Listen to any retail guru, they will all tell you the same thing: the quality of your customer service can make or break your retail business.
Forbes reports that poor customer service loses businesses $62 billion every year. According to a recent NewVoiceMedia survey, almost 50 percent of consumers report having experienced such terrible service from a company that they decided to switch to a different brand as a consequence. These stats definitely ring true to me: for every company where I get great service – the kind of experience that makes you think “I have to tell my friends about this place” — there is one company that disappoints me. And although I tend to give second and third chances –after all, brands are made of people, and you shouldn’t judge a whole company based on the questionable behavior of one or two employees – I have found myself bidding adieu to more than one company this year. The common cause? You got it: awful customer service.
If you want to know how to make your customers run away scared to never come back, read on: here come three stories of truly horrid customer service.
The international delivery company where no one is responsible
Few months ago we sent three boxes of electronic items from our HQ in Iceland to Rome, Italy, where we hosted our yearly conference and expo conneXion. The shipment, which was handled by a well-known global delivery company (let’s just call them Unreliable Delivery Service, UDS for short), reached Italy one month before our conference, and that’s where the horrors started. First UDS Italy could not figure out the right code to clear items at customs – no matter we described the product in Italian and even sent them a link to the item’s official website. One week, six phone calls, many not-very-polite emails and a lawyer consultation later, this problem was solved – and that’s when UDS Italy realized that UDS Iceland had sent them the wrong paperwork. Instead of solving the problem between regional chapters, UDS Italy sent us cryptic emails which hinted at some number on some piece of paperwork being missing or incorrect – without ever telling us exactly which document was the problem. Now, I love charades as much as the next person – but not when I’m working on organizing an international conference.
In the end, our boxes reached Rome too late, when our conference was well underway. Not only: just two out of three boxes arrived. Furious, we asked for explanations. UDS’s comment? “Boxes get lost sometimes”. Which is definitely not what a customer wants to hear from an international delivery company that has just lost their parcel.
The nightmare was not over. We contacted UDS international to complain about the poor service we received in Italy. We reached out to two of their Twitter handles. We sent emails to four different offices. All they could say was “Wow, that sounds horrible, but we are not really responsible for UDS Italy and we don’t really know who is above them.” We got, unsurprisingly, no reply from UDS Italy.
Needless to say, LS Retail now uses a different service for our daily international deliveries.
The most terrifying bit: This international, large company apparently does not have any control over its regional chapters. So when one of them delivers horrendous service and stains the brand name, they are unable to do anything to help unhappy customers: forget “I’ll take care of it” – they aren’t even able to say “You should speak to this person, she will fix it”.
The airline that will not make it up to its customers
My flight from a European capital to Reykjavik was delayed four hours. It’s annoying, but hey, these things happen.
The airline (let’s call them “Thin Air”) notified travelers of the delay less than two hours before the planned departure, long after they had known the plane would not leave on time (the Reykjavik airport website had marked the flight “delayed” long before we passenger were informed). When I went to look for a representative of the airline, a surprised airport staff member told me they had already left – even though European regulations require airlines to offer passengers free refreshments in case of long delays like this one. I contacted the Thin Air customer service which however, being a Sunday, was closed. I then submitted a claim to their website: “The processing of claims can take up to 4-8 weeks,” was the automated response. Thirteen weeks later, my claim is still open and unanswered. When I recounted my misadventure to friends and colleagues, I discovered many of them had similar stories to tell, and several had vowed never to use Thin Air again.
Needless to say, I now fly with a different airline.
The scariest part: Thin Air prides itself on being a fun, playful, service-oriented company. On its website, the company makes a number of pledges – two of them are, ironically, punctuality and providing unforgettable service all the way. With this kind of company values, you’d think they could at least have offered passengers a free sandwich (a free cookie, perhaps? An orange juice?) during the four-hour flight, after we had already been delayed four hours. Well – you’d be wrong.
The online retailer that doesn’t (re-)deliver
The first pair of shoes I bought online arrived to destination quickly. I was happy until I discovered that the pair didn’t fit. The first problem surfaced when I read the instructions on how to return the product: the shipping company assigned to handle returns didn’t operate in my country. I therefore found another delivery company, and paid for sending the items back. When I got notification that the company had received the shoes, I kindly emailed them back saying I had yet to receive a replacement or a refund. No response. I called them, and I was told they would fix it right away.
I never received a replacement pair of shoes, or my money back.
Needless to say, I won’t be shopping from that e-commerce retailer again, and I have warned my friends from doing so.
A shopper’s nightmare: This is the worst fear connected to online shopping come true: returning a product and never receiving a replacement, or money back. And as the brand is located in another country, I felt like there was nothing else I could do – aside from complaining online, and warning other shoppers that this is not a trustworthy retailer.
The worst part of all these stories? It wasn’t the issues that caused me to abandon these companies: rather, it’s the way the problems were handled. Had the companies listened, and offered a solution, I would probably still be their customer. People are creatures of habit: if a service we have used before has satisfied us, we are likely to stay loyal, even if we were not really dazzled. Many times, we stick with a company we know just because we can’t be bothered to find other options.
If you notice that you lose customers quickly, start wondering: what am I not doing? Who am I not listening to?
Customer service expert Jay Baer has written a book called “Hug your haters” on the importance of listening and responding to complaints. Unhappy customers, he says, are your most important customers. And yet, one third of customer complaints go unanswered. Although 40 percent of a company’s revenue comes from their current customers, and although it’s much cheaper to maintain a current customer than to gain a new one, in average companies spend just a puny 2 percent of budget on customer service.
A customer service horror story can be enough to scare a customer away for life.
If you want to give shoppers long-lasting chills, make sure to follow the example of the three customer service nightmare masters above. If, on the other hand, your holidays plans do not include losing customers by the handful, make sure you deal with issues, listening, responding to and resolving complaints timely.