company issued a blanket statement:

We deeply value the trust our guests place in us and take the responsibility of caring for your jewelry very seriously. We are reviewing the issues that were brought to our attention to ensure that we are doing everything possible to assist guests who have raised concerns. We thank you for sharing your feedback with us.

Kay Jewelers is the largest jewelry chain in America, and when you service millions of customers, mistakes will happen. Given the wide variety of problems raised and the seemingly small percentage of customers with issues, there may not be any deeper problems here.

Still, this may be an instance where Kay Jewelers’ size—generally an asset—could be working against it. It has become a tempting target for the likes of BuzzFeed. And, as I wrote in 2014 about the infamous Comcast customer service that went viral, sometimes small companies can handle customer complaints better than big ones:

We often see stories about big jewelry chains that get sued or slammed on local news. In just about every instance, the ticked-off buyer brought his complaint first to a customer-service person—be it someone on the phone or behind the counter—and was told that their choices were limited by corporate dictates. The aggrieved party then took his problem elsewhere. The result was a corporate black eye.

This may always be the case for big corporations who don’t want junior people freelancing company policy. But it’s an opportunity for independent jewelers. When someone calls them up with a complaint, they can help. They can make things better. They aren’t bound by company rules, because they set them. And while they may not be able to assuage every angry client, they have a much better chance than someone with no power to truly be of service.

In addition, when faced with issues, big companies tend to offer bland-seeming corporate statements that typically pass through many layers of PR people and lawyers. Consumers tune them out. This, again, represents a potential advantage for small businesses that offer a more direct, personal approach to customer complaints.

By all accounts, Kay Jewelers takes any issues seriously, and its social media team is reaching out to each and every dissatisfied customer. That is the right thing to do—ethically, but also business wise. Kay Jewelers almost certainly has more satisfied customers than dissatisfied ones; otherwise, its business wouldn’t be growing. But this shows, once again, that in the age of social media dissatisfied customers have a larger megaphone than ever before.

JCK News Director