Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Delivering brand through customer service

Floor covering customers, like all customers, are passionate about customer service and there’s nothing like a bad experience to make my point so naturally I wanted to share my most recent customer service nightmare with you.  I actually wrote about it at length in this post -  I can’t tell you how cathartic writing it all down was - but our blog editor reduced my rant to save you from my painful story and now we have this efficient description in the following short story. I hope you read it because there really is a point to sharing this.

My journey to buy a “fancy” (expensive) refrigerator to match other appliances in our new home sent my wife and I from manufacturer to distributor to a specialty retailer. When the freezer didn’t work an hour after finally being installed on a Friday afternoon we quickly learned that the “emergency 24 hour service number” shut down at 5 p.m. on Fridays. Over the weekend and throughout Monday we pinged between the retailer, who said they couldn’t fix it, to the distributor who said that because the refrigerator was new the manufacturer had to get involved; all the while we were chilling our milk and water in a $20 cooler next to the 'fridge.

By Monday afternoon when no one in the pecking order had bothered to step up, and after pitching all the food in the freezer, my “rather aggressive” approach (so he said) with the distributor caused him to dispatch a technician to make what turned out to be a simple repair and the cooler was honorably retired. A week later no one has yet called us to see if the problem was fixed.

Compare that with our contemporaneous experience of purchasing a new washer and dryer at a big box store. It took what comparatively felt like 5 minutes, the delivery was on schedule, we were washing clothes right away and they called back to see if we were happy.  Guess who I’ll return to for the next appliance?

So what’s the lesson here?  First of all…how many times do you think a consumer finds their dream flooring in a shelter magazine or on the Internet and contacts the manufacturer, who sends them to the distributor who tells them they need to order the flooring from a retailer?  It’s probably not uncommon. I’m just wondering how our industry handles this.  If you are a distributor and you get the call, do you follow up with the consumer or the retailer to make sure the sale gets captured quickly? 

If you are a retailer and you get a complaint from your customer about a faulty floor does your response leave the customer wondering who between you, the distributor and the manufacturer will solve their problem, if anyone?  I know it often takes intervention at several levels to resolve a complaint, but from a customer’s standpoint all they really want to know is that someone heard them, someone is acting and someone is responsible.

Rather than thinking of complaints as a pain in the neck, consider that handled properly there is no better way to earn a customer's loyalty than to serve them a large dose of “we care” to offset  the pain they are feeling.  Simply put, complaint resolution is an opportunity not a problem. But you don't have to take my word for it. Here are some other people who think the say way: Turning Complaints into Opportunities, Turning Customer Complaints into Profit Opportunities
 Successful Companies Actually Welcome Customer Complaints

There are plenty of resources for learning how to improve your customer’s experience but this simple piece of advice will go a long way….”THINK LIKE A CUSTOMER.”  If you were making the phone call to report a warm freezer in an hour old refrigerator or bubbles in a newly laid resilient floor what would you want to hear from the people who were your last and best contact?

One company that has perfected the art of customer service is Zappos.  I'm not an expert on the company but my institute colleague, Christine Whittemore, who is well-known for her expertise in improving the retail experience, apparently knows quite a bit about Zappos.  There’s a picture of her sitting in the Zappos “royalty chair” on her blog site, Flooring the Consumer. But I digress.  Her blog post, Zappos Embodies Customer Service, sites the Zappos brand mantra: “Leadership’s passion for the brand, an unwavering focus on delivering the brand, and a culture that reinforces each employee’s responsibility for the brand.” This makes we wonder, “Who do you think had the passion for delivering and reinforcing the brand of my refrigerator?"

There is no getting around the fact that complaint resolution usually involves delivering some form of bad news, whether it’s delays, unreimbursed expenses or a downright turndown.  But even those situations can be handled in a way that leaves the customer appreciating your intervention. It’s sometimes not what you say but how you say it that matters. 

Every interaction with a customer is a brand delivering event.  What impression do you leave?

Thank you for reading and I hope you'll comment here.

David Wootton is President of The Wootton Group, an independent flooring consultancy, and a member of the Floor Covering Institute. He is past CEO of both Columbia Flooring and Harris-Tarkett.

1 comment:

  1. David [and Susan :-)], marvelously written!

    Delighting customers consistently, exceeding their expectations, being their advocate in good situations and not so good ones - all are customer-focused opportunities to redefine the brand experience and build fierce customer loyalty.

    Customer service is the new marketing. It's a powerful means for brand differentiating and an opportunity that smart retailers take to heart.

    Thanks for sharing your story and making such a strong case for delivering brand through customer service.

    Thanks, too, for the mention. I am a big fan of Zappos.