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?
Thanks for sharing Lori,
Each and every Point of Contact is crucial in terms of establishing a positive experience for the customer… and it’s sad and unfortunate that some organizations and individuals just don’t get it.
Here’s hoping the word gets to the Organization!
Thanks Monce. Based on the comment below, I have a feeling it will get to the company. And I agree with you. All points of contact are crucial. Hopefully, it’s a learning experience for them.
Just saw your message Lori,
Have posted a blog post on the same lines so that organizations can have an idea as to how to go about making the best of their teams:
Getting the best from others: Where does one start? – II (The Workforce ‘Three Quadrant Quandary’): http://monceabraham.wordpress.com/2012/01/03/getting-the-best-from-others-where-does-one-start-ii-the-workforce-three-quadrant-quandary/
Trust you too will find it useful!
Oh please let me leave my worst customer service experience! Its a long one but i’ve been dying for a venue to share it…It was last year, Home Depot S.L.P. location. I’m carrying my then 1yr old daughter with my 3 yr old in tow. We are there (while older brother is playing at Hat Trick) to purchase a glass cover for a light fixture. Between myself, the kids, and the employees I would say there were less than 15 people in the store. I wandered the isles for a good 10 minutes and passed by 6 different employees who did not ask if I needed assistance nor even said hello. I happened to find the glass myself. Shocking in itself! So carrying my 1yr old, holding a large piece of glass, the 3yr old trailing behind I get to the checkout counter and the employee doesn’t even help me put the glass on the counter. No hello, nothing, he simply says “swipe your card”. I do this, one handed, and then ask if he has something to wrap the glass in being that again, I’m toting two toddlers and it was 11 degrees out at the time…he says “I don’t know” and stares at me. Reminder, I’m at HOME DEPOT, really you don’t have anything to wrap the glass?? So I say “I’m carrying a baby and a large piece of glass, I could really use something to wrap it in”, he then yells at the 4 other cashiers who are all talking and laughing (there are literally ZERO patrons aside from me and the kids checking out) and one responds with “well maybe these paper towels”. This person points at the paper towels and doesn’t actually bring them over to where I’m standing. I had to say “can you please bring them over here?”…which he does after a long sigh and a shrug of shoulders. The checkout guy does not offer to help me wrap the glass and stands there while I unwrap the paper towels and then wrap the glass, again ONE HANDED, and then to top it off he pulls the plastic bag open but doesn’t actually bag my item. I then proceeded to bag my own glass and pull it off the wrack myself. SERIOUSLY. I sent an email to the CEO of Home Depot. I received a response from the customer service department of the store apologizing and offering a $50 gift card, which I would have to pick up at the customer service center. This was approximately one year ago and I have not gone back. Pretty sure my gift card is still there come to think of it:-)
Oh my gosh, Kael. That’s horrible. So I guess the gift card approach didn’t work to get you back in the door. Good news, Menards is almost ready to reopen on 394. They tore down the old one and rebuilt from scratch. So glad you shared this story. Unbelievable.
Oh and I forgot! General Sports. I have a close friend who works at the retail store. I did share your story. I hope the message goes a little further…whether or not the retail store and the team sales division are separate, a brand is a brand. Customer service means the world in a highly competitive market where a company can get underbid on virtually everything.
Rob and I both agreed that it was strange we used an Edina company for St. Louis Park gear anyway…
If it was an SLP company, I’m sure they would have been more willing to find a use for the sweatshirt and any other printing errors.
I’m sure you’ve heard the statistic that a customer with a negative experience will share that with an average of 7 others. A positive experience will likely be shared once.
My pet peeve is with people passing the buck when mistakes are made. I went to McDonalds a couple of weeks ago and they screwed up my order. No biggie – just fix it, right? No. The guy blames the order taker, me, the cooks – everyone but himself. I ended up reading him the riot act. If you’re standing at a counter and a customer has a problem, it’s not with you personally, so why deal with it as a personal affront. Ya know? And he was the MANAGER.
Thanks for sharing the statistic. I may reference it in a new blog I hope to create encouraging folks to share positive customer service stories.
And yes, sometimes it just makes you feel better if someone takes responsibility for what went wrong. That means a lot.
Thanks for sharing, Lori!
Although I never shared the experience with the organization, my worst experience was at the Sleep Number set up out at the state fair several years ago. As seems to always be the case when I attend the fair, the clouds and rain followed me the whole day. I approached the sleep number exhibit fully intending to find my sleep number and purchase the bed. I’d heard great things about them and just happened to have a stash of money I’d saved for this exact purchase.
When I walked up to the area, the sales person looked at me out of the corner of his eye and then looked away. There were other people trying out the beds and he they seemed fine on their own. So, I walked up to the genteleman and said, “I’d like to find my sleep number, but don’t know how it works – can you help me?” His response, “We’re really here for people that are seriously interested in our product not just to give you a sleep number.” He looked me up and down and suggested maybe the retail store at one of the malls could help me if they weren’t busy. I can imagine I appeared a bit disheveled after spending a day chasing children in the rain, eating unhealthy food and donning a drenching poncho.
I took my money elsewhere but will never forget the “your not good enough to buy our product” look I earned from the salesman. I maybe should have shared the story of the time I sold $1000.00 worth of shoes to an older couple wearing ripped clothes with paint stains on them at a retail mall.
Customer service lesson – don’t presume to know the buying and/or influence power of a single customer – ever.
Terra.. that’s horrible. And you are right. That’s why you never a judge a book by its cover. Did you ever follow up with the company and let them know about the experience?
Lori – this emphasizes how important the customer experience is! And when there is a lack of it, to be persistent.
I have a story to share that had me in disbelief. I was booking a party venue for a client, who was surprising his wife for her 40th birthday. Money was not an object. I called one of my favorite locally owned restaurants and booked for the first part of the evening, which was the only time available. The next call with them, they told me the whole evening was open in the private room so I grabbed it without hesitation. The third call was to follow up on menu options, which I had yet to receive. And this is where everything started to go awry.
I was told that I could not have the room for the whole night with no reason as to why. I asked what it would take to get the room for the whole evening – elevating the minimum commitment, etc. and was stonewalled with no explanations. Then I asked to have an owner call me back as I couldn’t imagine that an owner would approve.
After repeated phone calls on my part, I finally got a hold of an owner. He apologized profusely and had another owner follow up with me. She apologized profusely and we talked about why this happened. We agreed it was a good training opportunity for the person who was stonewalling me.
We discussed transparency (the room had been accidentally booked for the latter part of the evening), along with a desire to hear “I’m sorry” and “what can we do to make your reservation a success?”
Had I not persisted, with the mindset that I couldn’t imagine an owner would think this was an acceptable way to lose multiple customers and dollars, I would have a very different story to tell.
Love that you pursued and followed up and the owners took responsibility and recognized this could be lesson for better training. That’s huge. Hope to get the same type of response from General Sports.