How’s Your Customer Fu? 6


So, how is Your Customer Fu?

I recently bought myself a gift online. It relates to a new hobby of mine, sumi-e painting (basically, that means Chinese watercolor painting with a Zen performance aesthetic and using primarily black ink). I won’t show the actual pot, only because that would easily identify the store. The package came from Shen Zhen in China. Despite being sent via USPS, and despite how annoying it is to miss my packages due to them being sent signature-required registered mail…I finally caught the delivery the other day and was absolutely thrilled about that alone (okay, relieved is the word). I hadn’t opened the package yet, and it seemed a little vulnerable in the small shape it the package came in. Nonetheless…it came! Excitement. Joy, even.

Back to the story…

Despite being totally inundated with a million things, groggy as hell, and grumpy, I race to the door to sign for my package when the doorbell rings. Luckily I work from home, otherwise there’d be no retreiving this thing in a million years. I sign for it, thank the nice older lady as she saunders back to her unmarked car with her huge sun visor, close the door, and set it on the dining room table for later after I’m done in the office, which turns out to be MUCH later in the day.

When I open the package, imagine my child-like joy of seeing the object inside, looking somewhat like I imagined, even if the lid was updside-down in the pot. Hmmm…there is notebook paper in the interior and the edges stick out, apparently very fragile. SO fragile that they easily ripp off when I pull on them, which is the instinctual thing to do.

Oh no! This thing is stuck shut.

I begin to twist the flat upside down lid and notice it gives only to come to a grinding stop. So that now, if it hadn’t been stuck enough, now it was probably even more so.

I hold it upside down and thump some more. Nope. I’m thuimping off and on during the next day or so for many hours. I even moisten the crack of the outer periphery of the lid joint with vegetable oil after pushing the remaining paper inside deepr below the lid itself. Nothing good comes of it. Finally I think of the suction cup in the shower that holds the shower head shelves in place and retreive it, hopeful. It tturns out that the interior of the thing has a lack of air inside. After 45 minutes of suction cupping and pulling on different sides of the round lid, it comes loose! The lid falls onto the carpet harmlessly and I see how nice the right side up part of the lid actually looks. Sweet!

Then I look inside the pot. Bam. I realize it’s got a huge nick on the inside in a place where nothing should have been touching from the lid. What’s more, the stone material of the pot is somewhat porous by nature, meaning that the water and ink is gonna invade the interior stone of the pot itself beginning with the very first use.

My heart sinks, and I think: “Of course it doesn’t work out! Look at what I’ve already been through with this thing!” Now, this isn’t rational thinking, really. The pot could have been perfect, intact, with no problems, despite all the hassles. But my experience now has no last ditch save component. Now I’m not just rightfully unhappy with the purchase, but knowing how difficult it’s only going to get from here forward, I’m rightfully upset, as well. China. Expensive shipping. Provincial dialects of Mandarin. How am I going to maneuver a do-over of all I’ve already been through (emotionally) for the sake of this really cool gift to myself?

Answer: I’m not.

After some unsuccessful attempts to make the store manager and owner understand what the problem actually even is via email late at night, I resolve to leave it to eBay to sort out at this point. I already know what my feedback is going to be like–not good. And what seemed to be shaping up as an inconvenient, but wonderfully welcomed relationship with this online retailer is now blown to bits. I just don’t have confidence in them at this point. My inner toddler is too pissed and poisoned by the experience . Let’s face it, emotions aren’t rational, but ultimately they guide our relationships. It behooves us all to factor that in, and of course, there is such a thing as righteous anger.

Is there any takeaway from this story? I think so. Here are some customer service kung fu moves to help turn it all around if this ever happens to your biz:

How To Have Good Customer Fu:

1) Don’t ignore your customer’s preferences. Offer more than one shipping method, for example.

2) Inspect your product before shipping it, or AT LEAST anticipate and pre-resolve any issues you should really know to expect.

3) Slow down and think about how you handle the complaint. NOW is your opportunity to create a lasting cheerleader for your product. Are you seriously going to shrug THAT off?

4) Go the extra mile. OFFER to replace the item at no charge. Screw the returns BS. If the situation is an unhappy one for the customer, you have a lot of thinking to do about how to make sure every future purchase is a 180-degree difference from this one!

5) The “thank you” move. After resolving the issue, thank the customer and send them something, anything, to show them that you acknowledge the fault and the responsibility to make it up to the customer. It could be a postcard, or an emailed coupon! You should really be doing the latter already anyway.

Photo Credit


About Mark Brimm

Mark Brimm is President of 123interface.com, the Founder of Marcana.com, and runs a personal blog on social media, marketing and entrepreneurship at MarkBrimm.com. He also runs a blog on SEO & SEM at SEMinsider.com.

  • Mark, as always, you have a great knack for describing the customer experience. We can all stand to learn some new customer-fu moves.

    Of course, as your reader, I’d love to see some of your sumi paintings.

    That said, when I eBay, I usually limit results to the US specifically for this reason, because I know I’ll never return the thing if it doesn’t work. For what it’s worth, the people in China seem to get this. On the few occasions I’ve had to try, they’ve usually just told me to keep the one I have and they’ll send me another.

    Good luck finding a resolution. Sorry to hear about this!

    • Thanks. 3 and 1/2 years in customer service for an internationally complaint-receiving company while still a teenager probably helped me to align with the customer’s perspective as well as the business side early on in my thinking.

      Another good and equally valid to point to make here is that the items are often super cheap, even with the slow and expensive shipping and the signature verification for such a low cost from the US perspective. So, I can’t reasonably get too worked up over it, even though the expectations factor is so huge normally when I order from overseas. I probably will end up just trying again in the end. The disconnect on the customer service end, however, could just as easily (and by thje looks of ebay reviews, often DOES) go awry on this simple cs issue. I order from Asian merchants on ebay because they have the stuff that often you can’t get anywhere else. It is a crap-shoot…but it’s a one-of-a-kind crap shoot in many such cases.

  • You really can’t expect an online business to thrive without this crucial component. Nicely done.

    • Thanks, Ron! If this helps a small biz anywhere to stay focused, it’s gotta be worthwhile, right?

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