Update on Rona’s Huge Customer Care Fail

ronaMany of you have sent me warm wishes and requests for an update after my debacle with the Canadian hardware store, Rona. First, let me begin by saying that all of your well-wishes and concerns were touching and deeply appreciated, thank you!

Along with the follow-up I’ve promised you, I have a few additional points and issues that I’d like to address. They aren’t any earth-shattering take-aways, but as the devil is in the detail, they are important behaviours that I wish to strongly advise against.

Update on Rona’s Huge Customer Care Fail

Once my blog post about the unpleasant situation I experienced at a Rona store was published, I finally received a reply from the company. This reply first came on Twitter and was the best response I had yet received, take a look:

Read from bottom to top


The call did in fact come that afternoon. Someone from the head office called to apologize for both the situation and the way I was treated, and to ask if the store owner could call me to get more details on the events that happened. I was told that I would receive the store owner’s call that afternoon.

The call finally came the next afternoon, but from another store manager rather than the store owner. During this call, I heard many more excuses on how the item must have been placed there by a supplier or customer, because it would not have been placed so insecurely by a Rona worker.

Lesson 1: In truth, it does not matter how the accident happened, but only that it did. Instead of continuously repeating that it was not the store’s fault, simply own up, apologize and move on. I appreciated the call, but I would have appreciated less of my time being wasted on excuses.

So up until here, I was happy to have heard from the head office and the store itself and although I was tired of excuses, I felt that they apologized and I was happy to hear their promise to reevaluate their internal procedures for dealing with such high-risk situations. From there, I thought the situation was over. If only they had quit while they were ahead…

Adding insult to injury

Yesterday, I received an email from Rona’s Senior Director of Communications and Public Affairs. The email began by apologizing again – good start – but continued to explain (ahem, more excuses) how they encourage their team to be sincere, but not to apologize publicly due to the potential risk of a liability lawsuit. The woman on the other end of the email, a Mrs. Laberge, continued by agreeing that “In the case you describe, our community manager lacked empathy, I’ll give you that” (truthfully, she could have left out the snarky “I’ll give you that” remark). She then continued with more excuses of how the case should have been dealt with in-store but how there wasn’t enough time. She concluded her email with a link to a document that supports her mission to not subject the company to liability lawsuits (which is a very interesting document, if you’re interested in reading it).

Lesson 2: Quit while you’re ahead and, seriously, enough with the excuses!

Within my reply, I told Mrs. Laberge that I understood her concerns, though there are two courts that she needs to be aware of and prepared for: the court of law AND the court of public opinion. I warned her that hiding behind such excuses are not enough and I pointed out that the mistakes that were made would have been very bad for the brand’s reputation had they experienced a more serious issue, or worse an actual crisis.

After another small exchange, I was finally left with an email that insinuated that I had fabricated the entire incident to test the brand and gain a client, (great! injured AND insulted. Way to go Rona!) and her closing words were as follows:

“As I said to my CEO yesterday during our AGM, it does not matter how well we plan the outcome, how well we do or how good we speak, journalists will decide what fit their agenda and judge us accordingly.”

Within this last email is where the real lessons lay.

Lesson 3: Do not add insult to injury and come out with accusations. I understand that people do test brands, but under no circumstances is it wise to let out such accusations without a hint of proof. All they ended up doing was offending someone who really did experience a head injury in their store, and made this Senior Director of Communications and Public Affairs come across as even more insincere and uncompassionate than the brand had already proven to be.

Lesson 4: Yes, it’s true that you cannot please everyone. However, that should not be your excuse to not even try. Their in-store customer care was a fail that was met with an online customer care fail. Before hiding behind yet another excuse as to why it’s not important to even try, begin by putting the correct policies and procedures in place, training your staff and doing everything right. Only once you’ve at least tried to do everything right, can you come to terms with not being able to please everyone (DKNY is a beautiful example of this). And further more, it is not the journalists you should focus on, but rather your customers, fans and followers (which I was). Do that well and the journalists will praise you and use you as a good example for others.

Lesson 5: Train your Senior Director of Communications and Public Affairs! Such amateur mistakes should not have been made by someone with the title of Senior Director of Communications and Public Affairs.

Melissa Agnes is an international crisis management keynote speaker and consultant. President of the crisis management firm Agnes + Day, Melissa has developed a worldwide reputation for crisis management, planning and training by helping global brands and government agencies prevent and manage a wide range of issues and crises. She is also the editor of The Crisis Intelligence Blog and host of The Crisis Intelligence Podcast.

16 Comments. Leave new

Patrice Cloutier
May 16, 2013 9:27 am

Another perfect example of the lack of understanding of the distinction between regular corporate communications and crisis communications. And why it's so important to train everyone (especially top executives) in the principles of crisis comms.

Normal corporate comms are about many things: bottom line, new products, marketing …whereas crisis comms are really about only one thing: people … A hard concept to grasp apparently.


Apparently! However, from what I experienced with this woman, she's the type that will continue to insult and need to have the last word. She would write me a whole insulting email and then end it with "have a great day!" – to me, that said everything. I doubt if she's trainable since it's in her character.

It's hard to believe that these types of people get titles such as "Senior Director of Communications and Public Affairs". They have no compassion or sincerity, nor do they understand true communications that extend past their own ego.

However, I was at an industry event last night and spoke with someone who works with the brand and was told that this story matches other stories about the same woman. It's too bad for Rona because she's reflecting on their name and reputation.


Oh my goodness Melissa – what an ordeal for you. And even worse for Rona – they behaviour is appalling. When will companies ever learn that honest, human centered communication will always work NOT corporate speak or (legal) threats. Can't believe the way in which you were treated. They need help! Clearly, Rona does not get it. Great case study of what not to do. And congrats on your new journalistic status!


Haha! I thought the same for the journalistic status! Funny you noticed that the way I did, Janie! 🙂

Yes, it's quite unfortunate for the brand and it was quite an experience and disappointment. Though hopefully others will be able to take away some very valuable lessons in communications and customer care. If I can succeed in that, it will have been for a good cause.


Unbelievable! I would say this person made a horrible rookie mistake, except that given her position, it's likely she did know better and made a concious choice to be dismissive and condescending.

It is especially confusing given that she called you a journalist. Certainly she should know that anything that she would send to someone (let alone a blogger/journalist who's already written about the incident!) would be used in a future article. Yet she made a choice to send something that would reflect poorly on her, and her employer. Rona should recognize that as a serious problem.

It's great that she thinks her advice to the CEO has been validated (although I wouldn't agree with her), but expressing that to you just puts her own personal agenda ahead of her employer… always a bad idea.

Hopefully she sees this latest post of yours and learns a little something from it!


Hi Brett,

You'd think she would have reflected and been smarter and more gracious about the whole incident, but it seems that this woman cares more about the short-term thrill she gets from having the last word and insulting customers, than she does about the brand's reputation, which is extremely unfortunate for Rona.

I won't be sending this post their way (not even @ mentioning them on Twitter), partly because Im curious to see how well they monitor and partly because I have no intention of wasting any more time on unpleasantries. However, it is a very clear indicator at how badly Rona needs some help for online issues and crisis management, as well as staff training. Jane was right in stating how badly they need help.

Thanks again for your well wishes and great comments, Brett!



Melissa – I am thinking of making an example out of them in the revised, second edition of my book – an example of mis-diagnosis, misplaced thinking and wrong front-line employee behaviour. It's a great case study of what not to do.


It certainly is. Tons of lessons that everyone can relate to (gasp at) and definitely learn from. I like the idea, Janie!

Guy Belliveau
May 16, 2013 3:08 pm

Melissa, It looks like someone was listening and wants the company to focus on the Customer Experience.


Very interesting, Guy, thanks so much for sharing this with me/us! Hopefully it's not a pure coincidence and hopefully they'll focus on some very key and specific aspects of their business and customer experience – along with their monitoring and online issues and crisis communications as well.

Looking forward to hearing more as it comes out!


Yikes, I just read your original post about this. Also sorry to read what happened, Melissa, and I’m glad you’re okay.

What you wrote here reminded me of something I learned mainly on my own. I thought I’d give my take.

In my past customer service work for a domain registration and hosting company, I sometimes explained to customers what caused their problems to occur after apologizing. Some of them said exactly as you said: I gave excuses, even though that was never my intention.

It took me time to realize that while I may be trying to reason out from my perspective, the customer might believe my explanation is just an excuse from his/her perspective anyway. Thus, I learned to just acknowledge the issue, empathize or apologize depending on the situation, but not necessarily explain why or what caused the problem unless I’m specifically asked.

To those who either said it outright or essentially gave the impression they’re expecting excuses from me, I simply told them something like, “No excuses. We caused this problem (if we did cause it), and we’re truly sorry.” In my experience, that helped cut to the chase or go straight to the point without necessarily arguing as one of your lessons indicated.

(Granted, a lot of what Rona said was likely not necessary.)

In short, what you considered Rona’s excuses might be their attempt to “reasonably” explain their side (and limit their liability, of course). Especially this part:

but not to apologize publicly due to the potential risk of a liability lawsuit.

That might be BS to a customer, but that is a real fear for some (if not many) businesses. I’ve had my share of being threatened with lawsuits even after apologizing, though they’re very few (and thankfully none proceeded) compared to most of my “negative” customer interactions.

IMHO if businesses can somehow address that fear, then they’ll probably…probably….be more open to the lessons you outlined. I’d say what you wrote is one way to face that fear, though (understandably) some businesses want more.

It’s a shame that Rona responded in some ways they shouldn’t really have, though I’m basing that on what you shared here. Something also tells me they responded that way because they thought what you tried to “teach” them was unsolicited, even if you have (or had) the best of intentions for them.

Overall, I still agree with what you wrote. Keep writing and sharing your experiences.

Speaking of which, I’m going to publish an article soon that references a few things you wrote here. 🙂


Hi David,

Thanks for sharing your experiences here with us.

Yes, of course there are explanations to make and yes of course, a company needs worry about the first of two courts: the court of law. However, there are ways to go about this, and Rona’s lack of concern, care, sympathy and excuse after excuse only put their concern for their own brand ahead of an injured customer (an explanation is appreciated, but a long stream of continued excuses cannot be labelled explanations).

As a crisis manager, I teach clients (companies as big as and bigger than Rona) how to protect, prepare and respond to these and worse threats and risks, and never should they forget to care about the customer first.

Also, remember that no blog post would have ever been written had they handled me with care when I was injured in their store, OR had the head office not taken over 72 hours to give me any sign of awareness.

I like that you’re playing devil’s advocate, but in this situation, Rona’s customer care and issues management procedures both proved to be a complete and utter failure. In reality, they’re very lucky that I did not in fact choose to take legal action (as many in my shoes would have) and that I kept it to my blog only as great examples of what not to do for my readers, because a worse threat or attack on the brand is something that they are completely unprepared to handle properly.


I read you, Melissa. And I agree completely.

Essentially, get straight to the point and sincerely show empathy. It's a shame that some companies don't realise those until they face a "crisis" situation that's largely avoidable.

Thanks again!


Very unfortunate – but it's one of my mission to help brands learn to better prepare through this blog.

Thanks to you, David!


Hi there,
I'm sorry to hear about your injury and long exaperating process with Rona. Today I myself had a very bad experience at a Rona store (involving a person I believe is the store owner). Can you give me Ms. Laberge's email address so I can try to bypass all the generic stuff and get to a real person with my complaint? It would be greatly appreciated.

Melissa Agnes
August 25, 2014 10:58 am

To my knowledge, she no longer works at Rona. However, as you can imagine, I doubt she would have been very helpful to you. Best of luck,


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Get the tips and strategies you need to prevent, manage and overcome any type of organizational crisis, by subscribing to The Crisis Intelligence Blog and Podcast. By subscribing you will receive periodic emails with:

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