Sunday, March 07, 2010

Why retailers need to get their stories straight before calling customers

You may remember last fall when I wrote about my new winter boots. Well the good news is, they got me through most of the winter - and I wore them almost every day. The bad news is they leaked a bit, I couldn’t remove all of the salt stains and two weeks ago, the zipper on one boot broke.

The other bit of good news is La Canadienne guaranteed them for six months. So, I called Davids. The sales associate told me to bring them in and they’d fix the zippers (the other one was on the verge of breaking too) or I could contact La Canadienne directly to complain and ask them to honour the guarantee.

I thought it was a bit strange Davids wasn’t going to act as intermediary between the customer and the supplier. I wanted my boots back asap so I opted for the zipper repair.

On Monday, the sales associate called to say her supervisor said the cost of repairing the zippers was too high so they’d gladly offer me a refund or a credit note. Of course I opted for a refund. I was delighted and assumed I could show up at any time and get my refund.

This morning I went back to Davids with my receipt and repair tag. The sales associate who had been helping me was there. When I asked for my refund, she promptly said “Oh, you mean your store credit.” I don’t think so. I’m not a regular Davids’ customer but I’ve learned their Yorkdale location has some stuff in my price range. (You may remember I bought the boots their because of the inferior service at their sister store.)

She went on to say she may have made a mistake. She’d to check with her manager first and would I come back when the manager’s here in a half an hour.

Me: "Sorry, no. I’m here now. I have to pick up my son in a half-hour and you need to honour your word. If you made a mistake, you'll need to take responsibility.”

We had a brief discussion ending with me saying, “I don’t want to escalate this but I will if I’m left with no choice.”

She was a bit dumbfounded, picked up the phone and unsuccessfully tried reaching her manager. I told her I’d be back in five minutes for my refund.

When I came back, I got my refund. She and the other sales associate were a bit patronizing but said they wanted to make me happy.

What am I missing here?
I bought a pair of boots with a six-month guarantee.
The boots didn’t live up to that guarantee.
I took them back to the store.
The store offered to repair the zippers or gave me the option to contact the manufacturer directly.
A day later, the store called to say the repair would be too expensive and they’d be happy to give me a full refund or an exchange for something else (they didn’t have any more of the boots in stock.)
I opted for the refund – they’d be getting a refund from La Canadienne wouldn’t they – so what’s the big fuss?

Why did they give me a hassle?
I wasn’t asking for anything unreasonable. I went to the store this morning expecting them to deliver on their promise. All this would have been prevented had the sales associate confirmed all the details with her supervisor before calling me. Even better if she would have sent me an email confirming the details.

At the end of the day, Davids’ reputation for stellar service is a bit tarnished and I’m SOL for winter boots. We’re probably still in for more snow before the season is over so, I’m expecting a couple days with cold wet feet.

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  1. Another fine example of the poor ethics in today's retail and food service workforce. How often do you come across a sales associate or cashier(non-manager), for example, who shows a passion and care for their job, or their customers? Not very, sadly!

  2. Maddening! This kind of treatment by frontline retail staff is too frequent. What are companies really doing to a) be more consistent in their policies and b) educate/sensitize their staff?

    I'm glad that you got a full refund, but being hassled with their patronising is a big sour cherry on top.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  3. It's nice for the store manager to offer you a refund, but why wouldn't he/she ensure that offer was noted for others when you did come into the store?

    By contrast, when I've had an Apple store manager promise me something that might be slightly unusual or controversial, she has written and signed a note on the invoice for me to ensure what she promised would be carried out, even by another store. That kind of follow through makes it easier for staff and is simply good customer service.

  4. @Adam, @Tamsin Joy @Connie Thanks for your insights.

    @Adam I've seen a real mix of passionate people in retail and food service. Price points don't necessarily equate with service.

    @Tamsin Joy Retailers have such tight margins and high staff turnover that they generally don't spend enough time investing in staff education or effective employee communication. Perhaps if they would make the investment, they'd have happier customers and retain their staff longer. Perhaps that's an issue for another blog post. ;-)

    @Connie I was wondering the same thing myself. Actually, it wasn't the manager who spoke to me - all the conversation (in person and by phone) were will the same sales associate. I'm not sure why she called to tell me how they were going to remedy the situation and then back-peddled when I showed up a few days later.

    The bigger issue is how this type of service is tarnishing the brands they sell. La Canadienne has a clear policy. I would have been just as satisfied receiving a replacement pair of boots or a full refund. My assumption was I bought a pair that was a lemon.

    Either way, they believe in their product and stand behind it with a six-month guarantee. From my perspective, it should have been a no-brainer, non-issue for Davids.



  5. I'm glad you managed to get your refund. With so much competition these days, retail stores need to consider customer retention if they plan on surviving. If I'm treated poorly in a store, I simply take my money elsewhere. Thanks for sharing your story.


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