There's been a lot written about customer service recently (and, in particular, about those companies that have dealt badly with customers via Twitter). And this led me to think about my own experience of customer service in the past two weeks, with two separate companies.
The first is a clothes manufacturer - Viyella. I have been wearing Viyella clothes since my early twenties. I have bought numerous skirts, blouses, suits and jumpers with the Viyella label and I've loved them all - until recently when I bought a skirt from their website. Now, my experience of Viyella has always been that the clothes fit well, look good and are hard-wearing. Not so this new one!
I discovered that not only did the skirt crease very easily but it was well-nigh impossible to get those creases out on the iron setting suggested. What's more, the skirt marked at the slightest thing. With other skirts, a splash of something or other can usually be wiped off or sponged out easily. This skirt had to be put in the washing machine. On one occasion I hand washed it and, since there was a mark on it, I gave it a gentle rub. Once it was dry, I was horrified to see that the section I'd rubbed had lost some of its surface and looked different from the surrounding area.
I emailed the Viyella helpdesk, saying how disappointed I was with the skirt. The reply was somewhat perfunctory and said "I am sorry to hear of your disappointment with your Tencel Skirt. Thank you for notifying us of this issue. I would recommend taking the Skirt into your local Viyella Store along with any purchase information you can supply so they can advise you further." (Tencel is the name of the fabric, but what 'skirt' had done to merit a capital letter I have no idea!)
I was less than pleased with this. The reason I buy online is because I don't have a local Viyella store. I therefore had to make a special journey to the nearest store, which is some twenty miles away. I was interested, however, in what sort of 'advice' they might give me. Throw it in the bin, perhaps?
The manager of the store looked at the skirt and listened to my complaint. Well, she said, Tencel does crease - it's similar to viscose. Now, viscose is a favourite fabric of mine and, yes, it does crease - but it's also very easy to get those creases out with light ironing. So I wasn't impressed by that. Then she told me that the skirt could be sent off for examination but that would take about a month after which I might receive a refund - or I might just be told that I'd washed it on the wrong setting (which I hadn't) or done something else wrong. The alternative was to take the value of the skirt in gift tokens which I could spend on something else. This seemed to be the lesser of two evils and I agreed to it.
So I now have Viyella gift tokens which I discovered later I can't spend online, meaning that I have to wait until I'm in the vicinity of a Viyella store with the time to browse. And I'm left feeling rather jaded. Because I've bought Viyella for so many years, it will not stop me buying Viyella in the future, but I think I'll be rather more careful and perhaps will not buy as much. If I'd been a new customer, I think this experience would have put me off buying Viyella entirely.
Compare this experience with what happened when I returned an Avon product. I buy Avon from time to time from a local representative and, some months ago, had bought some skin cream which, I discovered, made my eyes sting when I used it. I mentioned this to the Avon rep and, immediately, she arranged to send it back and get me a refund. It didn't matter that I'd had it for a couple of months and there was no suggestion that I might not be using it 'properly'. Avon wanted me to be happy . . . and I was. This month I've ordered quite a lot from the catalogue, secure in the knowledge that if anything's not right, I can return it.
So, from clothes and makeup to internet marketing. Whatever product we're selling, I believe it's vital to ensure that the customer is happy. Because a happy customer will return and buy again. And that's why I like the 'no quibble guarantee' that a lot of people offer. It results in my buying (and keeping) a lot more than I might otherwise do. I never buy anything without a guarantee, following an experience a couple of years ago when I spent £60 on an ebook that purported to contain a successful marketing system that 'you have never come across before'. It turned out to be no such thing and was simply an introduction to joint ventures. I emailed to complain and ask for a refund but didn't even receive a reply.
Of course, there will always be people who will buy our products, read them or watch them, and then ask for a refund. Some of them will be genuine - the product truly doesn't meet their needs - and some won't. But if we offer a no-quibble guarantee, the chances are that the first group will buy from us again - and no one will be left with a feeling of dissatisfaction.