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The customer isn't always right
16 March 2011
Recently I had three curly questions at RedBalloon, involving a consumer customer, a corporate customer and a supplier customer. It really brought customer service to the forefront, and made me wonder: is exemplary customer service about having ‘Happy Customers’ at all cost? Does a business need to do everything it possibly can to keep customers ‘happy’ – or is it a case of ‘you cannot please all the people all the time’?
I’m tremendously proud of RedBalloon’s growth, and the sheer quantity of customers we now are privileged to serve. Plus I am very aware that RedBalloon has been built by many people: customers, suppliers and employees.
Organisations that continue to grow and thrive are those built on values with a shared sense of purpose. Plus a successful business cannot be dependent on any individual - and the leader cannot be a bottleneck. I very much see myself as a mentor, and coach to those around me. Most importantly I constantly use RedBalloon’s values to guide me through decisions.
So back to my three curly questions:
The consumer has spent much time and energy phoning and emailing our customer experience team about her issue. Our team consistently and professionally acknowledged her concerns, and referred to our terms and conditions and fulfilled on them. The consumer has since written to me as CEO, asking me to ‘break’ the terms and conditions.
I suspect she will not be happy with my response:
“RedBalloon prides itself as being a values driven organisation. Our first value is simply 'to do what we say we will do.' As such we consistently execute our terms and conditions. This is often difficult when we also pride ourselves on our customer reputation. However, in the long run our customers and suppliers know that they can always count on us.
As the leader of the organisation it would be a bad example that I set if I were inconsistent in any aspect of our terms and conditions. It is simply not the leader I am. So whilst I know that I have an upset customer, I also know that on a personal level I have fulfilled on my promise. No matter how difficult that is.”
Would you have answered differently?
Now to the corporate customer - who also wishes RedBalloon to ‘bend the rules’ for his circumstances. He argues he has great influence and implies he will tell the ‘powers that be’ that he is not happy with us. Do our rules (and values) change because the potential audience, or fall out, is potentially much larger than the consumer issue? The head of RedBalloon’s corporate team drafted a response, and I quote in part:
“Considering the circumstances issue that you outline to us, it would place this particular voucher in a preferred position to others. The inconsistent application of our terms and conditions creates adverse consumer sentiment. We treat all of our customers as equals and are proud of our ongoing partnership with your organisation.”
Should a larger customer be given preferential treatment over other, smaller customers? Would you change the rules for one because they were ‘worth’ more financially?
Finally, the supplier. Without our amazing experience suppliers we would not have anything on the shelf to deliver to customers. So we have always considered our suppliers as customers.
One supplier is not happy with an aspect of how we are growing the business. His RedBalloon account manager has kept him informed the whole way, and – as all our team members do - is executing our growth strategy based on our values.
Yet the supplier has requested a meeting with me. Should an important supplier determine the execution of our strategy? What message would it send to the RedBalloon team if I ignored our values and chose not to support this account manager?
I’m curious to hear your opinion on keeping customers happy – and at what lengths you would go to. Is the customer experience based on mutual respect? Or one based on doing anything, anytime for everyone? If I say the source of Happy Customers is having a Happy Team – then how would the team be happy if I overturned every decision they made, when they made those decisions based on our values?
Business is not easy. Choosing our RedBalloon values and living a business based on these values has been both tough and easy. Easy because our values have been like ‘guiding stars’ helping us make decisions and recruit people to build the amazing workplace I’m incredibly proud of. Tough when they are the final touchstone between you, the rock and a hard place and by living them you know you won’t please everyone all of the time.
I look forward to your insights.