Getting engaged is one of those rare life moments that are meant to be savored. Imagine having that priceless experience intertwined with being wrongly accused of stealing a $28 dollar t-shirt. Not once, but three times.
That's what happened to a black couple at Angry Orchard, a hard cider company in upstate New York. Cathy-Marie Hamlet shared in a Facebook post, that while her fiance was proposing to her, security interrupted them three times, to search his pockets, her purse, and eventually the purses of the friends they'd come with. They didn't find a shirt.
A humiliated Hamlet, who felt like she and her fiance were victims of racial profiling, ended her Facebook post with a pointed statement:
Angry Orchard if you don't want Black People buying your product or frequenting your establishment, then maybe put a sign on the door so that we know we are not welcome.
Angry Orchard investigated the incident and issued an apology:
We recognize that we badly mishandled this situation and our team's response was inexcusable. As of yesterday, we have replaced the security team members working that day and the manager who was on duty. We are initiating additional, mandatory training on security awareness and unconscious bias for everyone on staff to prevent something like this from happening in the future. We're deeply sorry that our guests were mistreated.
Business is about belonging. And too often we've come across stories like these, where customers are mistreated. A social uproar ensues. Brands apologize. They enact unconscious bias training. The cycle begins again with a different company. Last year it was Starbucks, Nordstrom, and Yale. Earlier this year it was Sephora.
As a business leader, you spend a ton of time working to build and grow a brand that serves your customers well. But all your hard work can be gone in an instant when ugly incidents like these occur. And of course, no brand ever thinks it will happen to them. Until it does.
Here are three principles to latch onto, to ensure that what happened at Angry Orchards doesn't happen to you.
1. Values are meaningless if they aren't lived out by your team.
When you look at the official apologies companies make in response to culturally insensitive marketing, racist comments from team members, racial profiling, or even just inappropriate behavior from employees, the common phrase you see is "this does not reflect our values."
But because the incidents occurred, we have to ask the question, whose values are most prevalent within these brand's customer experience? Is it the values of your company, or the values of the team? Those two should be the same.
When it comes to adding people on your team, be sure you're bringing on those whose own values already reflect the values of your company.
You can train on competencies, skills, and processes. But changing the way someone thinks or feels is a much more difficult thing to do, especially when you get caught up in the chaos of day-to-day operations.
2. Inclusion must be intentionally baked into your company culture.
Diversity, inclusion, and belonging are core values that in a perfect world, every company and person would embody.
But for many, an inclusive mindset isn't one that comes naturally. This is especially true, if they aren't a part of a group, or don't have a person in their circle who has traditionally been underrepresented, or has a background or way of life that is different from the mainstream.
That's why you'll need to put great care in ensuring the company culture you build puts inclusion at the forefront.
That could mean intentionally seeking out a diverse staff that adequately reflects the customers you serve. It could mean declaring that specific diverse customer segments are ones you will focus on serving. It could also mean making sure you have policies and procedures that support both your team and your customers, especially the ones with inherent differences in feeling like they belong with your brand.
3. Your brand's customer experience is owned by everyone.
It's not just the marketing, or executive, or your front-line teams. Everyone who touches your company impacts the customer experience you deliver in some way.
That's why focusing on building a team that reflects your values, and reinforcing it within your company culture is essential. It'll prevent you from having to do one-off trainings in response to an unfortunate and preventable event.
And it will help your team be proactive about making sure that the experience they deliver makes all your customers feel like they belong. And it will help empower them to intervene in the event that they see a scenario where your customers aren't being treated as they should, or if there is a malfunction in the brand experience you desire to deliver.