Complaint: Country Road customer Richard Misso. Photo: Mal Fairclough
Richard Misso has been a loyal Country Road customer for more than 25 years. But flicking through its latest catalogue something caught his eye - a lack of models beyond the white Anglo-Saxon stereotype.
"There were no models of any ethnic diversity, which makes people like me feel invisible," said Mr Misso, who is of Sri Lankan, Dutch and German descent.
What he did next resulted in a Facebook spat that saw Country Road admit to removing a public complaint from its site and highlighted the fraught world of interaction between customers and companies online.
Mr Misso sent two emails to Country Road customer service asking why the brand appeared to use only white models, despite the racial diversity of its customer base.
When his inquiries went unanswered after two days, Mr Misso posted his correspondence on the Country Road Facebook page.
Within 30 minutes, the Melbourne man estimates his post had received about 70 likes, shares and comments.
Customer service then contacted Mr Misso on Facebook, denying Country Road discriminated and asking for his telephone number to take the conversation offline.
Mr Misso replied he would like to keep the conversation online, but the full conversation was removed from Country Road's Facebook page. When contacted by Fairfax Media, Country Road said it had featured models with a wide range of ethnic backgrounds and denied it had removed Mr Misso's post instead saying it was caught by the spam filter.
But they later released a second statement saying it may have been ''erroneously deleted'' and that they had apologised to Mr Misso.
''Our policy is not to remove any posts on social media, including negative ones, unless we are required to by law,'' the later statement said.
Social media enables a direct communication with customers, but carries serious moderating responsibilities and the potential for one person's complaint to go viral.
In September, Coles recalled its Dry Fit nappies after a mother's post about her baby choking on them went viral on Facebook. In less than 24 hours, more than 35,000 people had shared the post and Coles announced the withdrawal on Facebook.
Last year, an open letter to Target protesting the sale of clothes that made girls aged seven to 14 "look like tramps" attracted over 60,000 "likes" within days of being posted.
Social media expert Ryan Shelley said engaging with customers a necessity. "Companies that fail to have an active social media presence appear to lack authenticity and an open channel to their customers," he said. But he advises clients that if they want to be on social media, they need dedicated resources to manage that presence.
''If a person has a complaint or a compliment, they need to know someone is there to answer those queries. Like any public presence [social media] is a public forum, so the people that are in charge of that presence need to be briefed very clearly with an understanding of the company's beliefs and goals in order to communicate those values to customers."
Fashion designer Charlie Brown said a speedy response was needed for complaints on social media. "Sometimes you want to ignore it because you don't want to fan the fire but you have to respond as fast as you can, even if it's ugly, because customer service is so important."