Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Study of Shoes and Customer Service

I don't know too many girls who aren't in love with shoes. When nothing else fits, shoes are the answer. No matter how ridiculous they are or how many pairs you already own - in the same color and style - there is no such thing as too much. Which is why I found myself the giddily-proud owner of the absurdly awesome pair above (they were on clearance at Target - how could I say no???).

I have a friend who sells shoes on eBay. Recently, she sold a pair of designer shoes to a customer and sent them off in a timely manner to the address provided in the buyer's eBay profile. A few weeks later, the buyer contacted my friend to let her know the shoes hadn't arrived even though the package tracking information indicated that the purchase had been delivered. Upon investigating the issue, the seller realized that the shipping address provided in the buyer's eBay profile was different from the one provided with their payment information, which was ultimately why the shoes had not reached the buyer. At which point, my friend called me to talk about how to resolve the issue.

Trust me when I say that I am not a customer service expert, but because I dealt with issues like this when I was working in retail, certain members of my cohort like to discuss issues like this when they arise. I guess I have been on both sides of the counter, so to speak. On one side, you as the seller, or business owner, have to abide by your business policies out of fairness to all customers and make sure you're not "giving away the farm." On the other side, the buyer, or the customer, has invested in your business and has a right to receive the product or service that they paid for. Additionally, our culture endorses a philosophy that the customer is always right because they hold the keys to your reputation, which can have a great impact on a business' profits. For those of us who operate online, our reputations rely heavily on customer satisfaction ratings that can be shattered by a negative review by one unsatisfied person.

A situation like the one my friend recently found herself in can be very tricky to navigate because neither party specifically did anything "wrong." And that's where I think so many companies, both large and small go wrong with customer service. We get so hung up on who is "right" and who is "wrong" instead of focusing on the real issue - communication. In almost every sticky situation that I have encountered in working with people, poor communication was at fault, resulting in mixed messages and disappointed expectations. Unfortunately, we can't undo poor communication after the fact, but we can apologize for the problems it caused and learn how to be better at it in the future.

I advised my friend that if the shoes couldn't be located by the shipping company and sent on their way within a reasonable period of time, her best course of action to repair her relationship with the buyer would probably be to offer an alternative replacement or refund the purchase price of the shoes. It sucks for her to loose out on that income, but unfortunately, mistakes are a cost of doing business. Even if they're not your mistakes. And at the end of the day, it is way more awesome to have somebody rave about your business because you wowed them out of a tough situation than to have them destroy the reputation you've worked so hard to build over the years.

The ideal solution to a difficult customer service situation is the one where both people think they got the best end of the deal. But when you absolutely have to choose, I'd go with letting the customer have the better end because the return will most likely be even greater than your investment.

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