Sunday, 29 April 2012

Indecent variety

One of the things that living for nearly 50 years has taught me is that the most wonderful thing about humanity is its variety. There are tall people, short people, fat and thin people, people of every shade, belief system and tradition.

In the same way there is enormous variety in service providers and stores. Some seem to understand how they should operate, others clearly don’t.

Before I continue, here’s a warning. I’m about to say nice things about certain companies. This doesn’t mean that they’re perfect, that they’re infallible or that I shop with them. It doesn’t mean that they never get things wrong or that they won’t make an almighty cock-up tomorrow. It doesn’t mean I’m promoting them, their products or their services. This is not an advertisement for any of them. It’s simply that I think certain stores know how to react when a customer isn’t happy. Other stores don’t.

Let’s start with an example. A consumer recently got in touch and told us about a laptop he bought from HiFi Corporation in February this year. Very shortly afterwards he noticed that there was a crackling sound from the speakers when he played music. Quite sensibly he took it back to them and asked them to have a look. They took it away to investigate but the experts came back to them saying they’d found nothing wrong with it. Nevertheless the customer says the speakers still crackled and he wanted a replacement. HiFi Corporation said no, that wasn’t their policy, they wanted to try and repair the device. That’s when he asked for our advice.

We got in touch with the guys at HiFi Corporation and within hours the customer was invited back to the store to pick up a replacement. In fact when he got there they offered him a complete refund, despite them not being able to find anything actually wrong with the laptop. You can’t really ask for much more than that.

The thing I find interesting is that this isn’t the first time HiFi Corporation have behaved this well. Over the years we’ve had a handful of similar stories and every time they’ve reacted the same way, putting their individual customer’s interest above their own. They’ve recognized that this is how decent customers deserve to be treated. This customer wasn’t trying to be difficult, he wasn’t trying to deceive the company, he just had a problem that needed fixing. They realized that their reputation means a lot to them. HiFi Corporation did the decent thing. Again.

It doesn’t always work as smoothly as this. Another consumer got in touch with a problem with some shoes she bought for her husband. These P750 Watson shoes were clearly a luxury product, something special but they only remained special for 3 months. That’s when they started to disintegrate. The upper started coming away from the sole and the bottom of the heel began to chip. Not what you’d expect from a pair of shoes costing P750. She went back to the store but got no help there. It’s not a manufacturing problem, she was told, your husband must have misused them. She strenuously denies this. It’s not his only pair of shoes, he drives to work, he can hardly have abused them, she says.

She sent over pictures of the damage and we sent this to the suppliers in South Africa. Their representative said
“Having had a look at the heels of the shoe, I have to beg the question if these shoes were perhaps used as brakes on a bicycle? This type of mechanical wear is not normal and it is very little wonder that the side leather has split. These are dress/ occasion shoes and need to be worn as such.”
In other words it’s all the customer’s fault.

OK, let’s be skeptical. It’s possible the customer has indeed been abusing his shoes but surely it’s unlikely? I can’t imagine that someone like this customer has been mistreating these shoes. The sort of person whose wife spends P750 on a pair of “dress/occasion shoes” for him isn’t going to treat them this badly and then lie about it.

We had an identical case last year when a customer had a similar experience with a pair of Levi’s shoes. However in that case as soon as Levi’s in South Africa heard about it they demanded his home address so they could ship him TWO replacement pairs to say sorry. He ended up delighted.

It doesn’t look like Watson’s customer is going to be as lucky.

It’s really incredibly shortsighted of companies to operate like this. I know some of them are terrified that if they start offering decent service they’ll open the floodgates. They seem to think that hundreds of fraudulent claims will flow in and they’ll be seen as suckers for fake complaints. But this simply isn’t true. I’m absolutely certain that companies that do the decent thing just get more customers coming through their doors because people know that these are companies who’ll treat them with respect on the rare occasions that something goes wrong.

It’s not just HiFi Corporation that do the decent thing. The majority of cases we’ve sent through to Furnmart, our locally-grown furniture store, are resolved in the same way. It’s not always the case with their South African furniture store cousins.

Like I said, this isn’t an advertisement for any of the stores I’ve said have behaved decently. Where you shop is entirely up to you. However I do think it’s up to all of us to consider, based on evidence and experience, which stores are most likely to treat us decently if things go wrong. Which ones do we think deserve to have our money?

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