In the space of about a week I received two paper-based communications from two different catalog vendors. Either one of them, taken alone, might not have really caught my eye. But there was something about the juxtaposition of these two missives that brought out the differences between the two approaches in stark relief. And one of the nice things about having a usability / customer experience blog is that you have a forum to express these insights when they occur. Here are the two letters and the accompanying backstory:
What Not to Do
We’ve just completed construction of our in-house usability testing lab and a primary goal of ours for this construction was to create a viewing environment for clients that was more welcoming and comforting than your typical for-hire focus group facility. Among other things, this means comfy chairs — more “living room” than “conference room.” We found these chairs at Crate and Barrel and ordered three of them. When they arrived, some basic assembly was required but no instructions were included. A very helpful (and appropriately apologetic) person at Crate and Barrel customer support took my name, quickly located my order information, and cheerfully offered to fax the assembly instructions right away. A few minutes later, the fax machine chirped to life and this useful document emerged. I don’t need to say much about what’s wrong with this fax. Let’s just say it didn’t do much to help me with my assembly problem. The worst thing about it was it’s dead-end quality. No offer of help, no suggestions whatsoever. But here’s the punchline: the second box I opened actually did have a set of instructions inside! Minutes later, these same instructions blurted out of the fax… Nice save. I guess Crate and Barrel found them at the same time I did.
What to Do
Letter number two requires almost no explanation. This was a completely unsolicited communication that was prompted by a serious, but uncommon, manufacturing problem with a pair of pyjamas we bought for our 2-year old daughter. There’s so much to love about this approach to customer service that I hardly know where to start:
– The tone is accessible, straightforward and, most importantly, concerned
– The letter doesn’t try to sugar-coat or hide the detail regarding what occurred; note the parenthetical “…a broken needle piece (from a sewing machine)…”
– Multiple remedial options are offered: return the pyjamas for a full refund (using the enclosed free shipping label) or call customer service for a safety-checked replacement
– The $15 credit they have applied sits in your account as an added incentive to shop at Boden again
Overall, a great letter that goes a long way towards building my confidence in Boden as a company that cares about my daughter’s safety and comfort and values my business. In honor of this fact, the #7 position on the CoFactors 2005 Holiday Gift Guide is now officially occupied by the Boden Girl’s Long Johns and the entire Boden store! Go shop there now!
The lesson in all this? The world is a messy and unpredictable place and, in business, things sometimes go wrong. When this happens, businesses have a choice: make it the customer’s problem, or make it your problem. It should be clear what course of action we recommend