Customer Service

Taking the ‘service’ out of Customer Service (and the cost of doing so)

How important is service?

I recently experienced some of the very best, and very worst Customer Service I have ever experienced, from the same shop, just days apart:

Truly great Customer Service

As we have been given firm timelines for our children returning to school (hoorah!) we went shopping for school shoes at a small independent on the high street.

For kids shoes, the shop is quite expensive (1 pair buys 3 or 4 from the supermarket) but the quality is good and the buying experience for us and the kids is excellent so I don’t mind too much paying the extra.

This time was no exception – really attentive shop assistant, quickly and efficiently measured the kid’s feet, helped them pick shoes, ensured proper fitment and treated them as little customers which they loved. She was an absolute pro, despite the new Covid-19 related procedures that were in place. With happy kids and a lighter wallet, we left the shop.

Worth. Every. Penny.

That’s our Policy

Amongst the instructions from the school that we received in the days following our purchase was the proclamation that the children were required to wear trainers for school, as opposed to shoes…..

I know, I don’t get it either.

But now I have 2 pairs of overpriced shoes, the feet for which they were purchased have no immediate use for them and, if/when the need does arise, could well be too big to make use of them. So, I took the bag still containing the shoes back to the shoe shop and politely explained the situation.

“Would you like an exchange or a credit note?” was the reply.

I explained that as you sell shoes, and I don’t currently need shoes, I would like a refund please, and was advised by the young man (who was equally as nice as the lady that sold us the shoes) that it is their policy not to issue refunds. He’s just doing as instructed and I felt, probably did not have any discretion on this point so I asked if there was a manager present.

Not-so-great Customer Service

I was in luck! Not just a manager but the owner was in and the pleasant young man went to fetch him. Only, I wasn’t in luck and this is where all of the positives experienced up to this point unfortunately disappeared. Unlike the people that work for him, the owner is an entirely unpleasant individual, and I was taken aback by how he responded to my explanation that we hadn’t simply changed our minds but that the change in requirement for our children’s footwear was something beyond our control.

The circumstances did not matter – he was unreasonable, aggressive and rude.

You won’t be surprised at this point that there was no refund to be had, that was ‘our policy’, and he continued to refer to ‘our policy’ as though it was not something he himself had written.

I looked up the word policy, by the way, expecting the definition to be something 10 commandment-esque where any deviation would evoke the wrath of an omnipotent being – according to www.collinsdictionary.com however, policy means this:

A policy is a set of ideas or plans that is used as a basis for making decisions

Isn’t that interesting?

Now, before an angry army of small business owners brandishing pitchforks and a copy of the Consumer Rights act (2015) arrive at my door, I am fully aware that I am not entitled to a refund in this instance, however, his decision to staunchly and proudly quote the minimum requirements set out by law and his ‘policy’ of satisfying them (and nothing further!) is disappointing.

There is also the manner in which this message was delivered. Spoken to like a human, and perhaps shown a little empathy, my feelings about the situation and the business would, I am sure, be very different.

What is the point here?

There will be some very subjective views (my own included) on the events as they unfolded when I so brazenly asked for a refund. Some will feel strongly about ‘what’ or ‘who’ is right; I can already hear the phraseology “the customer is/isn’t always right!” and exclamations about who needs who more than who etc. so let’s leave all of that aside and examine this scenario with some objectivity:

By refusing to issue a refund, he has managed to retain £80 of revenue for his business. Even if he operates with a 100% margin (which is unlikely), this gives a whopping £40 off a gross profit.

I have 3 children, and I worked out that from now until they leave school at age 16, between them they will need somewhere in the region of 62 pairs of school shoes based on the rate at which they grow out of or ruin them. If you’re interested that’s £2480 (revenue) in today’s money. As I am both principled and stubborn, none of these will be purchased from the shop in question.

Ok, I am only 1 customer and this is not enough to make or break a business, granted.

However we live in a small town, I’d wager that you do not need to upset too many customers before the impact becomes noticeable. Add the fact that the competition from large supermarkets and online retailers is fierce; without a serious rethink of a model that appears to focus on providing a good quality service only until money changes hands, I’d suggest the days are numbered.

What would you do?

Now put yourself in this guys shoes (shoes, get it?), what would you do? I think there are 3 key considerations that are applicable here:

  • If you provide a truly great service not only will customers keep coming back, they will also be prepared to pay more for it. Remember, in this particular instance there are not only more affordable options available, but those options are also more convenient. Give the customer a reason to overlook these two points!
  • Every case should be judged on its merit; doing the ‘right thing’ for your customer buys an enormous amount of goodwill. The policy should guide the decision, not negate the need to make one. People can see through “there’s nothing we can do” and using your policy as a sword and shield is just going to piss people off!
  • Telling a customer something they don’t want to hear doesn’t need to spell the end of your relationship – if you conduct yourself professionally and show empathy it is surprising how much ‘bad news’ can be delivered whilst still being looked on favourably

Thinking about customers as numbers on a balance sheet is a false economy akin to buying cheap toilet paper – it may seem like a great idea at the time, really cost-effective, however over time, you find that you don’t get as much out of each one, and each interaction is not as comfortable or enjoyable as you might like!