I have spent many years working in the financial services sector; a heavily regulated industry where fraud is a constant and real presence. The fact is that people do steal from their insurance company and our head office had a zero tolerance approach. Which is completely understandable.
But on occasion it felt as if the customer as a result of this was starting from a position of having to demonstrate that they were honest and truthful as opposed to that being the natural assumption until proven otherwise.
I once asked a rehabilitation nurse what the worse thing about her job was; “people faking injuries” was the immediate response. “And not because they are trying to get money, I don’t care about that. What I do care about is that I have a maximum case load I can take and that cheat meant I didn’t help someone else who genuinely needed me“. So it is entirely understandable how there can sometimes be a sense of distrust upfront – not because frontline staff don’t care, but actually because they do.
Looking outside of the sector I have known so well for so long, I went looking for other companies in other industries to see if anyone had made a conscious choice to
- Accept the customers word at face value, no questions asked
- Created a customer service ethos around this
Quite a few companies started to stand out who had done just that.
Once you start looking a few names keep cropping up and one of those is the fashion retailer, Nordstrom. There are hundreds of examples of what they have done, all under the single instruction of “Use good judgement in all situations”
Proving that world class customer service is not an invention of the modern age, the story that is often relayed is from the 1970’s when a customer returned a set of Winter tyres to their Nordic store and requested a refund of $145. This was dutifully given, no questions asked, despite the fact that Nordstrom have never sold tyres.
There is a bit of further context to this story which is not always elaborated on; Nordstrom had only a few weeks earlier bought the site where the store was now situated from a tyre company where the returning customer had originally purchased the tyres. They had no legal responsibility for the tyre store, but could understand the customer coming to them.
Like Nordstrom, there are countless examples of the customer service ethos and face value trust that this shoe retailer installs in its staff. They also hold a record for the longest customer service call, taken in December 2012 which came in at 10 hours, 29 minutes because each call takes as long as it needs to.
Away from stories of flowers sent, hand delivered items in emergencies and so on is a simple one where a customer reported her sons shoes had broken and Zappos simply apologised and sent a new pair – no photographs of the shoe as evidence, no having to return the defective item, just taking the customers word for it.
Over the years Amazon have also gained a world class customer reputation, and like Zappos a lot is down to the trust element.
One customer reported a coffee machine to be an unwanted gift after some 3 months of purchase, returned the item and waited for the $189 refund. When it didn’t arrive she called Amazon who had never received the returned item. They took her word and made the refund immediately.
It’s not for insurance so I have counted it as another sector!
Over the years their customer service ethos has really grown. A recent example was where cash was withdrawn from an ATM using the credit card in error (it had the same PIN as the debit card which was intended to be used). Knowing that the charges associated with this would be just shy of the national debt the customer contacted Barclaycard to explain it had been done in error – all charges associated with the transaction were waived because the customer service agent didn’t think it was fair for the customer to pay out for a mistake.
It’s not just the larger companies that follow this ethos; a small retailer based in Lambs Conduit St, London has the same sense of trust.
A customer bought two items online but on arrival it was found that one of the items was a slightly different version to the one ordered. On contacting the store, apologies were offered, the correct item was located from the stock room and a cab ordered to dispatch it immediately. The customer explained that they might not be in due to a prior meeting so the cabbie was instructed to leave the item in a safe location. At no stage were any arrangements made for the return of the wrongly sent item and this was only done when the customer phoned the following day.
Putting your money where your mouth is
When we formed Business Documents UK LTD we were determined that we would have the same customer ethos running through our business; i.e. we would take our customer at face value. When it’s a small business and alarm bells start going off that’s sometimes a little harder to do than we first thought, but we’ve stuck to it.
Last week a customer in Oman was having trouble using the payment system on our site to buy our biggest item. His credit card wasn’t working so after trying a couple of options with him, he told us he’d transferred the money into our account. Our bank shows no money transfer and when we call them, they have no record at all. The customer then contacts us and says he’d like the templates delivered today please.
So we send them.
The money arrived the next day.
We’ve issued refunds on requests despite there being nothing wrong with the product (customers words not ours), send alternative versions if people change their minds and even re-written a couple of templates just for that individual.
Have people taken advantage of us? We’d say possibly, cynics would say definitely.
So will we change?
Not a chance.
What we have seen is that the customers we have been privileged to have bought from us have been disarmingly honest, decent folk and the bottom line is that we accept that a few might try it on so that we can trust the majority who won’t.