The Most Important Customer Service Tip I Have To Give

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Embrace disaster. When things go wrong and your customer is angry, take advantage of the situation and make things right. Don’t make excuses and take responsibility!

After all, the reputation of your online business is defined by how you deal with adversity and unfortunate circumstances rather than how you handle day to day operations.


Photo by Alan Clark Design

Take our online store as an example. 90% of our customers complete their purchase from our online wedding linens store without ever contacting us.

And whenever this happens, it’s difficult to make a strong impression. We have not personally interacted with the customer in any way and the point of sale is just another sale.

Sure, the customer might like our products and they might mention our business to a few of their friends. But most likely, their purchasing experience just blends in like any other.

The best way to spread positive word of mouth about your online business is by having an interaction with your customer. And the best way to shine with your customers is by dealing with negative situations with a positive attitude.

Go out of your way to fix bad situations even if it isn’t directly your fault. I’m not saying that you should sabotage your business to get customer calls but when disaster strikes, think of it as an opportunity and not a calamity.

The Delivery Screwup

Recently, we had a customer place an order with us about 10 days before her wedding. Because she was having a destination wedding, she needed her order at least 5 days prior in order to catch her flight.

To make matters more complicated, her order consisted of a variety of personalized handkerchiefs that required custom embroidery.

Under normal circumstances, we usually ask the customer to allow at least 5 days for any custom items to be created prior to shipment. This made the timeline relatively tight using standard shipping methods.

But the customer absolutely did not want to pay extra money for rush delivery(we charge $30). Under the circumstances however, we felt very confident that her order would reach her on time because she lived in the same state and only 60 minutes away.

In any case, we bumped up the priority of her order and managed to ship out her order the following day. Just as a precaution, I personally followed up on the status of her order to make sure that she received it on time.

Sure enough, the tracking on her order indicated that it was delivered the following day and well within her deadline.

3 days passed and I thought things were all good until I received a call from this customer. In fact, when I first picked up the phone, I was expecting her to thank me profusely for delivering her order in such a prompt fashion. Instead, I got this…

Customer: You told me that I would receive my order on time but I still haven’t gotten it and now I have a plane to catch! Where is my order?!?!

Me: That’s strange. I tracked the status of your order personally and you should have received it well over 3 days ago.

Customer: Well I haven’t received anything! I need my order by tomorrow morning by 8am!

Me: I apologize. Let me see what happened. Oh man! The tracking on your order says that your package was delivered to the wrong address and was being resent! I swear that just the other day, the tracking page indicated that your order was delivered properly.

Customer: Well clearly, it wasn’t! You do realize that I have a plane to catch right? Can you send me another set ASAP?

Me: I’m sorry ma’am. Even if we had another set of hankies custom embroidered, we would be unable to have them shipped out today. It’s already too late in the day (It was already 6pm).

Decision Time

At this point, I had two options. I could make an excuse and state very clearly that we are not responsible for our delivery carrier’s actions.

After all, if this customer wanted to guarantee a specific delivery date, she could have selected “Express Delivery” which we absolutely guarantee.

The other option was to take a loss and go out of our way to rectify the situation. The choice was tough because there was a fair amount of money at stake and I had to make this choice in a little under ten seconds.

After all, I couldn’t really handle this situation half ass. I either had to wholeheartedly try and help or turn her away. For me at least, I personally hate it when companies try and weasel their way out of paying only to give in to your demands after you have yelled and fussed.

Ultimately, I choose to help her out. We had her order custom embroidered that night and we shipped out her order directly to her wedding venue via express mail first thing the following morning. And let me tell you, rush shipping is not cheap by any means!

The Aftermath

Ultimately, the customer received her order on time. 2 weeks later, I received the following message.


I just wanted to sincerely thank you for your assistance in this matter. You were prompt, helpful and sympathetic while solving the problem immediately.

It is so rare to receive such proactive and efficient customer service. Thank you treating me like a person instead of a number. I will recommend you to everyone I know.

Was It Worth It?

We lost money on this transaction but did it matter? I’m sure that this customer probably told all of her friends or at least her bridal party about her experience with our online business.

And I’m 100% positive that whenever any of her friends or acquaintances require wedding linens, she will point them our way.

While it’s difficult to quantify the effect of a good customer service deed, I have to believe that eventually all of the good karma will catch up to us someday.

If anything, it sure felt damn good to receive that email from the customer. In fact, I would argue that her testimonial itself was worth every penny.

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18 thoughts on “The Most Important Customer Service Tip I Have To Give”

  1. Great job, Steve! I have to agree with your customer that proactive and efficient customer service is so rare these days. But of course, we as consumers/customers should also play our part in order to deserve good customer service. :)



    1. Hey Mark
      Thanks for the comment. I’m glad that you are back. Thought I’d lost you for a while.

  2. Kevin says:

    I agree with your view on customer service and disaster management totally., but had one specific question.

    Why did you choose to reproduce the order and reship at a high rate instead of calling your shipper to get the package rerouted?

    1. @Kevin
      The answer to your question can be a blog post in itself. Our customers are very sensitive to shipping costs so we mostly USPS to ship our orders. If you may or may not know, USPS can be pretty unreliable and I don’t think that they will even let you reroute a package in transit. We have considered forcing customers to use FedEx or UPS but the shipping cost would be dramatically higher.

  3. Kevin says:

    I see, I didn’t know you were using USPS.

    Now that you have a significant sample of your shipping volume have you considered talking with a FedEx rep to negotiate a discount?

    You could pass the savings on or just split it with the customer. They allow rerouting and while a tad more expensive than USPS, debacles like this could be dealt with relatively painlessly.

    Seems like if this sort of thing happens enough it would pay for itself.

    1. @Kevin
      We have spoken to a rep and USPS is still by far the cheapest shipping solution. The main reason is because the majority of items we sell weigh 8oz or less. FedEx and UPS prices are competitive for packages 2lbs and greater. The other item you have to factor in is the cost of packaging which USPS provides for free when using priority shipping.

  4. Kevin says:

    As an aside…why do you have Gravatar enabled comments but no Gravatar for yourself?

    1. @Kevin
      Mainly out of laziness. Thanks for reminding me though. I’ve justed added my gravatar!

  5. Steve,

    This was a great followup to your post on learning how to say no.

    You did a great job on the customer service and I think that the lost money on this one deal can be seen in a couple of other ways:

    1. An advertising cost – now your customer is most likely rant and rave about your services and tell all their friends and others they come across.

    2. Price of damage control – we all know that people are more motivated to spread the word about a bad experience which can wreak havoc on businesses’ reputations.

    So once you see it this way, it doesn’t hurt as much to lose some money (within reason) on a deal when you have an opportunity to make a customer happy and have them say great things about you and your company.

    Once again another great lesson to keep in mind for all us entrepreneurs – thanks for sharing!

    1. @Xurxo
      That is a great way of looking at things that I never even considered! For the amount of money that I lost on the transaction, it was definitely worth it in terms of advertising and damage control. Even though I meant everything I wrote about in the article, I’m not sure how I would have reacted had the sum of money involved been orders of magnitude greater. Let’s say I stood to lose 1000 dollars instead of a 100 dollars. Perhaps I may have had to use a different tactic. The advantage of our business though is that our products are relatively inexpensive.

  6. “Embrace disaster” This is good advice and can be applied one’s personal life as well, but its much easier said than done especially if you’ve been training your mind incorrectly your whole life.

    1. @Joe
      Yep. It is definitely much easier said than done. It just takes practice and requires a mindset that looks beyond the short term money.

  7. Sadly, these situations are all too rare. I’ve been struck by the string of horrible service encounters I’ve had in the past year. People feel that they need to save money, forgetting how much harder it is to find new customers (presumably when the economy improves) than to maintain loyal ones – even when doing so requires extraordinary effort.

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