BY JULIE A. PALM
What a recent experience can teach retailers about keeping consumers happy
“I’m happy to help. In fact, I get paid to help you! Seriously, that’s the only reason I’m here.”
That’s part of an exchange I recently had with a customer service representative. It shouldn’t have struck me as unusual, but it did because in too many of the interactions we consumers have with customer service specialists, the vibe is the opposite—unhelpful, adversarial, antagonistic.
The backstory: I’d ordered candles through a crowd-funding campaign and already had been waiting about three months for them to arrive as the campaign got rolling, funded and then finally the items manufactured and shipped. So, when I got the notice from the third-party fulfilment company that they’d left the warehouse, I was excited. The box arrived a few days later and I eagerly slit the packing tape with scissors. As I started to pull the candles out, I heard bits of glass clinking in the bottom of the box—and at that same moment, cut the tip of my finger on a jagged edge. Two of the four candles I’d ordered had broken during shipping.
I was as crushed as the glass.
I dashed off an email to the shipping company, asking for replacements—and steeling myself for a big a hassle.
I got a quick response: “Jackie here from Blackbox. I’m sorry you received broken candles! They match my broken heart for blundering your delivery and giving you a cut. Before I send you these gift replacements, can you send me some pictures of the damage? Once I see that, I can get things cleaned up on aisle…your candles. Thanks, and sorry again!”
Jackie was friendly and personable and, most importantly, apologetic. She laid out clear, simple instructions for what I needed to do. I snapped and emailed a couple of pictures, including one of my bandaged finger—an admitted sympathy ploy!
“Thanks for hooking me up with those photos! The damage is definitely clear (ouch!) so now I can get you sorted,” Jackie replied. “We’re sending you two new candles on us with express shipping to the same address—the estimated delivery time frame is Mon-Wed. Let me know when you receive them and if they’re in A+ shape this time, okay? We’ve alerted our warehouse to improve the protection on these bad boys.”
The candles arrived as promised—and in perfect shape. I let Jackie know immediately and thanked her for her excellent customer service. That’s when she said: “I’m happy to help. In fact, I get paid to help you! Seriously, that’s the only reason I’m here.”
I think when dealing with complaining customers—often cranky and occasionally unreasonable—it’s easy for customer service reps to forget their job is to help those people. I get it. It’s a tough job. Here are a few customer service lessons we can learn from Jackie that will keep both reps and customers happier.
- Make it easy for customers to contact you. Blackbox had included an email address for customers to contact with any problems. Honestly, I was dubious, expecting my message would never be read. Any phone numbers or email addresses you provide to customers need to be monitored regularly and answered quickly, which means they need to be adequately staffed. Include contact information on your website, social media, in-store and, of course, in materials you give customers upon mattress delivery.
- Respond to complaints quickly. I got a response to my initial email to Blackbox within three hours—perfectly acceptable, especially given that I sent the email in the morning from the East Coast and Jackie is on the West Coast. The entire exchange, ending with Jackie promising to ship out the new candles was completed by the end of the day.
- Match the customer’s tone. My first message to the company was polite and firm, but the candles I’d ordered had a decidedly irreverent design, giving Jackie a clue that I had a sense of humor. Her response struck the right note, sincerely apologetic and helpful, yet showing her own personality. If I’d ordered a different type of item, it might have been appropriate for her to be a little more reserved in her responses.
- Create policies that make serving customers easy. Companies can stymie the sincere efforts of their customer service reps—and tick off customers—by drafting policies that make customers jump through hoops. Are your policies designed with the best interests of customers in mind? Blackbox didn’t ask me to pack the box back up, go to the post office and wait days or weeks to hear back regarding my complaint. I had only to email a few photos, a reasonable and not unduly burdensome process. What can you do to streamline and simplify your comfort return process? Warranty claims?
We’re going to explore in-depth how to deal with customer complaints in an article later this year in Sleep Savvy. Let us know your best practices. Send them to Mary Best, editor in chief, at firstname.lastname@example.org.