Recently my family became urban chicken farmers. After six weeks living in an indoor “coop” under a heat lamp, our new pets were ready to move outside. Our next step: get a coop.
We turned to the Internet to do our shopping. After a week of searching, we picked one out, clicked and ordered.
It arrived right on time, yea! But it was broken, boo! Four major parts had significant breaks. The thought of putting all the pieces back into the large box and shipping it across the country so they could send us a new one seemed crazy, costly and time consuming. So we called customer service in hopes of discovering a better solution.
I could tell you about the 20 minutes I sat on hold to talk to a customer service rep. Or the multiple emails that went unanswered. But that’s another blog post on wait time.
The part of this customer service encounter I really want to emphasize is problem solving. This company’s return policy is for the customer to repackage the broken product, drive it to the nearest Fedex, wait for the return to show up on their card, and then finally go back online and order another one. That’s a lot of work for me to continue doing business with them, and it doesn’t solve my problem of needing these chickens moved out of my house.
I decided to politely help them solve my problem by suggesting two solutions that would leave me relatively satisfied. I went so far as to inform them we were ready to purchase some additional products as soon as this was resolved.
I kindly asked if we could skip all this heavy shipping and massive amounts of time and if they could send me the parts I needed. The rep said no.
The rep followed up with, “If you got something broken from Target you would drive it back to the store and get a new one. This is no different.” I think shipping a super heavy chicken coop across the country as opposed to going down the street is a bit different and bet a lot of this company’s customers would agree. But since they were unwilling to open a new box in the warehouse and send me the parts, I moved on.
To us, the coop was a sizable investment, so I couldn’t accept a broken one. However, I would be willing to put in some elbow grease and repair the coop myself if I were given a discount. This would avoid the cumbersome return process and, in turn, we would make our additional purchase as well.
The company rep responded by informing me that when I send this one back, they send it back to the wholesaler who liquidates it. They wanted their money back for THEIR broken item… solving their own problem.
What if every organization had customer service reps who could ask themselves this question after going through the preferred process? Many times the answer would probably be yes. But when the answer is no, why not empower reps to figure out the answer to the question and to act on it. I’d bet sometimes, like in this case, they could find a win-win solution.
The funny thing is that I have received many offers from this company to make a follow-up purchase in the form of percentage discounts or a flat $100 off. Had the representative thought outside of the broken-chicken-coop box, he could have used the company’s marketing tools, the discount I was asking for, to turn me into a satisfied customer.
In the end we sent the broken coop back and decided to look elsewhere. After talking with the reps I went searching for those liquidated chicken coops he mentioned, found one and ordered it. Who knows, we might have gotten the exact same one we sent back at the price it was really worth.
By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.