When you and your team are developing guidelines and parameters for solutions to customers’ needs, whose standards are you measuring by? It’s very easy to begin shaping these standards with the intention of keeping the customer happy, but it’s very easy to become distracted by other issues, like cost.  While profitability is what will keep a company in business, keeping customers satisfied by their own standards (and thus continuing to be your customers) is what will fuel your profitability.

Consider this case:

Photo credit: pdpics.com

Photo credit: pdpics.com

A customer had ordered an item from an online retailer.  She had very carefully researched the item to ensure it was suitable for her needs and double-checked that the product description was in fact the one she needed.  After receiving the item, she discovered that she was shipped a slightly different product than what had been advertised (a more expensive item, but not the one she wanted).  She contacted the company, explaining the problem.  The representative understood her dilemma and admitted that the mistake had been the company’s, not the customer’s.  The representative then offered to let her keep this more expensive item for the lower price she had paid due to the company’s mistake.  However, the customer then explained that she truly did not want this product because it would not match her existing purchase.  Unfortunately, the matching product was no longer in inventory.  The customer then asked the company to honor the price she had paid in order to purchase a duplicate of the incorrect item.  The representative’s response was to instead offer a small discount on purchasing a duplicate item to allow the customer the matching set that fueled her initial purchase.

From the perspective of cost containment and profitability, this seems like a good business move.  The company already lost revenue by incorrectly fulfilling the first item and does not want to double that loss by repeating it in selling the second item.  But from the customer’s perspective, she is being left to foot the bill for the company’s mistake: she’s feeling taken advantage of by not being allowed to pay them twice for the item she had only wanted to buy once.  She is so unsatisfied by this response that she vows to never give this company her business again.  It is very likely that losing the future business of this repeat customer alone will cost the company more than the short term loss of revenue on this transaction, and the poor word of mouth costs are likely to be exponentially higher.

When a customer offers up their own solution to you to resolve their case to their standard for satisfaction, consider it carefully. Is their request worth the long term cost to your company if denied?  Unless it is an outlandish request, the answer is almost always “no”.  The smart approach to customer service (and to business) is to keep your customers happy and returning to you by meeting their needs and requests.  The brilliant approach is to exceed their needs and requests whenever possible.

Do you implement this approach in your service philosophy?  Have you seen gains from it?