When Retailers Get it Wrong, Ease & Common Sense Make it Right

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Customers want EASY – period.

How many times have you interacted with a company online or in store and wondered why it was so difficult? How many times have you heard horror stories from people trying to return something or having to explain an issue to someone over the phone only to be transferred and have to start all over again? It happens ALL THE TIME and is the biggest source of frustration for consumers.

This one real world example illustrates two fundamental principles of customer experience: Make things easy for customers and it easy and don’t let business processes get in the way of CX.

Last Christmas, my wish list included a set of dinnerware from a modern furniture and décor store with both physical locations in Canada and the US as well as Canadian and American websites. I am a fan; they offer well styled, well priced, trendy pieces for the home and I’m a frequent shopper at their Vancouver location.


Principle #1: Make Things Easy for Customers

My mom found the dinnerware set much cheaper on the US site (mostly due to astronomical shipping fees in Canada) and decided to order from there and pick up the item across the border. Christmas morning I open the box to find a broken plate. No big deal, it’s a plate and there’s a store down the street, I can just go in and they’ll replace it.

Not so fast. When I went to the store in an attempt to fix my problem, I was informed that unfortunately stores don’t provide support for any online orders and that the fact that it was a US order is an even bigger issue. The $9.00CAD plate in perfect condition sat on the shelf 10 metres from the till. So instead of providing me with a replacement plate, they politely asked that I call the US website. For $9.00?  Yes.

Pause for dramatic effect… Pricing and shipping discrepancies for Canadian online customers aside, for $9.00 (probably more like a $2.00 cost to the company) this business was willing to frustrate one of their loyal customers. Make sense?


Principle 2#: Don’t Let Business Processes Get in the Way of CX

When I called the US website customer service line, the CSR on the phone was very understanding of the hassle it would be to cross the border again and very apologetic about the breakage but her hands were tied. The best she could do was to ship me a replacement plate to the same US address the initial order had gone to and (wait for it) they would in fact just ship me out a whole new set of dishes because it was easier for their system. WTF!?!?!

Pause again to let that sink in. This CSR wanted so badly to make things right but didn’t have the autonomy to be able to do so beyond shipping a 12-piece item to replace one broken one and still have me needing to cross a border. Think about the cost to the business. Not only in the added replacement product, the shipping, the loss of customer confidence. Was it easier for them? Definitely. Was it easier for their customer. Definitely not.

Take Away

Unquestionably as companies grow, more and more processes and procedure become a part of the operation. Many of these are necessary but they also require a regular audit for process overload and to highlight potential process improvements. US and Canadian operations may be separate entities but to the customer they are one brand. Customer Experience should always guide decisions as opposed to being an afterthought.

In this particular instance as a customer, I was first disappointed that a part of my item was broken upon receipt. I then felt undervalued and frustrated in the store because the $9.00 plate was on the shelf and no one could see sense to just give it to me and write it off as breakage if that was what was necessary for customer satisfaction (spoiler alert: I bought the $9 plate because I wasn’t rushing across the border to pick up my new set of dishes). And finally, they have lost my trust as a brand because I now question the business practices of this company that shipped a $100 dinnerware set because it’s “easier” than replacing one plate.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a unique story. Whenever I recount this tale, I’m always met with horrors stories from others, usually from large retailers who have lost sight of what is important. What companies need to do is empower their employees to make the best decision for the customer. If this business had a customer-centric culture where employees were told that making things easy for the customer was Priority #1, I wouldn’t be writing this post.

Do I still shop there? Yes but never online. They have a number of products that aren’t available in store so I’ve cut down significantly on what I buy.



Lindsey TurnerComment