Tuesday 19 May 2009

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

We are a local distributor for office machines. In September last year we supplied a customer with a heavy-duty shredding machine. Since then the machine as been returned to us on 3 separate occasions and now the 4th time the customer is asking for their money back.

Each time they returned the machine to us they claimed that it was not working.

Each time we have simply turned the head of the shredder 180 degrees to fit correctly on the bin as when it was returned to us it has been returned back to front. The machines come with a safety switch which is only activated when the head is correctly fitted to the bin. The safety switch has been explained to the customer both over the phone and in person in our showroom.

We have again tested the machine and once we put the head of the shredder on correctly it works perfectly.

Please advise where our obligations stand, although the machine is still under warranty does the customer have the right to expect a full refund after 8 months if the machine is in perfect working order?

Your advice would be much appreciated.

Despite what some customer service gurus tell you, the customer is NOT always right. In fact, sometimes the customer is a real pain. Sometimes the customer is irrational, demanding and not worth your time. Very occasionally the customer is insane.

From what you’ve told us this customer is not insane but is certainly a pain.

No, you don’t have to give him a refund. You don’t have to give him anything other than courtesy. You’ve explained on numerous occasions what is going wrong and that it is the customer that is causing the problem with the shredder and that it’s not a fault with the shredder or with your service.

What I suggest is that this time you put it in writing. Explain in simple and very courteous terms how they should treat the shredder, how it should be operated and what it is they’ve been doing wrong. Explain also that while the machine is still covered by the warranty this only covers real problems with the device.

If possible it might be a good idea to attach a copy of the warranty agreement to your letter.

Of course it’s critically important that you are very polite but remember that you as a supplier have rights as well as the customer. Just as importantly the customer has obligations as well as you. They have an obligation not to mistreat or misuse what they have purchased.

Is the customer king?

No, the customer is NOT a king. It’s perhaps the commonest thing you hear from people claiming to be customer service experts but they’re wrong, completely wrong.

It’s not just kings that deserve good service. Everybody deserves good service. I think it’s wrong to suggest that you and I have to be elevated to some special status to earn the right to good service. It really doesn’t matter what level of person you are, we all deserve the same quality of treatment.

I also think that is suggests something very wrong. It suggests that customer can do no wrong, that they are somehow in charge, that they can “rule” over suppliers. That’s not true. The relationship between a supplier and a consumer is not that of a king and his subject, it’s a partnership. Both parties enter into the partnership freely, openly and with both parties having rights. Does that sound like a monarchy?

Just to make it clearer, there are occasions when the customer is a complete jerk. We were once contacted by the owners of a restaurant asking for advice. They had a regular customer who would choose something from the menu and would then, every single time, eat most of it and then complain that it wasn’t to her liking. She would then insist on not paying. On several occasions the owners had indulged her and she had got her free meal. That’s OK if it happens very rarely but the owners were now getting irritated and asked us how they should deal with the situation.

We suggested that they politely show the customer the door and suggest that she choose a restaurant more to her liking in future.

There’s nothing wrong with doing that. Consumers don’t actually have a right to buy from a particular supplier. A supplier can choose not to serve someone if they don’t want to.

This week’s letter is similar. The consumer in question is obviously the problem, not the device they bought. This supplier has every right to decline to fix it any more.

This supplier also deserves credit for being so patient and for checking up on his obligations as a supplier. See? There are good guys out there.

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