Have One on Us!

By Ron Rosenberg

The entire landscape of shopping has changed, and it all started back on July 5, 1994.

That's when Amazon.com was launched as an online bookstore and began a steady growth trajectory that had it generating nearly $142 billion in 2018.

We're now at the point where you can buy pretty much anything online from music to mobile phones; from airline tickets to cars...and, yes, even furniture.

Time for an Upgrade...

For years, we'd been thinking about replacing some of our bedroom furniture. One of the dressers was a "do-it-yourself" piece we had bought years ago and sanded and stained in our garage.

Our nightstands were basic plywood tables with a round top and three screw-in legs; we put a nice tablecloth over them and they looked okay and served the purpose.

We'd been looking for something on and off for a few years, but it was never really a top priority, and when we did look, we couldn't find anything we really loved. But when my wife, Lorie, was browsing online one evening, she found just what she was looking for on a website called Wayfair.com.

The nightstand you see in the image above was perfect for the oriental theme in the room, and they even had a matching dresser. So we decided to buy the two nightstands first, and then we would go ahead and order the dresser next if we liked how they looked in the room.

Surprise!

We placed the order, tracked the shipment, and were excited to see the UPS truck pull up outside our house. But our excitement quickly turned to concern, and then frustration.

When we opened the first box, we saw that the packaging was not very good, and the corners on the top of the piece were not cushioned very well.

Then we noticed that one corner, in particular, had been crushed. We knew we were going to have to call the company to get the nightstand replaced, and opened the second box just to make sure that one was okay.

It wasn't. The packaging on that one was also inadequate; and in this case, on the top of the piece, there was a place where the wood was actually gouged to the extent that a small piece was missing!

Time for the Dreaded Call to "Customer Service"

Calling a vendor is never a fun activity, so we armed ourselves with photos of the damage and got on the phone.

The representative we spoke with was courteous and professional. We explained the situation, describing the packaging and the damage, and expecting a long and tiring battle.

I never expected what happened next.

The rep apologized for the problem, explained that this almost never happens, but assured us that she would take care of it. She offered to replace both nightstands, but Lorie explained that if it had been just one that was damaged, that would be fine. But, based on our experience, the odds were that the two replacement pieces would both be damaged as well.

The rep said that she understood fully, asked us to hold for just a second, and then said, "Okay, I've just refunded the full purchase amount to your credit card." We never even mentioned that we could show her photos of the damage!

This seemed too good to be true, and we were waiting for "the other shoe to drop" - expecting some sort of convoluted return process that would require excessive time and effort.

Lorie asked how they would handle picking up the damaged pieces, and the rep said, "Don't worry about that, you can just keep them or give them to a charity that might be able to use them."

Here is where the customer-service lesson kicks in.

How Much Do You Trust Them?

I've seen countless studies on customer loyalty over the years. One statistic that always intrigued me was this one: let's say you have a certain level of loyalty with a particular company. If something goes wrong, and the company addresses the situation quickly and definitively, that level of customer loyalty actually increases.

The thinking behind that is that if you already like working with a business, and they take care of you when something goes wrong, then, well, you really have nothing to worry about.

What's In It for the Company?

A liberal refund and return policy can have huge benefits. Let's look at a couple of examples, starting with the furniture.

  • Because we had such great customer service, we went ahead and bought another piece of furniture, which arrived in perfect condition.
  • I bought a small device to put on my bike helmet that's supposed to reduce wind noise when I listen to music when riding on our Greenway trails. I installed and adjusted it exactly as they showed in the YouTube video, but it really had no effect. The company sent me a return shipping label and refunded me the money. Then I got a package in the mail with a replacement set of the item, and a letter thanking me for my feedback. It said to try these instead at no charge, and if they didn't work for me, I could give them to a friend.
  • After trying several different types of noise-reducing earbud-style headphones, I ordered the JLab JBuds EPIC earbuds. These include a variety of "gel-tip" and "cush fin" inserts to create the perfect fit. They work great, but one of the cush-fin pieces fell off somewhere and I couldn't find it. A quick e-mail to the company and the replacement parts were on their way - free of charge.

I will order from all three companies again with confidence, and I will post extremely favorable comments about them on the appropriate websites.

In the grand scheme of things, the actual cost of doing the right thing is nothing compared to the goodwill and future business it creates. Consider this as you review your own customer-interaction policies and procedures.