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One of my favourite books is The Time Wasters Letters.
Basically it’s a compendium of letters the author has sent to companies and organisations featuring stupid ideas, issues or considerations and the responses he gets from them.
I love it because apart from being utterly mad [“Did anyone hand in to your lost property department my shoe lace? It’s very sentimental to me.”] you get to see how brands handle situations where brand loyalty is in a make or break situation.
I’ve written about the time my brand new Golf had the gearbox fall out and the turbo blow up within months of owning it and that the dealer ensured I never bought another car from them again when they suggested:
“I get a bus, because they don’t have a policy for offering service cars in these situations and this was going to take at least 6 weeks”.
Fortunately for VW, I knew dealerships and the manufacturers were totally different beasts, so when I elevated my complaint to VW HQ on the grounds that “I don’t have a policy of spending tens of thousands of dollars on buying a vehicle that self destructs within months” they knew by acting quickly and decisively, they could make me a brand advocate for life – regardless of where I end up buying their cars – and they did just that by flying out a new gearbox so my car was back on the road within 48 hours.
In a little more than a few days, I went from being the unhappiest customer in the World to a confirmed brand fan and all because VW appreciated their customer service process needed to fit in with their customers satisfaction timeline and mindset, not theirs.
And that’s the thing, too many ‘customer service policies’ are cold, regimented and designed to protect the company rather that satisfy the customer. In short, there are robots that have more empathy and understanding than companies complaint procedures.
I remember Geoff Burch – the most cynical management consultant ever – telling me he was once helping a company who had major customer satisfaction issues. When he looked in to the matter, he found the problem was their service assistants weren’t empowered to do anything other than offer excuses and empty platitudes.
When he asked the company why … he was told that they didn’t trust their staff and so their strategy ensured they were able to protect themselves from unexpected and excessive costs.
After he pointed out that  if they’re getting so many complaints they should look at their manufacturing processes and  if they don’t trust their staff they should look at their hiring policies … he highlighted that failure to treat complaints in a way that lets the customer feel they are being heard and understood – even if you can’t fundamentally fix the problem – is the single most powerful way to destroy your relationship for good.
We all know this.
It’s human nature.
Just having someone understand where you’re coming from makes a massive difference to how you feel and yet so many companies ignore this in favour of policies that approach every issue with a standardised response that almost guarantees distain and disgust on the side of the client … and this is why I love how someone at Marks & Spencers responded to a complaint they received recently.
Bill Bennett had written to M&S asking for a refund after being overcharged for a salmon sandwich.
Ignoring the fact he seems a petty bastard, M&S responded by saying they would send him a gift card, however after it did not arrive for several weeks Bill wrote to the company again, this time asking for a …
“… hand-drawn picture of a smiley dinosaur to compensate for the inconvenience”.
After a few days, Mr Bennett received the missing gift card with a note that said …
“Unfortunately art was never my strong point, but I hope you will appreciate it.”
… and accompanying the card was this:
On one level you could say the person who drew this, customer service officer Steve Jones was taking the piss … but if I was in charge of M&S, I’d give him a big pat on the back and make him head of the department because this human approach to handling complaints made me – a person reading about the situation, not the person involved in the situation – like the brand far more than I ever have and highlights how customer complaints can be a major opportunity for brands to turn distain and anger into real societal belief & advocacy.
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