I recently experienced two dramatically different customer service experiences that I think we could all learn from.  In both cases these were corporate sales where repeat business is the most sought after result.  One experience was so vile that we will never do business with that company again and the other re-affirmed my belief in the company as the leader in their marketplace.  Anyone can make mistakes, it is how the mistake is handled that determines whether the company is lame, good, or great.

First the great: Late last year I bought a Dell XPS 420 that I wrote about in this post “The Changing Face of Residential Integration“. D-Tools has a corporate account with Dell and a personal sales rep but that does not include the XPS line, which is considered a home PC, so I had to order online like everyone else.  As I was configuring my PC the Dell website would not let me complete the transaction because of a “configuration issue”.  I could not figure it out so I did the live chat thing and then a sales rep called me to help.

For whatever reason, the web interface would not work but it could be configured at his end.  He took my order and then said that there was a special promotion and that this configuration will have a $200.00 Dell gift certificate in the box.  BONUS.

I received the PC, set it up, and it works great but noticed that there was no gift certificate in the box.  After a couple of weeks I called Dell customer service and was told that the gift certificate would be in the mail, in about 4-6 weeks. Not what I was promised but still OK.

Six weeks go by and still no gift certificate.  Normally this would have blown by but I happened to be cleaning my desk and noticed the Dell packing slip.  I called customer service again and was then told that there was no $200.00 promotion and that if there was a promotion then my name would be on an Excel list.  Why a company like Dell would use an Excel list to keep track of customer promotions is a topic for another post.  However the customer service rep said they could give me a $50.00 credit.

I thanked him and explained that I was promised a $200.00 gift certificate not $50.00.  He talked to his manager and came back with a $100.00 offer.  I thanked him again and asked for my $200.00.  He could not do it so I asked for his manager.  Eventually a very nice woman named Heather listened my sad story, apologized for the mix-up, and said she could not issue a gift certificate but could give me a $200.00 credit on any order.  Perfect. Thank you.  I feel good and remain a loyal Dell Customer.

Now the lame: We needed a couple of these Luidia eBeam Interactive Whiteboards so the CA and OH Dev teams could more easily communicate during conference calls.  I told our CTO, Corey Krehel, that I would take care of it and ordered two units from Just Electronic Whiteboards.  The only problem was that I ordered the projection version instead of the whiteboard version.

When the units arrived I was notified of my mistake.  I immediately called Just Electronic Whiteboards and told them I had ordered the wrong items and asked if I could exchange these for the right ones.  Instead of doing a simple exchange, I was hit with close to $160.00 in restocking fees and a four to six week wait for the credit.  I was shocked, all I wanted was to exchange the units.  All they had to do was ship me the right unit when they received the wrong ones back.  Nope, if I wanted the right units I would have to reorder them and wait for the credit.  That was their policy.  Whatever, just credit my account and I will get them somewhere else.  Lesson learned, I shipped the units back and we will never do any more business with Just Electronic Whiteboards.

This Tuesday I received a call from Lauren L. at Just Electronic Whiteboards.  Apparently they made a mistake and shipped five units to our Concord, CA office instead of just one.  She nicely asked if we could please return the four units. Since I do not do the receiving here I explained that I would have to check with some others, oh and by the way, if these units are here, maybe she could just get me the products originally ordered without all the fees and 4 to 6 week wait.  She flat out refused and then made some vague threat about a how it was a federal offense to hold onto these items.

Wow, all of a sudden I am a thief because they shipped me some stuff I did not order AND I did not immediately jump up and find out where these products were AND she would do nothing to help me get the units I needed and paid for.

I checked and told her that indeed the units were sitting on shelf in our locked IT room and if she wanted them she could personally pick them up.  Then she sends me an email that said something like ‘we are sending over electronic shipping labels, please box up and drop off (at UPS I guess) at your earliest convenience’.

I replied that I was not going to do anything to help her other than open a door to the room that the products were in unless they helped me get the units I ordered and paid without all the extra fees and wait time.  If she wants them then come and pick them up.

Again there was a simple solution to this problem that would have kept everyone happy.  Just ship me the stuff that I need and paid for.  We do not want or need more units that were not right in the first place.

I just told her to have someone else call me, preferably a manager or executive.  Eventually someone named Tom called and saw that all I wanted was full credit or the right units and did what should have been done from the start.  He gave me a full credit and sent me some shipping labels for the stuff we did not order.

From a customer service standpoint they should have just exchanged the units without all the punitive fees just to keep a corporate customer happy.  I understand the costs involved with transactions but there is a cost to getting and keeping customers.  Good customer service needs to recognize that.  Then after realizing that they had mistakenly shipped us four extra units, they should have made some sort of accommodation to get me the units I needed without the punitive fees.  No matter what, they should have not accused me of a federal offense for receiving items we did not order.

The problem is that now I hate Just Electronic Whiteboards enough to write this post.  I will never order from them again and I bet anyone reading this will not either.  Part of the problem is that Just Electronic Whiteboards is part of the CSN Stores that looks to me like just an order interface for various manufacturers.  I do not think they actually stock anything.  Everything that you order through them has to be shipped from and returned to the manufacturer, thus causing great delays in all aspects of support and service.  In the future I will only order anything online from companies that actually stock the items.

The bottom line is that this could have been a profitable and stress free deal if they had just exchanged the units for a reasonable fee.  Always consider what the customer wants and what the cost is of making them happy.  If the request is reasonable, your customer service reps should have the power to approve on the spot.  In my case all they had to do was swap units.  What is the real cost of that if I had covered all the shipping?  Maybe a little time and they would have a happy customer and some repeat business.  Never get into a fight with your customer, even if you win, you still lose.

Adam