Customer complaint? Own it!


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customer complaint own itEver experienced a personal attack on Facebook? Then you know that some people just don’t seem to realize that the person on the receiving end of their rant is a real person, with real feelings. In a completely online environment, it can be hard to connect with ‘the other side of the screen’ – especially when dealing with a customer complaint.

The lessons of face-to-face customer service still apply online. In fact, they are of vital importance.

I witnessed a perfect example at the dentist (of all places) recently. While I was sitting in the waiting room, another patient came in – only to be told that her appointment wouldn’t be going ahead, as her dentist had been taken ill. “You’re kidding me!” she shouted. “I have high blood pressure! I don’t have time for this!” And the receptionist? She apologised, sincerely. For something that was obviously out of her control. And she kept apologising. For those few minutes, she was the face of the ‘brand’. She didn’t pass the buck, she didn’t blame the customer. She totally owned it.

She might not have impressed the other patient, who eventually stalked out huffing and puffing, but she certainly impressed me. And got me thinking about other customer service representatives I’ve dealt with, and which ones owned it and which ones didn’t – also online.

Service with a snarl

The problem at hand needn’t be a crisis situation. Think, for example, of companies with a generous returns policy, such as fast fashion store H&M and Dutch variety store HEMA. Both offer a full refund if the goods are returned within 30 days and in their original condition.

Most of the time when I take something back to HEMA, the return goes smoothly and is done cheerfully. However, not all of HEMA’s assistants are happy to do returns. Once, when I took back two items on two different receipts, the customer service representative rolled his eyes, sighed, and said sarcastically: “Oh, that’s handy, isn’t it?” A friend who returned some Christmas decorations was told that it was very inconvenient, as they’d already packed up all their Christmas stock.

Don’t let your employees (or yourself!) make this type of mistake – ever. If you offer a particular service, perform it cheerfully, or don’t do it at all. Fulfilling customer requests with a bad grace is defeating the purpose of offering customer service in the first place.

Under-promise, over-deliver

Now let’s take a look at online clothing retailer On the face of it, their returns policy is fairly standard: zulily only offers returns within 14 days, and return shipping is at the customer’s expense. Yet they clearly believe in the classic business mantra: under-promise and over-deliver. When my order arrived, it had not one but two items which were not up to scratch. The boots I’d bought were 3 sizes too big, and one of the jackets I’d ordered was missing a button.

Zulily’s email response owned the problem, completely and utterly. “We’re sorry to hear that you received something you weren’t expecting!” The customer service representative didn’t try to explain why things had gone wrong; instead, he focused on fixing my problem. The logical solution (send it back and we’ll send you the right items) was ruled out immediately: “Because we work with a variety of brands and don’t house inventory in a warehouse, we’re unable to provide exchanges or replacements for those two items at this time.” And, he went on: “We will instead refund the full purchase amount back to the card used to make the purchase.”

Straightforward, right? But I was really astonished by what came next: “Please keep the items you received as we do not wish to cause any further inconvenience in having you return the items to us. If you are unable to use the items … we suggest perhaps giving the items as a gift or even donating them to a local charity.” So they’d give me my money back AND I was allowed to keep the stuff? Wow!!!

Polite, friendly, helpful and while obviously using macros – like any smart custserv department – the email didn’t come across as an impersonal canned response. Just an extra phrase like, “I’m sorry that you’re having problems” can make an enormous difference to the way that you and your business are perceived. I left the interaction with a good feeling about the company. Even though they weren’t able to fix the problem, the way they dealt with it made a great impression on me, and guaranteed that they would keep me as a customer.

It might be hard to keep in mind when you’re sitting there at your computer, quite possibly on your own at home or in the office, music playing, coffee in hand, but it’s no less true than it was of the dental receptionist that day – you are a brand representative. When a problem arises, own it.