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How do you define ‘customer service’?

June 1, 2011

Here’s the scenario:

You are a small business owner providing tangible products to your customers. The door opens, and in walks one of your best customers. She lets you know that that one of the two widgets you ordered for her several months back was never shipped.

Now, the widgets were on backorder, and your vendor had agreed to ship them directly to your customer once they were in stock. You, of course, assure her that you’ll contact the vendor to determine what happened to the second widget, and see when they’ll be able to ship out another one to her.

Unfortunately, while on the phone with the vendor, you learn that their records show they did ship both of them out to her four months ago. You calmly explain that she received only the one. The vendor doesn’t understand how/why that happened, and says they’ll look into it further on their end, but that in the meantime, they will request another widget be sent out to her.

Problem Solved…Right?

Fantastic! Good customer service, right? There was a problem. Now, there’s a solution. You let your customer know she should be receiving the missing widget within the next few days. And then…

Briiiing. Briiiing.

You answer the phone only to find your vendor on the other end. It’s the supervisor of Jane, the person to whom you’d just spoken regarding the missing widget. The supervisor explains that Jane is new. Jane doesn’t understand that there’s a way to verify if the proper product was shipped, which is by the package weight. And, according to the package weight, two widgets were shipped in the box sent to your customer, which means they fulfilled their end of the deal.

Now what?

Hmmmm. Well, that’s nice and all, but here’s the thing: The customer never received the second widget. Maybe the scale was wrong. Maybe something happened to the second widget mid-shipment. Maybe because the shipping delivery person left the package outside the customer’s apartment complex instead of taking it to the appropriate delivery location for drop-off, someone opened the box and took one of the really cool widgets your customer bought.

Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows?

All you know is that you have a customer who paid for a product she hasn’t received. You paid for that product when you ordered it, and you haven’t received it. Now, the vendor is saying, “Tough luck, dude,” we already sent it to you, and we’re not re-sending it.

Now what?

You calmly (again) explain to Jane’s supervisor that you don’t know what happened – and, unfortunately, have no way of knowing what happened. What you do know is that your customer never received the product they paid for and you paid for. You know that you just explained to your customer how the vendor was so sorry for the mix-up and would, of course, be more than happy to ship out another product to rectify the wrong. So…now what?

The Return Policy: Huh?

Jane’s supervisor explains that their return policy is 30 days, and there’s really nothing to be done.

Uh…return policy? What does that have to do with anything?

You explain to Jane’s supervisor, that that’s nice that their return policy is 30 days, but in this instance, we’re not trying to return anything. The customer never received the product. There’s nothing to return.

So, given you’ve already explained to the customer that the vendor will ship out the new product, the customer’s already paid for that product, you’ve already paid for that product, and you’re going to make sure that your customer receives the customer service they deserve, where does that leave us? You ask the vendor what they would have you tell your customer – ultimately, their customer – given that scenario. And you know what you hear?


What happened to ‘the customer is always right’?

Right. Because, good customer service begins with one philosophy: The customer is always right – even when he’s wrong.

Yep, that’s right. It doesn’t matter if the vendor is right in this situation. It doesn’t matter if your customer thought there was only one widget in the box, threw it out and now is requesting another one. It doesn’t matter if your customer is lying. What matters is doing right by the customer.

Now, in this particular scenario, which is a variation on a true story, the vendor ended up coming through in the end. They called back, and told the business owner that because Jane originally agreed to ship out a new product, they would honor her word. (Go Jane!) The customer received the product and all is good.

Or is it?

What damage was done by this encounter with this vendor? How does the customer now view them? How does the small business owner now view them? Is this a company you’d want to do business with?

Drop me a comment on your thoughts below. I’d love to hear them.

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