January 10, 2009
Recently, I’ve had a couple of extremely positive experiences in customer service that have made me consider just how important it can be. I wanted to share them with you.
A new Martin+Osa store opened up in my nearby mall and I went to check it out on a friend’s recommendation. The clothes were high quality and, more importantly, they fit properly. I’ve long been frustrated by dress shirts built for 45 year old beer bellies.
Even more interesting, the shopping experience was pleasant. The sales associates knew a bit about clothes, provided sound suggestions, and even provided soda, bottled water and light snacks. I had been wanting a nice blazer of some sort for the winter months - just something simple that was not a part of a suit. Martin+Osa had several such options at $280, which was a bit outside the range I was interested in spending, so I settled for some sweaters and jeans instead.
Several weeks later however, the jackets went on sale on their website for a whopping 50% off. Since I was pleased with the clothes I had purchased previously, I decided to grab one. I was even more excited to find a 20% off promotional code online that worked for everything in the online store, including sales items. That $280 jacket was now $112.
When it arrived I fully expected to need to have it tailored, as required for all proper jackets. I brought it in to Martin+Osa because they advertise free alterations for any purchases. But jackets require a more expert hand and so the stores don’t provide that service. Instead, the lady took me up to the register, gave me $30 in cash and the card of a professional tailor to take the coat to. That’s it, no hesitation, no checking with the manager. Just cash and an easy alternative.
Just before Christmas, a friend and I decided to go to the Charleston for a great dinner out. We had been aching to go, since we both love food, and had been sort of waiting for an excuse which Christmas sort of provided. We were stretching it I admit, but why the hell not. So we went and had a delightful 6 course fine dining experience. The entire meal was beautiful, each course more mouth watering than the next. Our waiter was witty, dressed in a crisp suit, and had an in depth knowledge of the menu and the wine list.
I had every expectation of ordering a glass of old Armagnac with dessert, but when the dessert menus were proffered, the list of fine old Madeira by the glass caught my eye.
I am a wine lover. Some probably say snob. But I simply love wine, and I want other people to love it too. I want them to have the same numinous experiences I have. And I want them to be ready for those experiences when they happen, which means having some knowledge of the drink before tasting something transcendent.
Madeira is what I consider my every day wine. I drink it most frequently in the evening at home, or with a cigar. One of the most fascinating things about Madeira is that it is virtually indestructible. It can last for months or even years when uncorked. It can last for centuries in the bottle. 19th century Madeira is not uncommon, although perhaps not as common as it once was. 18th century Madeira is still around, although exorbitantly expensive. I haven’t set aside the money to procure a couple of 19th century bottles, but I plan to at some point in the near future.
The oldest wine I had previously was a bottle of 1952 Verdelho Jubilee Selection I had found for my Mom’s birthday. Jubilee Selection wines had originally been set aside on the occasion of the Queen of England’s coronation for her Jubilee years - i.e. 25th or 50th anniversary. It was a fine old bottle, although not particularly to my taste. Verdelho’s are dry and this one had a sense of old coffee and bitter chocolate. We enjoyed it, as much for the history than anything.
The Charleston now has a list of Madeira stretching back to 1907. I immediately showed my dinner date and we began our scheming. Should we try it? Would it be worth it? They were, afterall, over $60 for a 3 oz. pour.
We eventually decided on a 1912 Barbeito Bual at $84/glass. We would split it to ease the pain a little, but really, how often do you have even the opportunity to try something like this? As far as I know, the Charleston is the only restaurant in the area with such a selection.
The excitement mounted. Finally, our waiter brought out the glass, not quite filled to the brim. He had a pained look on his face. “I’m very sorry” he said, “this is the bottom of the last bottle of the 1912 and you have not received a full pour. This glass is on the house.”
From $84 to nothing. A free glass of wine never tasted so good. We savored the experience, taking probably a half an hour to finish that single glass. The entire time she and I tried to conjure in our minds what was going on in the world 96 years ago. World War I had not yet started and the sinking of the Titanic was still big news during the harvest. We wondered when the people who picked these grapes had passed away, and whether they had ever tasted this vintage. And in between our thoughts, the infinitely smooth taste of the wine lingered, inviting speechlessness and mystery over attempts at description.
For me, it was one of those transcendent experiences. And it was free.
Since these two experiences happened in December, I’ve bought more from Martin+Osa and I already have another reservation to go back to the Charleston despite it’s high price of entry. They’ve sold me, completely, on customer service. And not only just; I’ve told relatives, friends, and now, whomever listens to me ramble on my blog. These were the kind of experiences that make you want to tell others, so that they might share it. Let’s see why..
Most importantly, both products were high quality. Customer service will never take the place of a quality product.
A promotional code should be a promotional code. A deal should be a deal. There should not be disclaimers, exceptions, or other negative paraphernalia. It should just work, period.
A refund, discount, or some other sort of perk for the customer is not and should never be a negotiation. It’s an opportunity to win the customer over, plain and simple. In both of my examples, the companies came through beyond my expectations. When you provide more than is expected, you create a zealous convert, recurring sales, and a growing base because you know they’ll get the word out.
Junior people with less responsibility should still have the ability to make snap decisions to help a customer. Time should not have to be wasted consulting with a manager. The same friend I went to dinner with works at one of the most prestigious hotels in Washington DC. I asked her if she had the authority to comp guests or provide services. She said yes, she can comp even an entire stay costing thousands of dollars if something is awry for a guest, with no need to consult someone higher up the line.
The one thing I can’t stress enough is the product. If it isn’t any good, customer service won’t matter one bit. But if it is good, you can build on it. Apple’s stores are proof that it can scale. In a consumer computer world where the standard customer service experience is a series of automated phone calls to some idiot half way across the world, Apple will do just about anything for you with one appointment at one of their stores. They’ll transfer all of our files from a PC to a Mac, reinstall an operating system while you wait, or recover all your music from your iPod. Let’s see your outsourced help desk worker do that over the phone. I returned my iPhone to them with a day left on the warranty because one of the side volume buttons wasn’t working. The poor thing was beat to hell - scratched, dented and busted up. They didn’t ask questions. They just handed me a brand new one. I love the iPhone. After that, I loved it even more.
Recurring sales through customer satisfaction is one of the best ways to have long term success, and it’s achieved when things go wrong, not when things go right. So when things go wrong for a customer, you have an excellent opportunity to make a lasting impression. Don’t pass it up.