We spend so much time talking about how to get new business, that often it seems that businesses and business owners forget that existing customers are so much easier (and cheaper) to keep. Here’s how not to do it.

Santa gave one of my children croc-esque clogs in her stocking from Rivers Clothing store. Unfortunately they didn’t fit – by one size (kid’s feet – what can you say). Imagine my surprise when we tried to exchange them(with the receipt) we were charged double the price. But Santa had bought them, so of course we paid the difference – albeit feeling completely fleeced. Imagine my disappointment when those shoes, yes, the ones we’d just paid double for, broke on their very first wear.

So it was time to head back to the store again, this time to return the broken shoes. I had also gotten a pair for myself in size 5, that I put on to wear to the store. Imagine my surprise (now turning to chargrin) when one shoe fit great and the other was so small I couldn’t get my foot into it properly (even though it too was labelled size 5). When I compared them heel to heel, it was obvious that there was a sizing mistake and I’d been sold an incorrectly labelled pair.

Anyone sensing a theme here? But wait…it gets worse. So much worse.

Whilst we were going to revisit the store, I figured I’d also take back the obviously female (labelled as floral) fragrance that had been incorrectly put into my bag as a stocking filler for…my husband. When purchasing it, I had in fact been quite specific about asking they give me a men’s fragrance.

Needless to say, the instore experience trying to return goods that weren’t up to par and that weren’t fit for purpose under the ACCC’s new consumer laws was just awful. The salesperson made a big deal out of the returns, saying he’d have to go out the back to get purchase order numbers for the goods (whilst standing in front of the store computer!!), they didn’t want to refund, couldn’t I just buy yet another pair (I don’t think so) and when I tried to return the fragrance – the store manager was called. A scene ensued where I was told that it was all cologne, who was I to say that any of it was particularly suited to men or women (except that by and large men don’t wear floral fragrances and the packaging is different for the two different ranges). At no point did anyone offer to swap it for me.

At this point, I should point out, that the total sales figure we were talking about here was worth $20. Yes, 20 tiny dollars.

I came home and wrote Rivers management an email outlining the awful customer service experience and below is how they replied (5 days later).

Our apologies to hear about your negative experience at our Belrose store.

Unfortunately it sounds like in both cases the store person was adhering to Rivers returns policy. In the case of the clogshoes – at the time of exchange we have to take the current selling priceof the item which means if the promotion has finished you will be charged the full price – except in the case when the exchange is for the exact same item. (silly me for thinking that changing one pair of clogs for another just one size up was an altogether different item).

In saying this however our returns policy should have been explained to you in a kind and courteous manner – the customer service you described sounds well below what we would expect of our staff.

We are very sorry the customer service that you received was unsatisfactory; we will most definitely be looking into this further.

The respondent then went on to list a great number of people that would see my email, as if that would somehow make it better – it didn’t. The problem lies not with not enough people seeing my complaint, but with, in my opinion, bad company policy.

Needless to say, they didn’t actually offer anything that would make we want to return to their stores. In fact, now having had the policy outlined, I will NEVER set foot in one of their stores again.

If the lifetime value of your customers is likely to be greater than $20 (or whatever your number is), make sure you treat them with respect and do whatever’s required (and frankly is the right thing) to keep them. if someone has the temerity to complain about something – treat the complaint like the gift that it is.

Research has shown time and again, that if you fix someone’s complaint (I asked for a $5 refund – not a store credit, yep, $5), they’re likely to be even more loyal in the future. However, if they didn’t complain (or you didn’t fix it when they did), they would tell 10 or so people. But now times have changed – they can now broadcast it to the world.

They can also report the issues to the ACCC – which I intend to do.

If you’ve had nasty customer service experiences or suggestions for fixing bad company policies, please feel free to share.


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