Customer Service: Penny Wise or Pound Foolish?

O Canada
Creative Commons License photo credit: Michael Scheltgen

True Story – Jacaranda Designs

This is the first of a periodic series of the business experiences of real people. Today, we’ll hear from Jane of Jacaranda Designs on Etsy. Jane sells one of a kind vintage inspired beaded and metal jewelry with a sharp eye on customer service.

I ran into Jane in one of the business forums at Etsy where she was asking for opinions on a customer situation. The customer had asked for expedited shipping on an item, agreed to the extra cost but then only paid for the item at the regular shipping rate. When Jane contacted the buyer via an Etsy conversation (that’s the dedicated Etsy electronic message system), they confirmed the payment and reiterated their need for quick service without mentioning the discrepancy.

That’s Our Policy

Many of the responses to Jane’s question followed what I call the “Policy First” outlook on customer service. They urged her to ship via regular methods and if the item didn’t arrive in time, then the buyer shouldn’t have expected more. By focusing on policies instead of customer expectations, a seller strains to grab every dollar of profit without considering the damage to relationships and reputations.  Unfortunately, customers don’t often appreciate or agree with that and the pennies of profit kept can’t buy back the pounds of goodwill lost.

Jane decided to go ahead and expedite the shipping and trust that the customer would honor their agreement.

It didn’t work out that way

As Jane said, “I wish I could tell you that it had worked out well and that I had been reimbursed and received positive feedback, but, sadly, no.”

So, now you’re thinking: “What’s up with this lame story?” Wait – there’s more.

While it’s true, in this instance, that focusing on making the customer happy didn’t work out, that was entirely due to the character of the buyer, not Jane. “I’m always amazed at how some people conduct themselves,” she said. But, Jane knows better than to let the customer’s actions set the standards she has for herself and her business.

I asked about her experience in other situations and she had a more pleasant story to report. Jane told of a hand woven crystal bracelet that was for a birthday gift and needed to arrive before the date. “I mailed it right away, assuming it would take five to ten business days to arrive,” she remembered. “A week before the birthday, it had still not arrived.”

While she suspected it had been delayed in customs, she offered to make things right. “I stayed up late at night to weave another bracelet identical to the first one and shipped it via expedited shipping the next day,” she said. The customer was thrilled and paid in full for the extra shipping. As for the original package, it had been opened in customs and arrived about two weeks later. Jane’s commitment to her customers paid off. “She (the customer) very kindly and honestly shipped the bracelet back to me,” Jane said. “So all in all it worked out well.”

Score!

In both cases, Jane scored a victory. She adhered to her own standards of customer service and professionalism as well as ensuring some serious loyalty from her buyers. It’s true she lost the difference in the shipping on the first transaction. Still, she was paid for the item and suffered a minor loss which could be argued is the cost of being in business. She didn’t let the last dollar of profit on that sale blind her to the long term rewards of satisfied customers.

Would you do the same for your customers?

If you’ve got a story to tell, let me know in the comments or a note. I’d love to share your experiences too.

6 thoughts on “Customer Service: Penny Wise or Pound Foolish?”

    1. You’re welcome and thanks for letting me tell it! I think customer service with online shopping has the potential to really shine. In many cases, online service is much better than in person and your outlook just reinforces that. Good Job!

  1. One of the nice things about working online instead of face to face is it gives the seller time to think about what to do in a situation where the buyer is less than desireable. I would have done the same thing, but if it were face to face I think my emotions would have gotten in the way.

    1. You are so right! The “thinking time” can save many situations.

      I still remember (with much dismay) my worst ever delivery of customer service back in the olden days of my retail needlework shop. I chose the wrong option in person and would have been much better off with some time and distance to think it over.

      Your knitting is beautiful and I love that you’re a performing magician – Too Cool!

  2. You make such a great point with this post. I do my best to operate in the same fashion, and although I’ve had a few bad experiences, they really have been very few. The cost of doing business, as you say.

    Mostly, it pays off in how I feel about myself and my business, and in how my customers and clients feel too. Win-win!

    1. Thanks Melissa!
      You are so right about how you feel about yourself. After all, being in business wouldn’t be worth it if you always felt bad about how you were conducting it.
      Thanks for coming by – hope you’re feeling better and home soon 🙂

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