Dec 18, 2008

Mediocre customer service is worse than none at all

Yesterday, I wrote a negative review of after they unilaterally canceled my order for two Britax Regents. When I mentioned my frustration to Marc, he said he'd recently read a suggestion that companies should either commit to fully satisfying their customers or just not answer their phone. And I think that's exactly right – you can't go halfway when it comes to customer service.

But that's exactly what EliteCarSeats tried to do. They could have just canceled my order and sent me an email explaining why. But instead they tried to go a step further by calling to let me know of the cancellation and in doing so just made things worse. By refusing to go another step further and grant my request for expedited shipping, they lost my business forever. I'm actually more unhappy with their customer service after having my request refused than I would have been if I'd simply gotten an email explaining why my order was canceled. And that's why I say you can't do customer service only halfway.

I think as customers, we simply want to know what we're getting. So if a store purports to have customer service, it had better be excellent. And if a store isn't going to give good service, I want to know about that upfront. Woot! is a good example of a store like that. Their FAQ says upfront that you'll most likely never get hold of a live person and that they don't provide traditional customer service. So if you buy from them, you do so knowing the risks.

I'm not the only one who thinks this way. Jeremy Schoemaker at Shoemoney says he's never going back to what used to be his favorite teppanyaki restaurant because the chef served undercooked shrimp that made him sick. Jeremy concludes:
It got me thinking a lot about how businesses work. Serving undercooked shrimp which are 85% done does a LOT more damage than what the modulus would make you think. It would have been much better if they would have done 0% and not served us at all.
What do you think? Is mediocre service better or worse than none at all?


Camille said...

I agree. Unfortunately somewhere in the past decade or so the mantra that "the customer is always right" has gone by the way side. I was checking out at a store the other day and beside me a customer was complaining to a manager about a mistake the store made so she had to come back in. The manager refused to admit the mistake and just kept arguing with her! Dude, just apologize, give her a small discount or a small gift card and wish her well. I'm fairly certain that store lost her business forever. I wish businesses were more interested in repeat business!

Clean ClutterFree Simple said...

I believe litigation has played a role in this. Businesses can't afford to apologize, because that is essentially accepting responsibility which puts them at greater risk of losing a lawsuit. It sucks.

Thing is, studies have shown that as far as medical mistakes are concerned, what patients most want is an apology and assurance that steps will be taken to ensure that the mistake doesn't happen again. But doctors are usually forbidden from apologizing by their bosses and by their malpractice carriers.

Jennifer said...

I honestly disagree with the whole "the customer is always right" mantra. I think its great that it isn't so popular anymore.

I used to work in a high end children's clothing store and we would always have customers who would actually return used clothing with the tags reattached. Believe it or not, there are moms out there who own tag guns (they aren't even all that hard to find) but they would always have a different plastic tagger than we used so we could always tell. So a $20 onesie gets worn, washed, and returned and we're supposed to take the loss every time? I don't think so.

Instead, I would get the same item off the shelf and show the customer that I can tell it has been washed and suggest politely that perhaps she is mistaking it for a different item as though I think she just grabbed the wrong thing (and re-tagged it). Most of the time the customer would know I knew their game and leave the store but we would sometimes have someone who threw a fit over it and insisted they be given their money back, even if they are violating every aspect of our generous return policy.

The sad thing is, our policy was to ALWAYS accept a return for an item that shrunk in the wash, so they probably could have said "this shrunk" and we wouldn't have asked questions.

My point is that I believe the reason customer service can be so bad is that customers have gotten really good at screwing the stores they patronize. I've seen people throw fits in stores because they aren't going to get the full price back for something they used a discount for, or they want to return a bikini they bought in June in the middle of winter and expect a full return.

I'm not excusing crappy customer service, but I certainly understand why some store have stopped saying "the customer is always right". Especially in restaurants. I've done my time there as well and I can't tell you how many people would try to get something for free and then pitch a fit when they are charged for anything at all. My favourite was ordering a mixed drink and then claiming it isn't "right". So they get a second mixed drink and then pitch a fit when they are charged for their meal. Happens all the time.