The middle path in customer care

Recently, I had an unfortunate event buying from an online store (the price I paid was different than the one displayed on the web site). I sent them an email. This has happened to me before on their web site. After a few days, they replied that I’m wrong, and they’re right. Still, they might be wrong, nevertheless (they admitted). To settle the situation, they gave me around 1/3 than the required amount of money, and they thanked me for my understanding of the situation.

The topic of this blog post: what can you learn from the above example?

First, let’s set some details. My situation was the following:

  • I’ve been buying from them since 2005.
  • The total volume of things bought made me into a special category of clients (larger volumes than usual).
  • They made a similar mistake, and admitted it, in the past. (I ordered something online, there was a price difference, I talked online with one person from customer care, they said the price will be smaller when I pick up the product, and, when I did pick it up, it wasn’t)

The voucher they gave me had a time frame limit, and, due to the fact that cheaper products have a larger profit margin on their web site than more expensive products, it’s close to being worthless (using their voucher is worthless for low price products).

Questions to put in such situations:

  • Who’s right and who’s wrong. Important question. Don’t put in the same phrase – “You’re wrong. But we might be wrong, also.”
  • Generally, “you’e wrong, I’m right” brings up frustrations form the client.
  • How important is for us to win the argument? How important is for the client? How much do you lose in this specific discussion if you lose the argument? How much do you win in a lifetime value of the client, if you lose it? Compare the following situations:
    • The client loses the argument. You win money and make the client sad.
    • You win the argument. You lose money and make the client happy.
  • You, an online store, have the power. You decide the best solution. Use it with care.
  • Are you sure mentioning “Thank you for understanding” will not make things worse?
  • Shouldn’t you ask for feed-back of the situation? (especially if you ask for feed-back after you sell something)
  • If the answer comes after 3 work days, shouldn’t you treat the situation differently?

Now, what could you learn out of this?

  • Life is always about extremes:
    • If you ask customers how do they feel whenever there is a trial between some clients and some companies, and the clients win the case, well, in that situation, you will almost always hear, from other clients, that “the client is right, it’s good that he won!”. Ask some companies and you will hear much more often “the company was right” (this is trickier, because the companies are also clients in other circumstances).
    • If a customer buys a printer, and he drops it and breaks it, the client wants his money back or a new printer (plus some compensation). The company may claim the product damage was due to the customer, and they have wasted some time dealing with the case, which should be compensated.
    • If a customer buys a product due to some misunderstanding, he will try and solve the situation in his favor. The company might want to deny every solution, and not waste time on communication too much.
  • My case was one of extremes:
    • If I was right, I should have been compensated for the value lost, and for the time & nerves lost with this issue. If I order a product, and pay 120 USD, instead of 100 USD, if I receive a 20 USD voucher it’s not the same (I paid more money, I need to buy another product, there are time & efforts & stress which are not compensated).
    • If the company was right, I should have compensated them, for time spent in communication.
    • Somewhere in the middle was their reply – “we’ll partially compensate you”. In my opinion, the line was closer to their part, but, anyhow, it was somewhere in the middle area.
  • Another thing to note is that there are things which are nice to have and there are things which are mandatory. But the line is blurry, and you have to know which is which:
    • If a client demands a refund, it is generally mandatory that he has the product and some sort of proof of warranty. It is you who may loosen up the rules, but it isn’t mandatory.
    • If you deliver a product, it is your responsibility to deliver it to the door. But the client might nicely ask you to just carry it a few meters into the apartment, but this isn’t mandatory. A tip in exchange of this service also isn’t mandatory, but it would be nice.
    • If a client demands that he is treated nicely and with respect, this is pretty much mandatory. But you can offer extra generosity and make him feel good.
    • There will always be a blurry line – some people will ask for mandatory things, for others things which you consider option feel like they should be included.
  • In the end – what’s the solution?
    • There just isn’t any. If you’re focusing on price cuts, small costs, you might treat customers with another mindset than the company who focuses on community, excellent service and great reputation.
    • The customer isn’t always right. You, as an online store, have a lot of power. It’s all up to you if you decide to reduce costs or to increase pleasure.
    • At times, the client is someone who is very upset, unreasonable, and with no solid reasons for being upset. At times, you, as an online store, abuse your side of the story.
    • You just can’t win every battle. At one extreme, someone would come to your store, buy a 2,000 USD laptop, and return to say that the box was empty and want a full 2,000 USD refund, a clearly false affirmation. At another extreme, that affirmation would be true. You just need to position yourself somewhere in the middle.
This Dog Jumps Design - MBU_040L, https://flic.kr/p/bmCV4d
This Dog Jumps Design – MBU_040L, https://flic.kr/p/bmCV4d

Note: Also see the Yahoo! Group on which I present similar issues:IMRo. To join, email imro-subscribe@yahoogroups.com and reply to the confirmation email.

I am a Freelancer. My expertise is in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) / UX (user experience) / WordPress. Co-founder of lumeaseoppc.ro (series of events on SEO & PPC) and cetd.ro (Book on branding for MDs). On a personal level, I like self-development - events, sports, healthy living, volunteering, reading. I live in London, and lots of things live in me.

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