Thursday, June 4, 2009

At War...

[Warning: This is a long one. Venture in at your own risk.]

I am at war.

With two differing thoughts.

The subject: customer service.

In a culture based on consumerism, you are bound to have a run in with customer service in one form or another on any given normal day. I've had some frustrating experiences
lately that have led me to this post. It seems to me that there are two sides to every story and even more sides to those stories. My husband and I got married 7 months ago, and we are still dealing with vendors who’s jobs continued even after the actual wedding day was over.

Example A, or good customer service: This vendor was in constant communication with us. Let us know ahead of time what we would be getting and when. Said vendor sent e-mails and phone calls to keep us in the loop on the product we had paid for. When we inquired about certain offers or changes, said vendor was open and honest about what was and was not available, but was willing to work with us in order to give an end result we were pleased with. When said vendor realized more time was needed to get the job done well, we received a phone call explaining that situation. When the product was delivered (early, and as a surprise for us per the request of my mother) and we discovered a defect, said vendor instantly answered the phone, checked some things out on their end, and immediately made changes... then drove to my parents house promptly - literally, within 2 hours, with complete new product PLUS added, unexpected features. Needless to say, said vendor made the entire experience from start to finish... FABULOUS.

Example B, or bad customer service: This vender came highly recommended, had a snazzy website and made a great first impression (you would think all a sign of great things ahead). The wedding day experience with said vendor was "eh," and it only gets worse from there. When told we would receive certain a product the day after the wedding, we looked forward to it! Imagine our disappointment when 2 weeks later, while driving home from our honeymoon, we were still leaving messages for said vendor to find out what was going on and why we hadn't received anything. A couple months later, more details to be worked out with the product... having e-mailed our thoughts and hopes, we figured it wouldn't be too much longer. After a few weeks of no reply, we tried again. A response came slowly. After we responded yet again about the product, we again thought it wouldn't be too much longer. After being told, "I'll send such and such next week," imagine our surprise when we had to contact said vendor a MONTH later to ask for the product. At this point, the product didn't even appeal anymore and we were very disappointed. When we mention this to said vendor, the response we gotten in return was LITERALLY, "I know there's no excuse, but (“but” is never a good sign btw), a couple months ago I got a puppy. I also started dating someone with a one year old and my lifestyle really changed..." A PUPPY?! DATING?! Are you kidding me? How does that even affect your business and the product we paid you for, and the fact that you told me you would have it to us 5 weeks ago? After 3 months of back and forth, our product was shipped and we thought, "Whew! Good riddance - glad that's over!" only to find after receiving the product, that it wasn't right. After all that, said vendor seems to think that we will pay for shipping it back, fixing it, and having it shipped back to us... And I cannot believe it! “After all we paid for, it should be done right, for free... right?” Overall experience… horrible.

And there, I am a customer. In that circumstance, I feel completely justified in saying "You need to get it right at your cost, because we already paid..." On this end, I'm totally flabbergasted that my bad vendor isn't offering more and getting on the issue right away.

And then here, with my art, I am a vendor. I offer my work at a price, plus shipping and handling. I declare on my invoices “I would hope my artistic judgment creates a piece you love, but if for any reason the piece is not satisfactory, you may return it at your own cost within 10 days…”At YOUR OWN COST. So, I'm doing the same thing said vendor in example B is doing. In recent weeks, I've sent out some work only to find that the customer wasn't completely satisfied. As one with customers, I'm telling them "I will get it right, but at your cost..." On this end, I understand what it looks like to BE the vendor: losing money by fixing a problem for free, and seemingly losing credibility for having any problem in the first place.

So which way is up? I am completely flustered.

Obviously, I've been talking and thinking about this a lot with Daniel (my husband, who owns his own contracting business). He has looked into this whole idea a lot as well -- how do you do business, well? He mentioned that Proverbs has a lot to offer on the subject, so I looked there:

Proverbs 10:2 "Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death." Basically, in the words of my hubs, you won't win in the end by screwing people over. Treat everyone fairly in a business deal, and that will be most profitable.

Proverbs 11:24 “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.” This seems to tell me that in giving, relationships are restored. In withholding, everyone is left with a bad taste in their mouth, and an even worse impression of the withholder.

Proverbs 16:11 “A just balance and scales are the Lord’s; all the weights in the bag are his work.” Or, in simpler words, the NLT “The Lord demands fairness is every business deal.”

Is there any conclusion? I don’t really think so… but I think, in my own (very small, almost legit) business, I don’t feel comfortable ruining relationships just for the sake of making money. I would rather someone leave at the end of our business deal knowing that I had their best interest in mind, and feeling like they could recommend me to anyone because I have a fair and honest business. I would rather lose money than to leave a customer with a “horrible” experience. I know I am a people pleaser, so I need to be cautious of just wanting people to like me, or just wanting to leave a good impression. I don’t want to just have people THINK I am honest and fair. I want to BE honest and fair. I don’t know what will come of this, as I am still trying to figure out the ends and outs of my own business, but I do know that I am learning a ton of lessons, and these frustrations are not in vain.


Just a thought... said...

Most of the time if someone is going to give it will be me in my own business for all the reasons above. But then there is that very rare customer that just wants to be a bully and get more then they paid for or change their minds as your expense. "Fairness" to the customer usually looks like generousity from our end, but God honors a heart that sacrifices to serve others. You are on the road to great success in the most important part of business...its ability and opportunity to display Christ in the market place! Some people who have walked into my garage would never think to walk into a church. Paint on!

Britt said...

Thanks, Jodi! I appreciate the encouragement. I know it will all work out, but it's pretty daunting to know what to do in the meantime.


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