Red heels

Why is it, when it comes to customer service, many businesses shoot themselves in the foot, and then they re-load?  

So, I met this couple recently — we’ll call them Carson and Kobie —  and I asked just how it happened that they had met.

“By total coincidence, in the outdoor furnishings department of _____” (a major retailer that shall remain nameless), Carson replied. He was looking for a grill. She was looking for patio table and chairs. A chance conversation began. And continued. One thing led to another. A relationship developed in the weeks that  followed. They married within a year of that first encounter. Neat little story. But, wait.

It turns out that Kobie’s order for her patio table and chairs was totally screwed up by the retailer. She contacted their online  customer service department in an attempt to straighten things out.  In the course of that exchange, she related how she had met her fiance in their store and how it had made the memory of this shopping expedition “one for the cedar chest of keepsakes.” That is, she pointed out, until the furniture transaction went haywire.

Sometimes brands win friends, even their staunchest friends, by snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. However, they don’t call ’em the “jaws of defeat” for nothin’!  

As Kobie continued to share with me her account of boy-meets-girl  and retailer-shoots-foot, I am thinking, o.k., here comes a reply from customer service, not only “making it right” on the table and chair set, but perhaps brightening Kobie’s day all the more by providing a significant gift certificate toward some premium merchandise. In other words, “forgive our mistake, and, as a sign of our good faith in your future patronage, please accept with our compliments this token of value, redeemable at any one of our zillion stores nationwide.” And, I am imagining, an alert public relations department at the retailer picks up the scent, gets hold of Carson and Kobie and proceeds to work out publicity, possibly even some advertising, spinning up a charming yarn about the couple that owed their romance to “a star-crossed terra cotta floor in our outdoor furnishings department in Waukesha.” With photos of Carson  and Kobie, enjoying themselves out on their own patio at home.

Not even close, really. Instead of the scenario I had envisioned, Kobie got a form-like letter of apology, an unenthusiastic pledge that her original order would be properly filled, totally lacking even so much as the store executive’s tepid good wishes for the couple’s future happiness, and capped off by a rant about “if we don’t sell it, you probably don’t need it anyway,” or some such. As far as Kobie was concerned, this merchant had merely made things worse. And, of course, her anecdote, store name included, went viral as she relayed it to dozens of friends, co-workers, neighbors and passersby.

Would your business have handled this situation any better? How would you have turned the problem around? What is the true cost of customer loyalty?

Good and memorable customer service may not be the “silver bullet” in the battle against your competition. But it’s the closest thing we know of. 

For tips on excelling in this critical performance factor, check out…

Customer Service Tip #1, Customer Service Tip #2, and Customer Service Tip #3 at the Riger website.



Pete Cronk, Managing Partner