Service is everything when it comes to customer retention

May 28, 2013

COLUMNS

Nancy Anderson, MBJ contributing columnist

Nancy Anderson, MBJ contributing columnist

I ordered a shirt from L.L. Bean a few months ago. I liked it so much I ordered another one — same shirt, same size, different color. So certain I was that the second one would be as perfect as the first that I threw away the tags and shipping papers. Much to my surprise, I couldn’t button it. The size was totally different.

I really thought I was out of luck but called anyway. They were so accommodating. No problem, Mrs. Anderson. We’ll send another right away. Don’t send back the first one until you see if this works. We’ll keep trying until we get it right. Two different customer service representatives helped me sort out the problem. Both felt like long-lost friends. Both were sympathetic. And both left me feeling great about their company.

Then there’s my local dry cleaners.

Last fall, I took in a prized cashmere sweater set for cleaning. The set was brand new. When I picked it up, one piece had little “pills” all over it. I complained. Know that I have used this same establishment for many years. This was my first formal complaint.

The clerk tagged the item and said it would be sent downtown for inspection. One part of my prized sweater set disappeared into a managerial black hole. Three times, I went back and inquired about my sweater. Three times, I was told to check back. Never mind that this is a company that requires my phone number each time I walk through the door. Apparently, their phones only work one way.

Finally, I decided to ask one more time. The sweater reappeared, but it was no better. I complained again and was told to fill out a form for reimbursement. I did. Another black hole. It was only when I went back a few months later that I found a check waiting for me. Waiting for ME!

The only real edge a small business has is in customer service. We may not be able to compete on price or locations or brand recognition, but we can knock the socks off most big businesses with our customer service. So, it was a surprise for me to find a big business with the kind of personal touch I usually only encounter in my very own neighborhood. And it was a bigger surprise to find a local company that felt like an impersonal, big box establishment.

From now on, I’ll go out of my way to order from L.L. Bean. As for that dry cleaners, who needs ‘em? There’s one on every corner.

» Nancy Lottridge Anderson, Ph.D., CFA, is president of New Perspectives Inc. in Ridgeland — (601) 991-3158. She is also an assistant professor of finance at Mississippi College. Her e-mail address is nanderson@newper.com, and her website is www.newper.com.

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