Customer Service Can Make or Break an Internet-Based Business

We’ve all heard the old adage, “The customer is always right.” When taken literally, this motto is clearly bogus. After all, some customers want the world and will take advantage of the system whenever they see weakness. This is what led LL Bean to do away with their once-famous lifetime warranty. However, most customers are decent people who just don’t want to be screwed over and so the spirit behind the axiom is what all businesses and employees should keep in mind: Go out of your way to keep the customer happy. Many businesses are scared of having any losses, but they don’t realize that if they leave the customer dissatisfied, they’ve likely lost any future business from them and everyone they know. If a customer leaves an exchange happy, especially if the rules are bent a little to accommodate, that customer will continue to do business and tell all their friends to do the same.

Off the top of my head, I can think of a number of companies that refused to work with me, making my life very difficult until they eventually relented. I’ll stick to the two big ones. The first is Krups, beloved maker of coffee machines. My husband loves coffee and can’t start his day without a few cups, so one Christmas, wanting him to have the best coffee possible, I decided to buy him a grind and brew machine sold by the brand. Imagine my surprise when my SO opened the box on the holiday morning and it wasn’t the coffeemaker I ordered. I went to the Krups site and they said that since Amazon shipped the package they would also handle the return. Weeks went by after sending it back, and there was no response or refund. I ended up speaking to no less than seven people between Krups and Amazon, both of them saying the other was responsible. As we explained to each one, I followed the procedure I was led to believe was correct, and the coffeemaker, which was wrongly sent, was no longer in my possession. Finally, a man we talked to from Krups approved the return and refunded my money with no complaints.

It’s interesting that even some well-known companies can have horrible customer service. One of them is West Elm, a seller of modern furniture. The fact that the quality of their furniture is not as good as their prices would suggest could be the subject of another post, so I’ll just stick to the current topic. The details of story are much too complicated, but gist is that I ordered some items online, an associate in person cancelled it while it was en route, then I had him order some other things for me. The credit card didn’t run properly the first time, so he tried it again and it worked. I ended up with three orders at my condo. Because of the company’s convoluted processes, when an order is placed in-store, which two of them were, I have to talk to them directly to do a return. I ended up getting refunds for two of the orders but only sent one back because of all the hassle. I decided to sell the excess merchandise and made a profit, so it wasn’t all bad.

Krups, West Elm, Han Kjobenhavn, Sprint, the US Postal Service…I will actively try not to do business directly with any of the companies that make simple transactions a complete nightmare. On the other hand, I have many more examples of businesses that seem to go out of their way to make me happy. The first is obviously Amazon, who will let me return most merchandise, has given me refunds for packages that are stolen, even reimbursed me for some purchases without returning them. I honestly believe their excellent customer service is what led them to become the powerhouse that they are today. This is because when you give your customer a seamless experience where they can make purchases with confidence, they will return for more.

I also had a great experience with Design Within Reach once that has won me over. Now they are the first place I go looking for housewares or design inspiration. The SO had purchased the company’s Flight recliner on sale several months before a small spring broke and popped off. I could tell where it needed to go, we just needed a replacement. After a long exchange with their customer service, they sent us the wrong spring. Twice. Then they dragged their feet on sending a repairman to come fix it for us. What initially started as a bad experience completely shifted when we ended up talking to someone pretty high up in the company who okayed us exchanging our old chair for a brand-new, replacement recliner in a completely different color (which wasn’t on sale). Needless to say, I’ve spent a lot of money with them as a result.

The last example I have hasn’t necessarily gone out their way for me, but their standard policies are still such that I can buy anything on their site with complete confidence that I can return it if things don’t work out. Mr. Porter has taken the online menswear market by storm with their curated offerings and on-point stylings. They tell and show the shopper as much as they can about a garment so that the individual can make an informed choice about their purchase. Standard shipping often only takes two days and is completely free. They even let you return sale merchandise, which is practically unheard of in the clothing industry. I really wish more companies would adopt these policies because I have opted out of many purchases or spent more money than I should have due to the lack of this kind of support. Similar to DSW, Mr. Porter has become the first place I go when shopping for clothes online.

My suggestion for every business that sells a product is to adopt a policy of always trying to make the customer happy, within limits. Instruct employees on sometimes bending the rules a little to ensure the customer comes back. To every potential customer out there, you should recognize good customer service when you see it. Reward it by soliciting that company more often. I still feel guilty that I haven’t bought anything more from Noble Denim after they treated me right (I just don’t have a need for more jeans), but maybe I can pass on the good recommendation.

I have noticed over the years that the companies that have excellent customer service have grown substantially while those that seemed not to care about the customer are in a sort of stasis. (Jury’s still out on Han Kjobenhavn. They are doing a lot of collaborations these days. Chances are I just got a bad service rep.) The point is, if companies take care of their customers, they will return the favor. These policies are more important now in the digital age where if a customer doesn’t like one business, they can easily find a similar product offered elsewhere.

How bout you guys? Any great customer service stories to share, and hence businesses we should keep in mind?

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