As my wife will be the first to tell you, I’m a stickler when it comes to customer service.
Call me old school if you will, but for whatever reason I just have this wacky idea that any retailer who wants to earn my business should be doing cartwheels and jumping through hoops of fire to keep it.
And I imagine there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 17 bazillion “business experts” who will back me up with statistic after statistic supporting the notion that in terms of dollars and cents, it costs a business FAR less money to keep a current customer happy than it does to go out and win the business of new customers.
Hell, I’m a schmuck with a Political Science degree who talks about Aerosmith records for a living and never took a single business class in his life and even I’ve figured this out.
So why (he asked rhetorically) haven’t most businesses figured it out?
Case in point:
Just before Christmas, the wife went out to the big blue and gold Ikea compound in Centennial and returned with two fairly basic looking white bath mats for our master bathroom. (One for in front of her sink, one for in front of mine. Unless the tile floor is really cold that morning, then she gets both of them.)
After less than 2 weeks of what I’d call “normal” bath mat usage, the border seams ripped out of BOTH of them and they started fraying in the exact same place.
Unless my wife has Edward Scissorhands feet and I just haven’t noticed over the last 15 years, I have a really damn hard time believing that a 20 dollar bath mat should fall apart in under two weeks.
And so I trudged my unhappy ass out to the Ikea compound to execute a simple return and exchange. Or so I thought.
It should be noted that before my voyage I DID ask the wife if, by chance, she had saved the receipt.
Her response? “It’s a damn bath mat. Who saves the receipt for a bath mat? Besides, Ikea is the only place that sells these things. They’ll have to know it came from their store.”
What do you figure the first question was when I landed at the customer service desk?
Yep. You guessed it.
“Do you have a receipt, sir?”
In my calmest, most rational voice, I explained to the young lady behind the counter that no, I didn’t have the receipt because we bought the bath mats in the pre-Christmas rush when one’s life tends to be a gigantic, festering pile of receipts and also, not that it’s your problem, but we moved 10 days before Christmas and, well, as you might guess, a few things might have gotten lost in the shuffle. Including a receipt for Swedish bath mats.
Her response, “Well, I’m sorry, sir. We can’t do an exchange without a receipt.”
I said, “But if you look at the bath mats you’ll know they came from Ikea. You’re the only one that sells these bath mats and, it’s probably worth noting, you’re the ONLY Ikea in the Metro area. So, obviously they came from here.”
Her: “I understand that, sir, but without a receipt we can’t re-enter these into our system.”
Me: “They started to shred in less than 2 weeks, Ma’m. I could give my 9 and 7 year old daughters a spool of thread and a rusty spork and stick them in a dark room and even THEY could construct a more durable bath mat than this one. Why, if I may ask, would you want to re-enter these clearly inferior products back into your system?”
Her: “Well, sometimes we put returned items in the “as-is” bin and sell them that way. And we can’t do that without a receipt.”
Me: “Just to be clear, they are BATH MATS that are falling apart. I’m not even sure Goodwill would take these, and you’re worried about selling them AGAIN?”
Her: “Well, it’s just our policy, sir. Plus there are no tags on these bath mats.”
Me: (Looking around to make sure I’m not on a revamped version of Alan Funt’s “Candid Camera” or something) “At the risk of asking a stupid question, who would buy bath mats and then leave the tags on them?”
Her: “I get what you’re saying but without the tags or the receipt, there isn’t much I can do for you, I’m afraid.”
Me: “As long as I’m here, I might as well go all in with another question– who in the name of God’s green earth would save a receipt for a BATH MAT?”
Her: “Oh, I save ALL of my receipts for everything. I keep them in a file for 6 months or a year, and then I recycle them!” (Smiles big in that Sarah Palin “I can see Alaska from here!” kind of way.) “Especially for electronics. I really make it a point to save those receipts.”
Me: “Hmmm. I see. Clearly your receipt system is far superior to mine but let me just offer up one thought here– it makes PERFECT SENSE to save receipts for a 600 dollar Ipad or a 1500 dollar TV, those are big purchases with teeny tiny little electronic parts in them that can malfunction if the humidity in your house is 2% out of kilter. But we’re not talking about electronics here. We’re talking about BATH MATS. This is not an item one really expects to “malfunction”, shall we say.”
Her: (Clearly losing patience) “It’s not that I fundamentally disagree with you, sir, it’s just that store policy is without a receipt, I can’t do a return or an exchange.”
Fortunately for the customer service wiz behind the counter, she caught me on a good day where I was relatively short on time and relatively disinterested in haggling over 40 dollars in poorly constructed bath mats. So I just smiled politely and said “Thanks so much for your time” in as moderately smarmy a way as possible, and wandered off to the vast expanse of the Ikea parking lot.
On a bad day, or what my wife would call “a more typical Mike day”, I would’ve still been at that customer service desk at closing time as they were turning out the lights and pulling the leftover Swedish meatballs out of the steam tray and grinding them down into ball bearings or whatever they do with them, arguing my point to the assistant general manager of Customer Service Operations or whichever lackey I’d managed to locate by that point.
I’m a genial guy for the most part, but when I think I’m right, I’m like an incredibly pale, upright, Pit Bull with a steak in its mouth. Which is to say, I ain’t letting go until you prove to me that you want the steak more than I do.
On this day, I guess the steak was cheap enough that I was willing to let it go without much of a fight.
But, should anyone in the customer service, retail management, or business consultant world happen to read this blog, let me just offer up one simple closing thought.
In the 2 years or so since Ikea built its monstrous compound in Centennial, I’d guess my wife and I have probably spent a couple $2,000 dollars there, or roughly $1,000 dollars a year.
Let’s say my family stays in the Denver metro area for the next 40 years and keeps shopping at Ikea at roughly the same rate.
That’s a plus $40,000 dollars to Ikea between now and 2053.
Conversely, let’s say a guy like me gets thoroughly annoyed that Ikea hasn’t empowered its customer service reps to use a reasonable amount of common sense to ensure that their customer’s experience 100% satisfaction with every purchase and decides to stop shopping there altogether.
That means Ikea loses $40,000 dollars of future business over the cost of exchanging TWO LOUSY BATH MATS.
In what bizarre, parallel universe does that make a single iota of sense?
Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
I didn’t think so.
PS for Ikea: Your meatballs suck.