Guest Blogger

The vast majority of customer service stories begin with how things went wrong, however, it doesn’t have to end that way. Bill Gates says that “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” and I agree with this. When things go wrong, it’s a great opportunity to say ‘sorry’ and wow the customer by going all out to fix the mistake in way that doesn’t inconvenience or cost them anything. That’s how we retain customers.

Sadly, most companies still have no idea on how to do this. They are so focused on counting pennies and adhering to corporate rules that they overlook the impact on the customer. The customer becomes just another thing to be dealt with instead of being seen as a valuable source of future income worth looking after.

I recently had a customer experience that really riled me. It involved a first time purchase from an online store. I was a new customer and as a result my experience with the company would go a long way to decide if I would buy from them again.

I purchased several items and when my order arrived one of the items they sent me was wrong. l called them so that they could send me the correct item I’d ordered. I was advised that I should return the wrong item by post first and that once they had received it back, they would then dispatch the correct item or refund if it wasn’t in stock.

At first this may seem like a reasonable request, after all, the company wants to be assured that they will get the stock back and that they won’t be out of pocket. But think about this from a customer perspective.

I buy online because it’s convenient and saves me time. My lifestyle is fairly busy with many business and family responsibilities so often the only time I get to shop is late at night on my computer. I don’t really have the time to wrap up a parcel and take it down to the local post office. That seemingly small task is a major inconvenience to me. Even though this may sound a little arrogant my time is valuable, I cherish any spare moments I have. I would rather spend the time with my family or indulge myself in some spoils. I certainly don’t want to spend it traipsing down to the post office to send off an item to a company when they were the ones that made the mistake. It just feels wrong.

To put this in perspective, the total cost of my order was £80, the wrong item cost £5.80 and the postage on this was £3. Now these are not large amounts of money and I can certainly afford the postage to send the item back. My question is: Would £2.80 been such a major loss for the company? It was less than 3.5% of my total purchase.

Instead of insisting that the item first be returned, save me the time and effort and simply fix the mistake from their side without any cost or effort required from me. The wrong delivery was after all their mistake. Why not simply delight me by shipping the correct item off straight away, no questions asked, no effort required on my part? Now that would have been good customer service.

Sure they might have been out of pocket £2.80, but I would have been delighted. The chances are because of that, I wouldn’t have hesitated to shop online with them again, possibly spending even more than £80 next time.

However, because the contact centre person didn’t think of this or they simply weren’t allowed to offer it, it’s unlikely I’ll ever order from them again. That’s not to be spiteful. There’s a good chance a mistake will happen again and I don’t want the inconvenience and irritation of having to deal with that.

The other thing that struck me is that at no point in the process did anyone say “we’re sorry”. Why is that? Why is it so hard for people to own up to their mistakes? We should never underestimate the value of saying sorry.

Even if I still had to return the item before being refunded, if they had said sorry, I might have felt that they cared, at least a little. If you can’t fix the mistake the way the customer wants you to, or you simply don’t have the authority to give them everything you’d like to, at least you can empathize with them. It shows that you care and understand the effort you’re requiring of them. “I’m sorry for the inconvenience of having to return the item first, but I can assure you, you’ll receive a full refund.”

It’s a simple sentence, say ‘sorry’, wow your customers.  It’s worth it to keep your customers.

Carolyn Blunt is a contact centre consultant with Real Results. For a free copy of Carolyn’s ebook visit

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