Do You Talk to Your Customers?

Founder Mark Constantine of LUSH Cosmetics keeps it real with thousands of self-proclaimed “Lushies” on its online forums who chat with Constantine and his staff. Here you see back-and-forth debate and straight talk usually reserved for friends.

Customers often plead the case for products scheduled for extinction. LUSH lets people know ahead of time so they can stock up on their favorites headed for the chopping block. These exchanges set the tone for the honest, passionate, and straightforward relationship the rest of the company is encouraged to build with customers.

Likened in the media to Willy Wonka, Constantine orchestrates a cacophony of wild discovery techniques to find the scents (and textures) that will explode in the bath or soothe the skin, transporting LUSH customers to their quiet reverie. Some would say LUSH has drawn women back into the bath. LUSH has elevated the art of taking baths with the invention of the “bath bomb,” calling it “a giant Alka-Seltzer for your tub.” For the $7–$9 price of a bath bomb, they provide a bit of therapy for the soul. Laugh if you want — LUSH is laughing all the way to the bank. This unique, all-natural company, which hires people to crack open coconuts and peel mangoes to make its products, has created a legion of followers. LUSH Cosmetics has blossomed from one store in 1995 to more than 600 shops worldwide.

Companies become beloved because of how they connect with customers and how they connect in their customers lives.

  • They relate personally with customers.
  • Their personalities come through during interaction with them.

Read how Lush decides with clarity: How Fresh Are You?


How Do You Stay Connected

26 comments to " Do You Talk to Your Customers? "

  • Mark Slatin

    Thanks for sharing Jeanne. I’ve had a chance to see their store with my daughter. Welcoming. It’s very personal and hands on. Customers literally engage in the experience with a minimum of three senses. They get to own their own experience. It doesn’t surprise me that the same leadership is transparent in their on-line experience. What could B-2-B companies learn from Lush?

  • Natalie

    I am a member of said forum, and my experience on there is very different to the one described above – we are frequently insulted, belittled, patronized – and then told that the forum is of very little value to Lush, and that they prefer to communicate using their Facebook page, where critical comments vanish. Questions about unreliable, broken, scentless products go unnoticed.

    How would you like to be told because you cannot reasonably justify parting with the best part of £20 for a small bottle of something just to perfume your hair? Or that you should be happy to pay out a fiver for a scentless, useless bubble bar or bath bomb – because LUSH isn’t one of it’s evil competitors?

    “Companies become beloved because of how they connect with customers and how they connect in their customers lives.”

    Not in Mr Constantine’s case, the forum has demonstrated to Lush lovers and lapsed customers alike just how utterly out of touch he is with customers – given a choice of feeding your children and a bottle of equally ethical shampoo from a supermarket or a small bottle of hair perfume? It’s a no-brainer to most of us – not to Mr Constantine (as displayed by his forum posts)!

    His lack of good communication has led to the forum being more of a tool to find alternatives to Lush – because, by golly, Mark is an almighty liability once you get past the “eccentric hippy in a shed” image.

  • Charl

    This is the biggest load of rubbish I have ever read!!

    The lush uk forum had a lot of backlash from Lushs founder, Mark Constantine, when members pointed up the issues they had with some products. Whilst the online community tried to suggest ideas that products could be improved, ideas to boost sales, ideas of limited edition products which had been proven to be popular, they were very often ignored by the founder.

    This all blew up recently, when members of the lush uk forum pointed out a few ‘home truths’ to Lushs founder. He was incredibly rude to many long time customers from the “Cosmetics to go days” (Lushs original name) and people who classed him as a friend.

    As a result of this, neither him or other members of staff (except Hilary) have been heard from….this has been for a few months now.

    He doesn’t listen to the “Lushies”(a term I’ve never heard used) and I can see him “Crying” all the way to the bank soon if he doesn’t start to listen and take on board his companies failures!

    • jeanne

      I want to also apologize to you for this post and that it has talked about the past of Lush versus what is happening now. This is such a disappointment that Mark and Lush have abandoned you their passionate customer and the behaviors that led them to grow. It appears that they are taking their growth and customers for granted. Clearly this will affect them in the future….

      THANK YOU THANK YOU for caring enough to give me this feedback. I am so sorry again.


  • Kirsten

    This is actually completely untrue these days. I was a regular user of the forum for about ten years but left it about a year ago. (The reasons I left were related to Lush’s behaviour as a whole, not the forum. I no longer shop in Lush, other than for essentials for my allergic skin I can’t get elsewhere). The Lush forum used to be a useful place for customers to communicate with the company but over the past couple of years it’s been clear that Lush regard their customers, and their customers’ feedback, with something less than disdain. Mark Constantine has been outright rude to individual customers on several occasions, has accused them of ingratitude, or, more frequently, ignored them other than to post a smilie/emoticon with no actual response. He has treated people appallingly badly and really doesn’t like being told anything other than “you’re a genius, we love your products.” His behaviour on the forum makes it clear he wants nothing other than positive feedback and ego-stroking. Valid customer concerns, such as a poor quality new soap base, inadequate packaging for mail order deliveries and poor quality bottles (perfume, shampoo, shower gel, you name it) are dismissed and ignored for years on end. Lush aren’t what they present themselves as and I’m done with them.

    • jeanne

      Thank you so much for this feedback. This is such a cautionary tale of how a great company turns sour when they drift from the behaviors that made them beloved.

      My sincerest apologies for putting this up…. When I was writing my book from which this case study came from the forums were still okay.

      thanks again for this feedback. I am so grateful for your feedback and for setting us straight on what is happening now. So disappointing!!


  • jeanne

    Thank you so much for giving me an understanding of the real customer experience now with the Lush Forums. I am so saddened to hear this. Lush had built you as a loyal and passionate customer, and it appears now that what they did to engage you they have walked away from. This is so disappointing to hear. Sustaining a business and the good behavior that made a company loved is the true test of the values of a company.

    Thanks so much for pointing this out. I am extremely sorry that I put them up in such a good light.

    • Natalie

      Please don’t apologise, I think everyone who has posted on here was taken in by it all at one stage or another, and this article has given a few of us a chance to get something off of our chests *hugs*

      • jeanne

        Well…then I am glad to have provided a “venting forum” for today. I’ve learned so much in your comments and am grateful for every single one.

  • Kirsten

    Jeanne, you have nothing to apologise for. In fact thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about something that has been bothering me for a while.

  • Language, Timothy!

    Hello, I found a link to this article today due to being on the forum. I have been on that forum for years and I think your article was very true in the beginning, Jeanne, so like others have said, please don’t apologise for it.

    The forum has declined over the years and I think it is partly to do with Mr Constantine’s ego. He was very happy on the forum when the customers were happy and he was complimented. As the company grew and couldn’t keep up with product quality (in many forum customers’ opinions – including mine – the product quality has declined hugely) and customer complaints, the forum became a source for us all to voice our dissatisfaction directly to the founders. But they didn’t like it, and over the years Mr Constantine has gradually moved over to facebook where he seems to get compliments over complaints. I am his ‘friend’ on facebook and can see there is mostly a cacophony of sycophancy which he seems to delight in (at least according to his responses on his facebook page).

    If we look at the bigger picture, the facebook page for UK Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics has been invested in in terms of staff presence and input but the content is hit and miss. One can often see them posting a “pat on the back” type status which doesn’t involve the customer at all (“ooh, look at us, aren’t we great we won X award”) or inane, irrelevant ramblings which neither raise the status of the company, engage the customer, nor promote the product.

    For what it’s worth I think their problem is summed up in 3 parts: elitism, believing their own hype, and egotism. Which is a shame. The original principles of the business were sound, and the products used to excel in both innovation and efficacy. In my opinion, those days are long gone.

    It would be interesting for you to see what the forums are like first hand (if you haven’t read them) and look at the level of interaction (in both quantity and quality) between staff and customer; what used to be a vibrant, bustling, exciting exchange has dwindled to a post nuclear wasteland, with a few loyal fans waiting around for eager regeneration that looks unlikely to happen.

    On the upside, there are lots of fabulous Indie brands about who do enjoy listening to their customers – lets hope they don’t grow too big, too soon and forget that without the customer, the business amounts to nothing. Social media is the new online shopfloor, and just as ignoring a customer on the shop floor is a no-no, it’s the same with online media. Lush’s problem is, the whole world can see how they treat their customers online, and they’re not savvy enough to remedy it.

    • jeanne

      Thanks Timothy
      I am so grateful you have given me this feedback. Thanks for your summary of the issue. You are spot on and this is such a departure from how customers first thought of Lush.

  • sue

    I can only reiterate what Kirsten and Natalie have already said far more eloquently than I could.

    The man (and his offspring) are massive egomaniacs who haven’t learned lessons from previous failures (when CTG went to the wall).

    The products were once wonderful, now they’re overpriced and lacklustre. The scents have gone from being slightly strange but wonderful to completely OTT and revolting. The forum has gone from a wonderful, friendly place where I have met a lot of wonderful real life friends to a boring wasteland propped up only by the few remaining sycophants they haven’t yet alienated.

    I’m not sure if I feel more sad or more angry. I feel like they’ve taken me for a mug over the past 20 odd years, and that makes me angry, but to see what was a good company (although they have always treated their staff appallingly), overrun with tyrants who think they can pull the wool over our eyes and deliver sub-par products at premium quality prices makes me sad.

    • jeanne

      Thanks Sue also for your feedback. This is such a cautionary tale of how precious customer good will is and that it has to be constantly taken care of as one of the most important assets. I am saddened to hear your thoughts about the staff treatment. Did you work there?

      • sue

        No Jeanne, I didn’t but I have a lot of friends who did – most of whom thought working for Lush was going to be the best job ever. They are hideously underpaid, bullied, taken for granted and the vast majority move on.

        One of my friends now works for L’Occitaine and couldn’t be happier, another went to work for Superdrug and is happier than she ever was at Lush.

        They have lost a huge number of intelligent, hard working, passionate individuals by treating them so appallingly. Other companies are now benefiting from their talents.

  • Hello,

    I wrote the Lush Times for 14 years and was in at the very start of the forum. I left in 2010. I was just going to say that Lush has never claimed to be 100% natural, just to use a lot more natural materials than other cosmetics companies. They are proud of using safe synthetics to help the naturals do their job.

    Anyway, Jeanne, yes the forums did start off very well. I used to spend so much time there as Auntie Pamela, the Lush agony aunt, that my husband eventually had to help me to give it up. Hours and (unpaid) hours of answering customers’ questions.

    So yes, it was a good place in the early days. I’ve also used Lush as an example of how to get involved with customers online in a couple of business books I wrote. You’re not wrong.

    Let’s just say that it got out of hand. And to run your social media, you really do need people not just to moderate, but to be there at all times to answer questions and let customers know that they are really being listened to. That fell away.

    I think it was just unsustainable. It got huge. I was doing 60 hour weeks and being paid for 20 – no contract, long story…

    Where it misses the plot for me now is the belief at Lush that customers love the company and all it stands for, and will forgive failures – leading to a lack of attention to detail, standards and what’s really important. Like how well the products do the job.

    I’m still using the excellent hennas, shampoos, Ballistics and massage bars, but I don’t bother with the soap or social media, after the intervention from my husband and my successful rehab.

    Blimey, Jeanne, you’d no idea what you’d kicked off there, had you?

    Best of luck with the book.

    • jeanne

      Sarah I am so grateful for your jumping into the fray here! Yes this post did spark a lot of passionate folks discussing their disappointment in something lost that they truly loved!

      • Sally

        My experiences with the forum is that Lush tend to ask questions like ‘how can we increase our profits?’ and then not listen to the answers. If they don’t want to hear what forum members have to say then why ask the question in the first place!

        However, in Lush’s defence, forum members do get excessively, dare I say, bitchy in their responses. They seem to delight in running the place down, hunting in packs, each comment trying to out do the one before, with not many constructive comments made; although I do see their point as Lush wouldn’t listen to anything constructive anyway.

        It’s stalemate really. The forum members feel bitter because they are not listened to so their behaviour becomes increasingly histrionic to evoke a response from Lush big wigs in the same way that children act up to get attention from unresponsive parents. While Lush on the other hand ignore the negative comments and only respond to sycophantic gushings like bad parents only wanting anything to do with their children when they’re clean, tidy and being nice and well behaved.

        Lush, you need to take the rough with the smooth, the good and the bad. You cannot be selective. If you have set up this forum you need to accept the consequences warts and all. Talk to your customers. Or shut the thing down.

        • jeanne

          Thanks Sally. I so hope that the folks from Lush are listening here. Some really constructive feedback. This is such a cautionary tale on how passionate customer conversations need to be honored and nurtured.

          I think we’ve exhausted this topic now!!! Thanks all!

  • The Voice of Reason

    It’s really sad to see that some people are dissatisfied. I haven’t experienced any poor quality products in my 8 years of using Lush and my experiences in store are still as personal, jolly and genuine as always. Regarding the forum I think that people forget that Lush is an ever growing business, far bigger than it was in the ‘hay days’ of the forum. As a man in charge of an increasingly global business I’d be very surprised if Mr. Constantine had the time to reply to every complaint listed on the forum. Also, it seems that he’s transferred his direct communication with customers directly to his personal Facebook page on which he accepts anybody who adds him and makes visible all his posts. Conversation between staff, customers and Mr. Constantine can be seen on this page, so I think he’s maybe moved with the times a little.

    A lot of the content on the forum posted by customers is actually quite offensive to those in charge, as well as the staff who work in the stores. Many posts contain very offensive language and images, which isn’t really an environment that I’d want to participate in, so I never post. Many people seem to be bitter in not getting their own way as well.

    I still enjoy the customer service you mention in your article and fully agree with what you say. There are sure to be some isolated cases of poor customer service with a company this large but in my experience these are very few and far betwee.

  • NuttyGooner

    Hello there, I thought I should offer you an update.

    After several months of unanswered queries, the illegal withdrawal of the 10% vouchers, the dubiousness of “FairTrade” vs Lush’s “Fairly Traded” being passed off as “FairTrade”, Mark has decided to close down his customer forum (he tried to put words into Forumite’s mouths, and when called out on it, then went to his staff to ask). The cause of the negativity was revealed on the forum, and the vast majority of the Forumites, once the knew, could understand why there was a problem.

    If you have a forum log in, you might want to have a gander yourself.

  • chris

    Having worked for lush for some years, though no longer, I can say with some authority that comments on the forums and in store for that matter, are indeed treated with complete disdain.
    I had a disagreement with the powers that be about some of the ingredients used in numerous products, and was basically told to shut up and not rock the boat.
    As time has gone on, Mark’s ego has grown with the company to the point at which now he is stupendously arrogant, and surrounded by yes men/women.
    A shame,as a lot of people buy into the “ethics” pushed forward by the p.r dept.
    Believe you me, the man couldn’t care less about what goes on your skin.

    • jeanne

      Thanks for your comments. You are in concert with others received on this matter and I applaud your fearlessness in posting. Carrying on with the core values that built a business is the most critical actions for leaders – it is their legacy and what connects employees to the business and to wanting to stay.

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