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Unsatisfied Customer? An example of what NOT to do.

Posted on December 3rd, 2009 by Matt Sampson - Colorado Web Solutions

Hey everyone. I haven’t written about customer service in a little while and I just had an experience that sparked my interest in sharing some thoughts with you.

As you all know, the holiday shopping season is upon us and regardless of how hard you try and the effort you make as a merchant, you will ineveitably end up with customers that are not going to be satisfied with their purchases. It may not even be something in your control, in fact it could be as simple as “I didn’t like the product.” More than likely, you already have a “Return Policy” in place and if you sell sensitive products you may even have some restrictions with your returns. I encourage every merchant we work with to establish ground rules for customer service related issues, but I also know that those rules need to be flexible if you are 1) going to survive online and 2) want to keep your customers coming back.

This is the story of a customer who will not be returning to a merchant, and that customer is me.

To make a long story short, I purchased two high-end specialty Yoga Mats from a company called YogaMatic. My wife is a very active yoga instructor and I knew she’d love one of their custom designed mats. They are quite remarkable. They are also quite expensive ($80 as opposed to $20 for a regular sporting goods store mat). I ended up purchasing two of these mats, one for my wife and another for her best friend who is also a very active yoga participant.

The mats arrived and were fantastic looking. I was very pleased. Unfortunately though, the very first time both mats were used, we discovered that they were abnormally slippery when even a slight sweat was broken. We’re talking ice skating rink slippery. Completely unusable for yoga practice (other than mild stretching) without a towel on top. And with a towel on top, what the point of purchasing these beautiful mats? None of our other mats are slippery that we use, in fact, you could even call them tacky, which is great. We tried washing them down with water and a few other remedies and nothing worked. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do to fix them, so I wrote Yogamatic an email to see if they had any thoughts for me.

Now a good company with good customer service would have responded differently, but let’s start with how NOT to respond.

Hi Matt.
Thanks very much for your comments.
We are very sorry indeed that you don’t find our mat suitable for your yoga practice.
We have so much great feedback about the Y-Brid mat that you do surprise me.
In fact we have some of LA’s best known instructors, who love our mats and have branded them as their own.
We do however accept that we can’t be everyone’s favorite mat,
or tick every box of everyone’s perfect mat.
Each brand of mat has it’s own strongest feature,
and appeals or does not appeal to people for different reasons. Like any product.
We state in our return policy on line that we do not take back used mats or custom mats.
The sweatier class  I go to,  there is not a person in the class not using a towel.
With every brand of mat represented.
The less sweaty classes, I find I do not need a towel.
A mat and ones own practice is a very personal thing,
and we are sorry to not be your favorite mat.
I will share your e mail with our team.
Many Thanks
(name removed for privacy)

At first glance, the response is nice enough, but if you look at it, they did absolutely NOTHING to help solve my problem. This is not how I would suggest treating your customers, at least if you ever want to sell to them again. In this example, having an active yoga teacher teaching hundreds of students a year, you would think that it would be in YogaMatic’s best interest to try to resolve the issue and try to find a solution. Instead, they completely blew me off.

What I read (through tainted glasses of course) in her response was “We’re sorry you don’t like your mat, but it’s yours now. The top instructors in LA love them. (Clearly the Colorado Instructors are not as skilled?) Good luck, use your mat for car repairs, I’ll tell the team about your complaint as we laugh with all the LA instructors about you silly Coloradans.”

Now clearly this is not what she said, but she might as well have.  Is this a way to keep a customer coming back? Uh.. no. In fact it’s a way to inspire a customer to write a “How to treat your customers poorly” article.

So what could the folks at YogaMatic.com done differently? Let’s look at a few options…

  1. Knowing that the unsatisfied customer is a Yoga Instructor who works with students daily, my first assumption would have been that they would want only the best words spoken about their mats and they would want to replace it with a different one or at least clarify why the mats are as slippery as they are.
  2. They could have offered a coupon/discount on an additional mat if we wanted to try one with a different design that could be less slippery.
  3. They could have offered a few ideas as to how to make it less slippery. Sandpaper? Probably not, but you know what I’m getting at.
  4. They could have offered to take it back for a full or even partial refund.
  5. They could have made me felt like I was heard.

I understand the policy about no returns from a logical point of view. Someone dripped sweat on this mat, it’s no longer new and can’t be sold as such. Makes perfect sense. BUT, there are times when eating the expense of a dud product is worth keeping a customer, especially an influential one. If I owned YogaMatic, I would have asked my customer service reps to craft a letter something more like this:

Dear Matt –

We’re very sorry to hear that the mat isn’t living up to your wife and friends expectations! We pride ourselves on creating high quality yoga mats and never like to hear that we’ve got an unsatisfied customer. We have mats beings used all over california by some of the countries top instructors and they love them, so I’m sorry you don’t feel the same. I’m sure you’ve probably seen our return policy posted online that says that our mats are not returnable but I wanted to see if we could work something out.

I know you purchased two of the mats that have the white backgrounds, so I’m wondering if you’d be interested in trying one of the less graphically intensive mats? If you would like to consider that, we would be happy to take your wifes mat back for a full exchange (we’re happy to eat that cost to keep our yoga instructors around the country happy and promoting our products!) and I can also offer you a 50% exchange credit for your wife’s friends mat. So she would only have to pay our cost to produce it. Would that be acceptable to you? Please keep in mind that if the second mats do not work, we can’t continue to keep taking them back, but we would love to offer you another chance at using our mats. We love them and want you to love them too!

Please let us know if this will work for you and we will get new mats out to you this week and you can return the old ones in the box when it arrives. I’ll toss a UPS return label in there as well so it’s nice and easy.

Thanks so much, we look forward to hearing from you.

See the difference? Sure, my version would end up costing them a little bit of money (the cost of one mat and shipping… $60?) but in the end, they end up with a yoga instructor using this beautiful mat and all of her students wanting to know where she got it. I’ve seen it first hand, they really are striking mats and her students ask her all the time where it came from. Wouldn’t they rather have her raving about how wonderful the mat is and telling them where to get one, vs having her say “Don’t buy one, they’re expensive and slippery. Get a Giam mat.” In the end which do you think makes them more money as a company?

Now please understand, I’m not telling you that you need to change your rules for every customer who wants to return something. Just think about it for a moment from your customers eyes and see if you would be happy with your reply if you were them. Some customers will never be happy no matter what you do, and those are the customers that fine print and policies are written specifically for, but if you have the opportunity to forge a stronger relationship with a customer who could potentially send you more business from either themselves or those in their community, I would suggest thinking twice before shutting them down.

Now get back to your holiday sales. Take care of your customers that can be taken care of. It’ll pay off in the end.

Oh yeah, if anyone needs a really slippery yoga mat, they’ve got beautiful ones over at YogaMatic.com.

Until Later –

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