Customer Service 101- What not to say!

Last night was a big night for my son.  We finally got the email from our hockey team’s manager, that the team spirit gear (St. Louis Park embroidered sweatshirts, hats and jackets) had arrived and he would be handing out all of the highly anticipated goodies after practice.

I have never seen my kid get out of the locker room so fast.  He had been asking about his sweatshirt almost daily for the past week. Is it in yet? Will we get our stuff tonight?  He couldn’t wait to finally see it and wear it.

Here’s where this story filled with so much joy and excitement starts to unravel.

My son unfolded his brand new fancy sweatshirt and the first thing he said was “Mom, I think it’s too big. ”

I told him, “If it’s what dad ordered and what you tried on a few weeks back, it will be fine. It just looks bigger than it actually is.”  He spent a few seconds getting the laces in place before pulling the hoodie over his head.  Then came the unforgettable look of disappointment in his face.  The sweatshirt was ginormous, so big he’d be lucky to grow into before he graduated from High School.  And he’s in 6th grade.

I had to remind him that it’s just a sweatshirt and can easily be exchanged.  This stuff happens.  Little did I know, it wouldn’t be that easy.

We thought we had ordered a Youth Large, the size our son tried on a few weeks ago.  But when my husband put Large on the order form he didn’t clarify Youth or Adult and we ended up with a Men’s Large. Unfortunately, all of the ordering and trying-on took place at the ice rink, not the store. There wasn’t a store rep to explain and go over the order sheets, just our team manager.

Here’s a look at the order form.  A little confusing if you ask me.

We soon realized that our son wasn’t the only one with a size or fit issue. A couple of other players didn’t get what they were expecting either.  So the team manager offered to call John, the head of the custom team apparel division at General Sports, to ask him what could be done.  John told him that all sales are final on special team orders like this. No returns. No exchanges.  And where was that written on the order form? Do you see it? I don’t.

Our team manager relayed the “all sales final” message.  He (the team manager) also offered to help sell our sweatshirt to another family by e-mailing the entire St. Louis Park Hockey Association to see if there were any takers. I told him,  while I appreciated the offer, it was not his responsibility.

So I picked up the phone and called John from General Sports, myself.  I was expecting a friendly conversation about finding a way to fix our problem.  I am the customer, after all.

I still can’t believe the response I got.  I am sharing it here, hoping that this will serve as a reminder to anyone in business that when dealing with customer service issues, you have to look at the big picture.  When you fail to satisfy a customer, what do you risk? What is at stake?

By following the no return policy and refusing to take the sweatshirt back, you save the company from losing about 25 dollars.  That’s my best guess for the cost of the sweatshirt. Retail value is about 50 dollars.

But what else has the customer bought at the store? Skates? Sticks? Helmets? If you refuse this customer’s requests, will he/she return for future purchases? How much is that worth? Think about it.  Losing this customer could cost the business a few hundred dollars a year in new equipment purchases.

That is why in the world of retail, sometimes you have to make exceptions.  And sometimes you should make those exceptions before you tell a customer flat-out “You are wrong“.   That was John’s way of responding to my explanation of the Large on our order form.  I was never claiming to be right, just explaining how the mix-up happened.

I actually asked him “Did you just say, ‘You are wrong?”   I grew up in a family retail business, and trained employees on how to deal with challenging customer situations.  The motto we followed: The customer is always right, even when they are wrong.  

John shouldn’t be getting very many of these exchange requests.  If he is, then maybe the company needs to reevaluate its order process.  Or at least the process used with our team. This is the first time we’ve ordered from General Sports as a team.  It’s also the first time we have ever had a size issue.

I tried to offer suggestions for future orders to help avoid situations like this.  I shared ideas on how to improve the order form to make it more user-friendly. I talked about the process and how I felt there was too much responsibility on the team manager.  I explained when we get baseball uniforms, the kids go to the store to be fitted.  That way the sales people are there to answer questions as you fill out the order sheet.  They go over it with you and make sure it’s right.  Our team manager is not a retail sales person.

I guess the offering advice approach really set John off… because he responded with “Are you done yet?“.

In hindsight, I should have told him “I haven’t even started!”.  But I sat there with my jaw dropped in silence.

He then said something to the effect of… “I don’t have time for this. I’m just going to put it back on your card.  What’s your card number? Are you happy now?”

I asked if I should bring the sweatshirt back into the store? He said no, we can’t do anything with it.   I was surprised and said,  you can’t resell it? He said no, explaining the retail and team order divisions are completely separate and don’t share merchandise.  I suggested his company donate the sweatshirt to be used as a silent auction item for the St. Louis Park Hockey Association.

Once again he cut me off with “Are you done yet?

Well, I’m done alright.  I am done supporting General Sports.

I told him he should be grateful for the feedback and the ideas.

But here’s the sad part… how does General Sports recover from this.  I plan to tell our Hockey Association to contract with someone else for spirit gear moving forward. Again, part of the consequences that must be considered before you challenge a customer over a sweatshirt.

And there’s another mom from my team who had a similar experience face to face with John just a short time before I called.

We both ended up with our money back. But neither of us is happy with how it all went down.

This all could have been avoided. All John had to say was “How can I fix this for you?”.   We just wanted to exchange our items for the right size.  He never even brought up how we could replace the items.

So now’s your chance to chime in. What’s your worst customer service experience? Did you go back to that company? What’s your advice to General Sports?