Two Tales of Customer Service

Wally Bock Online and catalog shopping are great, but sometimes things don't work out right. When that happens, you find out what a company is really like.

I've always tried to do as much Christmas shopping as possible without going within artillery range of a mall. This year was no exception. I used catalogs and shopped online and I got everything I ordered except for two things.

The first one was some cologne. The company didn't send me any notice of shipping, but they did charge my credit card and so I started checking to see if the package of cologne had arrived.

When it hadn't after a few weeks, I sent the company an email. They replied with tracking information that showed that their package had been delivered weeks before.

I looked at the documentation and I noticed that something was wrong. I have my packages delivered to a UPS Store (formerly Mailboxes, Etc.) because that makes my life easier.

The tracking document showed that the package had been delivered to "Reception." There is no reception at a UPS Store. "Elliott" signed for the package. No Elliott has ever worked at the UPS Store here in Wilmington. Clearly, the package was delivered to the wrong address.

When I let the company know this, they didn't respond. I emailed again. That's when they told me that I would have to follow up with UPS and, in the meantime, they would be happy to sell me another bottle of cologne to replace the one that UPS lost.

Now, compare that experience with another one from this Christmas season. In this case I used the Web to order a tape package and a couple of e-books from a fellow named Fred Gleeck. They cost a lot more than the cologne. I downloaded the e-books immediately, then started waiting for the tape package to arrive.

My credit card was charged. No package arrived. I sent off an email asking what was up.

I got two emails back. One was from Fred himself. He sent me the e-books that were part of the package I'd bought, in case I hadn't downloaded them already, and told me that he'd have the folks who handle fulfillment contact me. An email from Fred's fulfillment guy was nestled right next to Fred's.

He said he'd checked the records and, sure enough, the physical part of my order had not been shipped. He would get it out right away. He apologized and offered me a choice among several other packages as an "apology gift." He also sent along copies of the e-books that were part of the order, just like Fred had.

The tapes arrived two business days later. I hadn't asked for priority shipping.

Let's compare these two experiences. The cologne seller started out by doing everything right. They could have done better by sending me a shipping notice when they sent my order out the door, but basically they got the order and fulfilled it promptly.

When a problem turned up, they checked it out quickly and responded. Then they took the position that any problems with delivery were my problem, not their problem. That's logical. It's legal. But it makes me angry.

Their response tells me that it's more important to them to be "right" or to not give anything away than it is to make me happy. The result is that I won't buy the replacement product they offered to sell me. I'll get it from another vendor. And I won't do business with that company again.

Fred Gleeck's people started out by doing something wrong. They didn't ship something they should have shipped after they charged my card. But when I brought that to their attention, they fell all over themselves to make things right.

There's some irony in all of this. The cologne folks are selling something that they don't make and that I can buy in other places. They also offer lots of other products that I might buy for myself or as gifts. In essence all they really have to sell is their service, but they don't get it.

On the other hand, Fred Gleeck's material is unique. I can buy it from others and he'll still make money. Yet his company made the effort to keep me as a customer.

What's the lesson? It's not just that good complaint handling can save the day or that customer service matters. The big lesson is that your company can be absolutely right legally and logically and be dead wrong from your customer's perspective. That's a situation where customers often get angry.

When your customer gets angry, what happens next depends on what you do. Treat your angry customer like those folks selling cologne treated me and the customer will go away mad and tell their friends what lousy service you provide. But if you can make things right, like Fred Gleeck's company tried to do, you create an emotional bond with customers like me who will hang around, buy more, and trumpet the praises of your company.

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Category: Customer Care
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