We live in a period of great expectations and instant gratification. We take for granted the ability to browse millions of items with overnight (if not sooner) delivery and stream any movie from recent box office blockbusters to hard-to-find classics. These are but two examples of a digitized culture hungry to receive goods and services with as little delay as possible. Companies have long realized the speed of delivery and minimal friction are competitive differentiators to reckon with and have striven to reduce obstacles at every turn.
It’s this level of expectations customer service must be prepared to support or face the consequences of distraught customers–and this is true for businesses of all sizes, and regardless of the type of product or service.
I recently purchased a new mobile phone, and with that purchase came the question of how to protect it. Rather than opting for a regular case as I’ve done in the past, I decided it was time to try something new. I read several reviews and decided on a wallet-style case, handcrafted from leather and wood in the United States by a small company. I placed my order and promptly received a confirmation email with an anticipated delivery of about two weeks–well in advance of receiving the phone.
It’s against this backdrop the story begins.
“Update On Your Case…”
The subject line of the email I received about a week after placing the order seemed innocent enough. Unfortunately, it wasn’t good news. That two-week delivery window had now changed to sometime (an unknown time, really) in the future.
As frustrating as that was to read, I appreciated the preemptive nature of the message. This company understood that customers were anticipating receiving their highly acclaimed case, they had set an expectation for a delivery timeframe at time of order, and now they would not be able to fulfill it. They were taking the steps to own this.
I have mentioned these wallets are handmade. The email made reference to this:
“Our craftsman at the bindery … have begun to put the final touches on the cases … [but] due to the Thanksgiving Holiday we have a bit of a short week here at the warehouse, so we will only be able to get a certain amount of orders out.”
As I read the rest of the email, it came down to the following issues:
- The artisanal nature of this case meant only so many could be produced on a daily basis.
- Multiple, positive reviews for the case just as the holiday season was getting underway had led to some welcome yet unanticipated higher-than-normal order volume.
- A shorter holiday week was upon them, limiting production and shipping.
As a result, prior fulfillment estimates were inaccurate. There was no way for them to scale their operation in a short period of time without impacting quality and meet the anticipated shipping date.
They had chosen to come clean with their customers. By doing so, they were taking the chance of suffering some potential consequences, among them: angry calls or emails, social media outcry, and canceled orders. After the email was sent, perhaps this all occurred to a limited degree. But by addressing the problem head-on and with complete transparency, they were not only preventing some customers from contacting them wondering where their order was, but they were also resetting expectations with the customers willing to stand by.
In addition to the complete disclosure of the issue, the personal nature of the communication helped to further defuse the situation.
The email was sent by Dawn, the operations manager. It was not sent by a nameless person with a “noreply” email address. Dawn, in charge of producing and delivering the cases, was a real person and she was sending this message to affected customers.
In addition to the unanticipated delays, the email sought to strike a compassionate chord:
“We hope you understand the need to spend some time with our families as well.”
It worked. Of course I understand. Spending time with family during the Thanksgiving holiday is important, far more so (for me, anyway) than having a case. Now, not just Dawn, but the entire staff of this company were real to me–and perhaps more importantly, the issue of a delayed case was put into the proper perspective.
The Stakes Are High
Customer expectations for service continue to grow, and companies that are unable to deliver against those expectations will struggle and fail. Issues will arise that challenge the expectations customer have and it’s how companies respond to those challenges that will differentiate them.
As illustrated by this story, no company can avoid setting expectations then missing them. Yet no company is also too small to deliver proactive customer service when the need arises. Simply by taking the time to send an apology for a missed deadline and to reset expectations, this company has already shown it has set a high bar for itself in how it treats customers and operates its business. With such quality standards for customer service, I can’t wait for the case to arrive now!