Earlier today I was ramping up to write a vicious editorial on customer service. I was all set to lament its demise and to render to ashes by my verbal scathing a certain company from whom I felt the concept was sorely lacking.
But not so, gentle reader. It took a little effort on my part but in the end I can say customer service is not entirely dead and there are some who do see the benefits of treating people decently and putting long term service over short term profit.
Please understand, I, too, am a businessman. I’m all for profit. But the profit I seek is a value for value profit based on mutual agreement and satisfaction on both sides.
Those of you who know and train with me know I wear Vibram Five Fingers, otherwise known as “toe shoes.” I’m a big proponent of the shoes and am now on my second pair. I wear them all the time in the gym and out.
So it’s no surprise that this year for Christmas my nine year old daughter wanted a pair. Vibrams are not cheap, they average $100 a pair. That’s a lot for anyone to spend on their nine year old, but she really wanted a pair and I’m an old softie.
You can often find them cheaper online, but the shoe has a very specific fit and the odds of getting a poor fit online are high, especially when buying your first pair. Therefore I thought it was important that she actually try them on to make sure we had a good fit.
I bought my first two pair from Mountain High Outfitters and thought this the natural choice for where to take her.
In the past I’d had a very positive experience. The salesman was helpful and assisted as I tried on several pair and found the right fit. The second time I knew what I needed but he (a different guy this time) seemed happy to discuss the shoe and it’s more recent models as I shopped.
This Christmas, not so much. I don’t know if he just didn’t think it was cool to cater to a nine year old girl or what but while he retrieved the shoes we needed quick enough our salesman didn’t stick around to help us find the right fit. It seemed to me that he was more interested in carrying on a conversation with his bud in the corner.
We actually could have used some help. The shoes he brought were long enough but not wide enough and it was a ridiculous struggle to get them on. Now Five Fingers are tough to wear at first. You have to get each toe into it’s respective pocket and that involves a bit of a learning curve. I should have known something was wrong when I couldn’t get her toes to the toe pockets. The truth I later realized was that her foot was just too wide for the women’s pair.
Once I had his attention I told our salesman the shoes wouldn’t fit and asked for the next size up. We still had the same problem only this time the shoes were even longer.
Thalia, my daughter, REALLY wanted these shoes. So much so that, like many nine year olds, she was willing to forgo reality for what she wished were true, namely that the shoes felt okay. I took her word for it and figured we were just hitting the steep side of that learning curve and that in time she’d have an easier time with the shoes.
Flash forward to Christmas and my daughter tries the shoes on for the first time since she had in the store. This time after a five minute struggle just to get one shoe on it became clear. The shoes did not fit.
So after tears and much disappointment I promised to return the shoes and exchange them for another pair. Later that same day it occurred to me that perhaps a man’s size would be wider and fit her better. Something I also realized a helpful salesman would have suggested.
Mountain High Outfitters is a little out of our usual way and so it took us a bit to return the shoes. Yesterday was, by my count, day 28 of their 30 day return policy and my mother-in-law tried to return the shoes. Because my daughter had worn the shoes from the house to the car there was, the clerk informed her, dirt on the shoe and it was therefore un-returnable.
I was already sore at the less than stellar salesman and this just really set me off. I spent some time cooling off, making sure I had eaten and bringing myself to a reasonable frame of mind. I then called the store and asked to speak to a manager.
I began by stating I had a problem and asking for his assistance. I explained my less than perfect sales experience and then Nana’s failed attempt at a return. He was guarded, of course, but said he would be in the store the following day and would do his best to help me.
So, today I walked into the store, shoes in hand. It was true that there was some dirt on the shoes and I took the precaution of taking some water and a brush to them before I went in.
I found Jay, the manger I spoke to, and he introduced me to Dustin, the store manager. I related my story once more. They listened patiently but again held a little reserve. On their part, they were concerned about resale and whether or not the amount of “wear” would preclude their ability to sell the shoes again.
I tried again.
I explained that I was a personal trainer, a businessman, like them. I pointed out that customer service was the corner stone of good business. I pointed to my own shoes, let them know that these were my second pair and that both pairs I had owned came from their store. I mentioned that I was frequently asked about my shoes and where I got them from and I let drop the number of clients I had sent in their direction to buy these very shoes. I also may have mentioned that everything they sold was available online and the main reason I shopped there was convenience and customer service.
Dustin took the shoes to the shoe department and asked his staff if they thought the could resell the shoes. When he returned he had made up his mind.
“Whether I can resell the shoes or not, I’m going to refund your money,” he said, “One sale is not worth the loss of your business.”
And that my friends is the right answer. Rest assured I will buy my next pair of shoes from Mountain High Outfitters, even if it costs me a little more.
Business is about relationships. It’s the exchange of value for value. It’s more than just getting the best price. As Warren Buffet has said, “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.”
The value I got in this case is the knowledge that Mountain High Outfitters cares about me as a customer. Yes, they want my money but they also want my satisfaction and they understand the service they provide is the value I exchange my money for.
Unfortunately this has become a rarer commodity. It will disappear entirely if we don’t let it be known it’s what we expect.