Cheryl McMillan: Does your customer service help or frustrate your customers?

No matter how well you make your products or provide your services, one of your customers will eventually experience a problem. The way that you deal with these inevitable problems determines how your customers view your company, and ultimately, if they’ll buy from you again. Do you know how well your customer service processes are working? 

To prepare for the recent holidays, I decided to replace our dwindling and mismatched collection of wine glasses. I browsed the Web, and placed an order for 16 — eight whites and eight reds.

A few days later, my shipment arrived with two cartons of four white wine glasses. In place of the eight missing reds, however, I was surprised to find a breast milk storage system! I’m not sure how or why it was confused for wine glasses at the distribution center, but there it was. So began my experience with the retailer’s customer service process.


Broken merchandise

After three weeks and multiple conversations with their polite, but scripted and heavily-accented, customer “service” agents, my red wine glasses finally arrived. The bad news was that they had been poorly packed and one glass had shattered.

Luckily, the retailer allowed merchandise purchased on their website to be returned to any of its stores. Wanting to avoid their “customer frustration” call center, I took the carton containing the broken glass to my local store. After working with the returns clerk, a cranky computer, the supervisor and the retailer’s internal help line, they found a way to credit me for the entire eight glasses! At last, my 30-minute “easy” return ordeal was over.

Putting on my “business hat” afterward, I calculated the retailer’s monetary loss from the breakdown in their processes:

  • $30 for the breast milk storage system I couldn’t return, because, according to the retailer’s system, it never “existed.”
  • $15 extra credit to me for the four extra glasses that I hadn’t returned because the system only sold them in units of eight.
  • About $200 for 60 minutes of a corporate help line plus a busy in-store supervisor’s time.

Conservatively, my $30 order of wine glasses cost the retailer at least $245. Obviously, it only takes a very small percentage of these situations to consume the low margins of a retailer.


The bigger picture

First, how many customers not as loyal as myself would choose to ever even order anything again from this retailer?

Second, outsourcing customer service can save money on a spreadsheet, but if these company representatives can’t be understood by customers or solve their issues, where are the savings?

Third, inefficient, inflexible computer systems cost valuable employee time, frustrate customers and, in my case, doubled the credit that I deserved.

What about your customer service processes? Do you know how well they really work and what they really cost you? Maybe, like my experience with my favorite retailer, they aren’t working as you expect.

Cheryl B. McMillan
Chair, Northeast Ohio

Vistage International is a leading international organization for CEOs, presidents, business owners and senior executives.
Cheryl also leads local peer advisory boards comprised of CEO’s and senior executives from non-competing companies.