2 customer service examples: the wrong way and the right way

Whether you’re a voiceover talent or some other type of independent, small business owner, you likely face the challenge of being a one-person band, spinning multiple plates all at one time. The result is that sometimes some spinning plates drop and break: those plates can represent profits, customers, payables and a whole bunch of other issues that keep you up late at night (no, you’re not the only one who loses sleep over their business sometimes).

After 35+ years as a moderately successful small business owner (and sometimes less than moderately) I’ve realized that most (not all) business problems have to do with day-to-day communication between customer and vendor. It’s hard to keep those lines of communication open for a myriad of reasons, but it’s worse to not keep them open at all.

I’m not talking about marketing – but rather the operational communication business owners have with prospective clients and current clients.

I’m going to share two stories of customer service that I personally experienced this past week that exemplify how to get customer service very wrong and very right. I believe these two examples can help small business owners and especially one-person shops reflect on their current customer service practices and ultimately take better care of their customers.

We, as small business owners, have all been responsible for good and bad customer service – we all have room for improvement.

THE BAD

I had decided last week, after trying some different business card styles and types, that I was going to go back to my previous business card vendor to have new business cards printed with a new design. The company is Designline Graphics, Inc. in Henderson, NV and is also known as 4 Color Print and SilkCards.

The company spent some time and effort to stay in touch with me so I decided to do some new business with them. After this experience, though, I will NOT do business with them again.

I had been in touch with Designline Graphics, Inc./Silkcards about this new card project, got the design squared away, agreed to their price and one morning last week, gave them the go ahead as soon as they would send me a proof to approve. The day I received the proof but before I had approved it, I received an email from Designline Graphics, Inc., (under their Silkcards brand) that offered me a 15% discount on my next order because according to their email, I hadn’t ordered from them in such a long time. They wanted my business!

The timing of the discount seemed good to me so I sent 4colorprint.com the 15% discount email they had sent me and asked them to apply the 15% discount to the order. That’s where the wheels came off of my deal as far as they were concerned.

  • MISTAKE #1 First, they said no to my request to accept their offered discount, as I had already “check-out” in their system (yes, they required me and everyone else <I assume> to pay in advance). Once I ‘checked out’ they couldn’t (or more likely wouldn’t) change the order. They ended their “no” email asking if there was anything else they could do for me. I responded in the email simply: “Sure, cancel the order.”
  •  WHY IT WAS A MISTAKE: Respecting that every business has its rules, it should be noted that I didn’t ask for the email discount to be mailed to me…. Silkcards did that on its own. If it was a mistake for me to receive it (marketing not knowing what’s going in in the sales department), Silkcards needed to own the mistake, show integrity and professionalism by honoring the discount for a past customer. At this point, I had just planned to move on but then I got an email back from Silkcards.
  • MISTAKE #2 After my response to cancel the order, the “Brand Ambassador” for the printing company (with only the name “LC” in the email sig) wrote this very assumptive response: “I understand you are trying cancel the order so that you can place the order again and take advantage of the discount, since your order has been processed and the proof produced and sent out to you this morning, you would only be given an 80% credit on your account which is stated in the Terms and Condition.”
  • WHY IT WAS A MISTAKE: So many mistakes here, where do I start?
    • I was not planning on trying to reorder with the new discount after I cancelled the current order and did not say that was what I was going to do that. But this “Brand Ambassador” immediately assumed I was trying to pull a fast one. The implication that this paid, returning customer (me) was trying to be tricky was at the very LEAST insulting (when did canceling an order indicate a good time to switch on the corporate ‘assumptive insult machine’?)
    • My next thought was ‘why would he/she assume I wanted to cheat them out of something unless that person or the company itself did that out of habit?’ That kind of thinking is not a good reflection on the company
    • Then I realized it wasn’t that they CAN’T honor the discount because of Terms and Conditions, but rather Designline Graphics, Inc. just hid behind that phrase. I believe the true reason they didn’t honor the discount was because they DID NOT WANT TO honor THEIR offered discount…”can’t” and “won’t” reflect two very different business styles
  • MISTAKE #3 I told them quite directly that I had no interest in ordering from them again…but the response email, after I told them that, was to let me know a manager had authorized that they could give me 15% off my next order (?)
    • WHY IT WAS A MISTAKE: The “Brand Ambassador” wasn’t listening to the customer…if this was a brick and mortar business, the customer (me) would be physically leaving the building with my money not spent and they (Designline Graphics, Inc.) would be behind the counter shouting after me, saying ‘we’ll give you 15% off next time’. Oh, but LC, there will not BE a next time.
    • Oh and wait, now there was a MANAGER involved and even the manager didn’t know how to fix this correctly either?! Time for me to run not walk away from Designline Graphics, Inc.

THE GOOD

clocksThis same week, my wife and I were invited to a wedding. Unfortunately because of time commitments, we would not be able to attend the nuptials.

None-the-less, we wanted to give the Canadian couple a wedding gift. I saw that they were registered at Bed, Bath and Beyond in Canada –  while it is the same company as in the US, the order would be processed through their Canadian distribution center. That becomes important to the story, as you will see.

As I went to check out on line, after finding the couple’s wedding registry and picking a gift, I completed the on line billing form on the Bed, Bath & Beyond Canada web site.

However, I ran in to a problem. I plugged in my US billing information and tried to plug in my state as part of that information. But instead of US states coming up, the web form only listed Canadian provinces. And if I didn’t complete this part of the form, I could not check out.

So I cleared the cache on my browser and tried filling out the form again, no luck. So I called the Bed, Bath & Beyond customer service desk and found the wait to speak with a live person was 68 minutes…uh, no.

I then went to their customer complaint form on the web site, outlined my ordering problem, submitted it and got a generic response email that someone would get back to me in something like 48 hours. OK, fine.

The next day, I got a form email from Bed, Bath & Beyond customer service but it was signed by someone name Haley. She said I could try calling customer service and they could help me. I emailed her back, told her I would not be doing that again (68 minutes and all) but if someone from CS wanted to call me, here’s my number and I’d likely be available between the hours I listed in the email.

THE START OF SOMETHING GREAT: Well don’t you know that just at the times I listed in my email, Haley from Bed, Bath & Beyond Customer Service in Canada rings me up! She’s so polite and asks if now is a good time? I said I’ll make time for anybody from customer service who actually calls me back! I wasn’t right at my computer when she called so we spent some time to find the couple’s registry again and the item I wanted to buy, she took my billing information and processed the order.

I made it abundantly clear to Haley how she saved this sale. I was perfectly content to go another route for the wedding gift but because of HER follow up, she saved the order for Bed, Bath & Beyond Canada. I was profuse in my praise of her to her and after we hung up, I got on Twitter and further fussed, making sure the company knew exactly how this one customer service person saved the sale. The company responded to my tweet and we direct messaged each other to make sure that Haley WILL be recognized by the Bed, Bath & Beyond for going above and beyond (in my opinion) with exemplary customer service.

SUMMARY

These are two very different companies and not just regarding my customer service experiences with them.

The helpful company, Bed, Bath and Beyond, is an international organization with over 1500 locations, tens of thousands of employees and billions of dollars in revenue.

Designline Graphics, Inc. has likely 50 employees at most with one office in Nevada, as far as I could tell.

Also, I’m sure that there are customers who have had good customer service experiences with Designline Graphics, Inc. and bad customer experiences with Bed, Bath and Beyond. My experiences, like my opinions, are just that: mine.

I would have expected that the multi-billion dollar company might have had the lesser follow up than the smaller company. But in truth, the smaller company – which I would have expected to be more nimble and responsive – was the company that chose to hid behind policies rather than simply serve the customer.

I got more personalized, responsive customer service from Bed, Bath and Beyond, the big guys. I was amazed because in my experience that is not usually the case with bigger companies.

Reality check: profits and operations are tougher to manage for smaller companies. It’s tougher to get, keep and train good employees because often one or two owners at a small company are pulled in too many directions to always properly focus on training new or current employees. I truly respect that challenge.

And policies are in place because one has to protect their business. I get that too.

But if there was a universal small business handbook, right after it talked about making a quality product or service that people need or want to buy and then marketing it well, the next critical point in that book should be about how to handle any and all customer service situations.

And while the lawyers would want a business owner to stand behind policies and procedures (and indeed in a few cases you must), I think it can become a lazy crutch. A true business owner knows that common sense is often the best rule in dealing with a customer problem. A sincere business owner makes sure that message is drilled into the employees.

With these two examples shared, I hope you use better common sense next time an issue comes up for your business.

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2 Responses to “2 customer service examples: the wrong way and the right way”

  1. So let me get this straight…
    1) You negotiate with your client, and agree on a price on Monday.
    2) You collect payment from your customer on Monday.
    3) You then record, edit, and finalize their VO project on Tuesday and Wednesday.
    4) Just before you upload the file to them, they tell you they received a 15% coupon on Wednesday (because your overworked marketing guy accidentally sent it to them too soon), after they already agreed on a price and paid you; now they demand you to give them back 15% of what they already paid.
    5) You would happily comply with no push-back?

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