Customer Obsession – No Sale is Ever Final

In the first article in this series – Going Beyond Customer Service – we introduced a concept of Customer Obsession – that describes a ‘strategic’ and ‘cultural’ outlook that can take an enterprise beyond customer service – where providing a ‘memorable’ shopping experience becomes a competitive advantage. The assertion was – that for most businesses, most of the time, customer service is at best – lip service. There are ‘memorable’ exceptions some of the time, but these are the result of the behaviours of a very limited number of ‘exceptional’ people that have somehow found a way to unleash their talent within a structured environment of adequacy and mediocrity. In some enterprises however, most of the time, customer service is outstanding and memorable. In these organizations memorable customer service has become a distinct differentiating factor and a competitive advantage. In these enterprises outstanding and memorable customer service has become ‘strategic’ and ‘cultural’ – and a fundamental element of their business model, core values, and operating strategy.

Why memorable service?

It’s about more than ten-fold word of mouth positive referrals, loyalty, ‘raving fans’ and a self reinforcing very powerful upwards spiral of growth. It is also ‘strategic’ in establishing a magical and intangible connection between your customer and your enterprise. It’s a long term and again ‘strategic’ view of the enterprise and it is fundamental – just because you say so and want it to be. (It’s caught up in your values, core beliefs and ethics.)

Over the edge

To go beyond customer service for strategic advantage you will have to embrace new concepts and new values and challenge everything you do from the fundamental position, value, belief and ethic of Customer Obsession. Let’s start with one.

No Sale is Ever Final

How can any sale … of any product or any service … to any customer or client or consumer … ever be … final? How many times have you seen the return and exchange policy of an enterprise posted (or in fine print) that dictates that you need a receipt and that you have only so many days to return a product, and then, only in certain specified circumstances will you be able to exchange the item, get a credit, or in very limited circumstances get a refund? Why is that?

Why would I need a receipt? I know I purchased it from you. You know I purchased it from you. It’s your brand isn’t it? Or a brand that you carry isn’t it? Don’t you stand behind your products to do what you said they would? I expected that the product would be what you said it would be, and stand up to normal wearing or whatever I expected when I bought it. I expected that the equipment would do what I told you I needed it to do. I expected it would arrive on time. That’s why I bought it from you. And you need the receipt for me to prove that I bought it from you? Why is that? Do you think I would come back to get my money back from you if I bought it somewhere else? Why would I waste my time and do that? Do you think I’m dishonest? You didn’t think so (or didn’t care) when you took my money. Why do you think that now?

Do you need a receipt to know what I paid for the item? I know what I paid. You also do if I told you when I bought it. Why does it matter what you can prove I paid for it? I know or at least have a reasonable idea of what I paid for it. Don’t you trust what I’m saying?

Why would the length of time matter? So it’s 16 days since I bought it. Or 50 days. Or 365 days. I don’t care. I don’t wear or use this thing everyday but when I used it a few times it didn’t work. Just perhaps I took it home and it sat around and after a month or so I concluded that it just didn’t fit. And I didn’t really check the fine print of your ‘every sale is final’ policy when I bought it – because I thought you somehow wanted me to be satisfied with the purchase. I thought the deal was that I pay you money and I get a product or service that works for me.

I don’t know if I want an exchange. If the item I bought didn’t work I don’t trust that you have anything else that will work for me. A credit also won’t do me any good if what I bought in the first place has gotten me so wired up that I can’t trust in your products to work for me. I think I just want my money back. You sold me something that was supposed to meet my needs and it didn’t. I don’t care if it fits within your policy. It didn’t work, or perhaps my wife didn’t like it, which also means that it didn’t work for me. I can’t live with it now. I am now unhappy with what I purchased from you.

How can any sale ever be final?

Groceries – average spend about $150 per week. That makes me a $150 x 52 x about 10 years at least or about a $78,000 customer. Menswear – average spend about $2000 per season x 2 x 10 years or about a $40,000 customer, excluding referrals.

PCs – leasing at about $160 monthly x 12 x forever or at least a $30,000 customer. Figure it out: Any product or service = average spend x days, weeks, months x years of loyalty and repeat purchases plus word of mouth referral factor  = true value of customer. Life insurance – estimate $40,000. Automobile – estimate $200,000. Books – estimate $25,000. Music – estimate $30,000. Software – estimate $30,000. Business travel – airline, hotels, meals estimate $250,000. Coffee – daily tall latte with room to go estimate $6,000 – Wow! Bottom line = customers and their loyalty and repeat business and referrals are very important.

Here is what I mean by embracing a new concept of Customer Obsession and challenging the fundamentals of everything you do.

Customer Obsession Rule #1 – No Sale is Ever Final

Repeat – No Sale is Ever Final! Embrace it. Look at the words and think about what it would mean to have that as your one and only return policy. Then do it, now!

You must change your return, exchange, refund policy today to the only customer obsessed policy that makes sense – No Sale is Ever Final! It requires a complete and total abandonment of the bullshit specifications and fine print of the past. Take the old refund and return POP signs – Destroy them! Burn them! Celebrate their anihilation! Let them go – make the leap – go over the edge!

To clarify – if for any reason a customer is not 100% satisfied with my (our) product or service we will make it right (to their 100% satisfaction) or we will give their money back, no hassles, no problems, no nonsense. When you (valued customer) choose to spend your money with us we will guarantee you will be satisfied, no matter what. Sit with this for a moment – examine it carefully. It is very empowering.

If we are honest,  if we are ethical, if we believe in the value of our products and services, if we believe in being of service – how can we not act otherwise? Anything less is lip service to customer service. Anything less is … dishonest, unethical and a disservice to our customers and our own enterprise. Anything less … and please think strategically for a moment … means that you do not believe that your product or service is of sufficient quality or utility or value to stand up in the marketplace. If that is true you had better fix it fast or you will soon be out of business.

To repeat – No Sale is Ever Final. If you think you can get away with anything less you are under an illusion that you can fool most people most of the time. Fortunately, or unfortunately, customers are indeed intelligent and at some point what goes around comes around, perhaps very indirectly and insidiously as you ‘wonder’ why on earth your daily bread and butter keeps slipping away.

Trouble is if I have to try to convince you that No Sale is Ever Final is the only viable and meaningful strategy for competitive advantage you don’t get it. I suggest you go back through Going Beyond Customer Service to get clarity on why it’s important. But on the other hand it’s not so hard to ‘get’ intellectually. It’s usually a lot harder to ‘make it so’ and make it ‘real.’

Making it So

Change your policy to No Sale is Ever Final. Celebrate the change and ensure that all POP and marketing material boldly proclaim your new commitment to genuine customer service. Add the words to your signing and promotional material. Add the words to sales receipts. Add the words to your e-mails. Add the words to your business cards. Add the words to your invoices, and packing slips, and receivable collection letters, and paint or etch the words on your bulkhead for all customers and all associates to see everyday. Put it out there for everyone to see all of the time.

Communicate to your front line why it is important and that it is a value and a fundamental ethic of your enterprise. Communicate also that it is ‘strategic’ – it is a fundamental element of your strategy to win vis a vis your competitors. Reinforce that it is 100% supported with no exceptions – it is important – it is vital.

The greatest resistance will come from within – your management and front line who don’t believe it. They will continue to ‘protect’ the assets of the company from evil customers whose only interest is to steal, lie, and return goods fraudulently. (Perhaps all would be perfect and ‘in control’ if all customers just stopped showing up.) Lesser resistance will come from your customers – more of a disbelief that you will live up to your ‘claim’ … so make it a ‘promise.’ But there is a catch – you have to live up to it.

The initial resistance, disbelief and curiosity of associates and customers require a significant role modelling, coaching, over communicating and performance management equal to or greater than any of the fundamental and strategic aspects of your operating strategy. You have to live it and ‘walk the talk’ visibly and consistently.

Immediately implement a return measurement tracking system (accolades if you have one already, most don’t have a serious system.) You will find a short term blip in returns and it will then settle back to your normal numbers, and then, over time it will drift below your historical return rate (fewer returns – wow!) Why? Your true commitment to Customer Obsession and No Sale is Ever Final at the front line will transfer upstream to quality initiatives and full accountability at all levels. As soon as your front line ‘gets it’ and is sincere, committed and passionately proud to execute it every day with every customer – they will demand it from all supporting systems and structures.

There is another interesting side effect. Sales go up! No Sale is Ever Final – what a closer! Imagine … if for any reason at any time you are not completely satisfied with the product/service we have provided to you we will either make it right, provide an exchange, or a refund or whatever you want to be 100% satisified. Imagine the impact on associates … we are honest, we are ethical, we believe in the value of our products and services, and we believe in being of service to our customers – no exceptions, none, ever! It’s powerful in action – it inspires confidence, it inspires trust, it inspires loyalty … and sales will go up.

Customer Obsession – to go beyond lip service to customer service you have to take the leap. No Sale is Ever Final – it is the only position to take that matters and makes a meaningful difference. Strategic and competitive – just because you say so and want it to be.