I visited a store earlier. In the space of a few minutes, they damaged their reputation and lost a regular customer. There’s a powerful lesson here, which I’d like to share with you, as it relates to every small business.
Here’s what happened.
I was standing in line waiting to buy a new razor, at a local, independent store. A customer in front of me was trying to exchange a faulty, inexpensive hair dryer she’d bought from them. The hair dryer was, apparently, 2 days past the store’s return policy. The customer tried to explain that she’d just returned from a 14 day business trip and couldn’t return it sooner.
The guy at the store wasn’t interested. He just kept telling the customer there was nothing he could do. The customer left the store, vowing never to return. I put my purchase back on the shelf and decided to buy a razor elsewhere.
A better approach leads to a better result for everyone
The guy at the store was wrong when he said there was nothing he could do. There were a number of useful things he could have done.
- He could have listened intently to the customer as she explained her situation. Instead, he chose to avoid eye-contact.
- He could have looked at her passport, when she showed him the stamps that proved she returned to the country yesterday. Instead, he chose to look away, rolling his eyes.
- He could have spoken to the customer with empathy. Instead, he chose to keep repeating the same robot-like mantra over and over.
- He could have been flexible because of the customer’s situation, offering her a working hair drier or maybe a discount on a second one. Instead, he chose not to.
And he could have turned the customer’s problem into a positive story.
He could have given her a remarkable customer experience, which she would share with her family and friends. After all, he’d sold her a defective product and her passport stamps [which she showed him] proved she’d been out of the country until yesterday.
Instead, he chose to give the customer a very poor customer experience. The kind of experience she will use as a warning, when she tells her family, friends and her Facebook contacts how poorly she was treated.
The loss to the store is likely to be far more damaging, than the low cost of exchanging an inexpensive hair dryer.
Small business should play to their strengths
As an independent business, they had the flexibility to deal with that situation in any way they wanted. And that’s exactly what they did. Whether the guy who served the customer was the owner or an employee, it was clear that they operate a rigid returns policy.
Certainly, the retailer needs to avoid customers taking advantage of them. However, it was very clear that this customer was an exceptional case. This is the exact kind of situation, where a small business can use their agility and win a client’s goodwill and loyalty.
It’s a golden opportunity. An opportunity to look after one customer, secure their repeat custom and attract many more.
Here’s what we know: Customer service is marketing. In fact, it’s a primary marketing activity.
Our customers will talk about us, regardless. It’s the way we look after them that determines the kind of story they share.