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Tyler’s ‘customer service’ column hits mark with Connecticut retailer

Here is a letter we received for Warren Tyler, our Salesmanship columnist. In reference to a column about company policy, this FCNews reader wrote to share his own frustrating experience with distributor policy. Perhaps this is something that has happened to you.

Hi Warren,

I just read your column on “Customer service vs. company policy” (FCNews, July 5/12). I have attended many of your seminars as well as read your “Unleashing Your Sales Potential” book. I am a believer in constantly learning to better serve my customers.

I had a frustrating experience with one of my suppliers recently. I will send him a copy of your column to help him understand I am not the only one who feels taking care of the customer is a key ingredient in a successful business.

I had a customer purchase three boxes of hardwood flooring that is classified as a thin solid 5⁄16 x 3 inches. When the wood was delivered and unpacked the customer immediately called and said we sent him the wrong wood. I looked up his order and saw what he ordered was what we received. I asked him if he could bring a piece in and we could match it to the sample. Both husband and wife came in and realized they had the correct product but now felt they made a mistake and would rather pay the difference and reorder the standard 3⁄4 x 3 inch solid. I told them [it] would be no problem at all. They were thrilled that we would accommodate them.

When I reordered the wood with my salesman and told him of the situation he informed me he would not be able to accept the return because “company policy” was [to] not accept returns for under five cartons. I said I understood the policy but this was not a return for us over ordering, our customer simply wanted the 3⁄4 inch solid and was willing to pay the difference. I also told him I was willing to pay the 25% restocking charge, as I understand they are re-handling the material and have to pay drivers, warehouse people and office people to do the paperwork. Again I was told it was company policy he could not authorize the return for the three boxes.

I decided to email the owner of the distributor who I have known for over 20 years. I had explained the situation and also mentioned how important I felt it was to treat my customers as best I could to keep them returning as well as referring me to their friends and family. I never received the courtesy of a reply from him, which would have taken him less than five minutes to write and simply press reply and send. Instead he gave the dirty work to his salesman and only came back with the same reply—it’s company policy.

To this day I have not heard from him and understand how little importance he and his company place on customer service. I had another order with his company, much larger than the three-box return, which I cancelled and ordered through another distributor that also carried the line. I never heard a word about that either so it reinforced just how unimportant I am to him.

Keep up the good work, I thoroughly enjoy your column and find it extremely helpful in running a successful business.

Michael J Phoenix

Flooring Design Specialist

Floor Décor

Connecticut

Dear Mike,

First, while almost every retailer in America knows me, fewer suppliers do. Another example of the great supplier/ retailer disconnect. So my name may not mean much.

By your description, I doubt whether if he knew me or not would even matter, because the people at this distributor just don’t seem to care. The distribution business is tough right now, and these [particular] guys deserve to perish.

A long time ago a customer service guru wrote that, “If you have a company policy, there can be no service,” exemplified by great companies like Nordstrom. You could let them know about the big order they lost, but I’m willing to bet it wouldn’t compute with these [people].

The best we can do is shift the business to someone else and keep delivering the service we know is best.

My wife Tara, a Big Bob’s owner, is becoming the “customer service guru” here in Virginia and every day customers troop in to tell us someone told them about how well they were treated, so service does pay off. Heck, she even takes care of problems created by her competition, which led to her Retailer of the Year Award here.

Keep up the good work.

Warren