Customer Service: the best and the worst

Working with B2B technology companies, I am sensitive to customer relations.  Both as a consultant and in considering my clients’ customers.  There is always competition and always another vendor for your customer to patronize.  B2B customer relations tend to be easier to manage than B2C communications because there are fewer points of interface.  B2C companies have many customers and many points of contact with their customers, all of which ultimately reflect management’s view of the company.

Now then, let me tell you two short stories that illustrate the best customer service I’ve ever experienced and the worst customer service ever. 

The Very Best

The very best customer service experience I have ever encountered — and I still tell people about it very happily — was with Head N.V.  Head is a sports equipment and sportswear company founded in Maryland and now headquartered in Holland and Austria.  They do comfortable, well made ski clothing among other things.  I own, and have owned for many years, a pink and white Head powder suit.  I love it.  Here’s a picture of the front:

While skiing some winters back, an out of control (small) young person knocked me over and skied over my back.  No big deal.  I wasn’t injured.  I got up and kept going throughout the day. Any day on skis is a good day.  Right?  That evening I discovered that the little monster had managed to slice through the fabric on the back of my beloved powder suit.  Sigh.  I was prepared to either try to repair it or to retire it if necessary.  Hope springs eternal, so I called Head to ask whether they might have any more of that fabric.  Now my expectation level was very low here, believe me.  To my pleasant surprise they not only had some fabric left, they knew they had it.  I actually spoke with somebody who knew the style of the powder suit I was talking about, and they told me they had the ability to repair it for me.  $25.  You have got to be kidding me.  I mailed them the snowsuit and a few days later it came back to me with a patch on the back that looks like it could have been part of the original design.  See:

Now THAT is customer service.  Surprisingly good customer service.  Outstanding customer service.  Exceeding your customers’ expectations is guaranteed to give you a lifelong enthusiastic supporter.  I tell this story every chance I get.  I buy Head sportswear every chance I get… for myself and for gifts.  The quality is excellent and I love being able to support a company that connects with its customers in the best possible ways.

The Very Worst

Crocs.  You will not believe this, but I swear this story is true.  First let me say that we all agree Crocs are not attractive footwear.  Granted.  I would never have bought them at all except that I did something very stupid that resulted in dealing with plantar faciitis for a while. 

Ok, I’ll tell you what I did because you really don’t want to do this… I swim.  I love to swim.  I do laps.  So one morning I was doing my laps and for reasons I cannot imagine, I hyperextended my foot toward my shins and was kicking.  I discovered that if you do that really hard with both feet, your kicking will take you backwards instead of forwards.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  That’s what I told the podiatrist a couple days later when I was practically crippled from doing this.  He said it was plantar faciitis and recommended I get shoes with very good arch support.  Blah.  (And that’s why your swim teacher never taught you to do that!)

Meanwhile I had a paper catalog from Footsmart (which is a nice online source for shoes) that had various products for normal folks, such as I had been, and for folks with foot problems, such as I had become.  Online I researched their plantar faciitis products and found that they had Crocs that were especially designed for that condition.  They were relatively inexpensive compared to the other shoes I stocked up on to deal with the situation.  Turns out the Crocs people use different density plastic in different products, so the Crocs RX are soft and supportive while their regular Crocs are, I think, hard and dreadful.  But the Crocs RX were very nice to me during my recovery, so I was positively disposed to the products and the company.  (I’m just fine now, thanks.)  I even went to far as to bring a Footsmart catalog explaining same to my physical therapy lady who had a low opinion of the products. 

I was now on the Crocs email list, which results in your receiving WAY too many emails, but I finally saw one that had some cute Crocs women’s shoes that looked like Mary Jane flats lined with supposedly warm fuzzy stuff.  I figured that even if the plastic was hard, the liner would make them comfortable, so I decided to try them.  I placed an order in on December 8.  I waited.  I waited some more.  I kept checking online and the order was always listed as “in process.”  So, on December 30, I phoned.  You will love this…

The Crocs customer support lady said they cancelled my order.  I said “What?”  Poor lady, I must have made her say that four times because it was absolutely incredible to me.  Like most online ordering procedures, the Crocs site told me the product I was ordering was in stock and available in my size.  The customer support lady said that when they run out of inventory, they cancel the order.  That’s simply what they do when they run out of inventory, she tells me.   They did not notify me of this.  The online account area still showed the order “in process.”  She told me they would leave the order in that condition online, forever, as far as she knew.  When they are out of inventory, even though they told you it was there, they cancel your order, don’t backorder it, and don’t tell you.  I thought that was absolutely unbelievable.  Surely she must have misunderstood.  We went over and over it, and she made it clear that this is the company’s policy.  I have told this story to a number of folks, some of whom have been even more stunned than I was.  (And I thought that was impossible.) 

Lands End, L.L. Bean, Footsmart, Amazon, Staples, and any other company I have ever bought from online, have the simple approach of backordering something if necessary and delivering it when it’s available.  That has to be the basic, fundamental tenet of online customer service.  The very least you would expect of a retailer.  Just so you know… if you buy online from Crocs, be prepared to enter the Twilight Zone of customer service. 

If you have any best or worst stories about customer service, I’d love to hear them.

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