A few weeks ago, I purchased a piece of clothing from Kohls.com. After wearing the item for a day, I realized that even though it was the right size, it just plain hurt to wear it.
I’ve been a happy Kohl’s customer for a very long time, but this was my first purchase from their website, so I wasn’t sure about the return policy. The website was vague, so I called the store and asked if online returns could be returned to the store. The answer was yes.
“Great” I thought, “This is going to be simple. I’ve always had good experiences with their returns in the past.”
When I arrived, there were about 4 people ahead of me in the return line. I noticed that the customer service people were consistently asking, “Has this been worn and washed?” Now I thought “worn and washed” was a good thing. After all, who wants to handle a return that was worn but not washed? Little did I know that a few short minutes later, I would discover that my thinking was seriously flawed.
I laid the item on the counter and said, “I’d like to return this. It’s been worn and washed.”
“We don’t accept items that have been worn and washed” the young woman snipped.
“But I’m confused” I pleaded, “I’ve returned worn and washed items on at least two other occasions, and it was never even questioned.”
And then three little words slipped from the young woman’s lips that made me feel like I was standing in Judge Judy’s courtroom. “No you didn’t!”
I took a deep breath to calm myself and said, “Honey, you just called your customer a liar. Please don’t tell me what I did or didn’t do.”
Totally ignoring what had just happened, she went on inform me that the store was required to throw away merchandise that was worn and washed. For a moment, I just stood there, not knowing what to say or do next. Before I could say or do anything, the customer service person informed me that she was processing a refund “on an exception basis”. And after a few cash register clicks, she moved on to the next customer.
Still befuddled, I walked away thinking, “How could something seemingly so simple have left me feeling so disillusioned about shopping at Kohl’s?”
Even though I was leaving with the refund that I wanted, something went seriously wrong during the process. Instead of feeling like a good, valued customer, I felt as though I had been reprimanded. And all because one customer service person chose to assert her authority, rather than take a little time to show me that Kohl’s cares about my business.
Since we’re all service providers in one way or another, what lessons can we learn from this story?
- We need to remind ourselves that every customer contact is more than a transaction. It’s and experience. And experiences leave lasting impressions.
- Always Ask – Start with an open-ended question like, “What seems to be wrong with it?” or “Can you tell me what happened?”
- Just Listen – Suspend judgment. Listen to what the customer is saying. Listen for the emotion behind the words. We need to listen until we can feel what our customers are feeling.
- Validate Them – Show them (versus just telling) that we understand. We can use our facial expressions and short verbal expressions (ooh, ah, aw, oh no! etc.) to convey that we are relating to what they’re going through.
- Respond With Kindness – We can’t always do what the customer wants, but whatever we do or don’t do, should be done with compassion in our hearts. We should never let a customer walk away feeling that we don’t care.
- Own Up To Personal Mistakes – We all make mistakes now and then. If we jump to a conclusion or say something we shouldn’t have, we need to acknowledge it and make amends.
The moral of this story is this…
Every customer experience turns into a story about the service we provide. And as service providers, we create the stories that our customers tell the world. What stories do you want your customers telling about you?
What other lessons would you add to this list?