Saved By the Service

It’s crunch time for this DMN staffer—the final countdown, as Europe would put it: My wedding is about a month away.

Constantly having centerpieces and ceremony programs on the brain has caused me more stress than I care to admit. But with a little more than a month to go, I work diligently to cross a few items off of my to-do list every day.

One of my most recent to-do list items involved purchasing a garter for the traditional (albeit cheesy) garter toss at the reception.  I didn’t see the point in spending a lot of money on an item that was going to be thrown into a crowd of single men and most likely get destroyed. So, I went to online marketplace Etsy to find a cute one for less than $20.

After perusing the online shops, I found a garter that seemed to fit the bill and proceeded to the checkout to pay. One of my bridesmaids had installed the browser extension Honey on my computer not that long ago. It searches the internet for the best coupons and automatically applies them at checkout. I hadn’t had much luck using it, but weddings are expensive. So, I decided to give it a whirl.

Honey found a free shipping coupon code and automatically applied it to my order—saving me $4. The money wasn’t going to cover our DJ, but, hey, I’ll take it.

The next day I received a message from the merchant I had purchased the garter from saying the following:

Hi,
Thank you for your order. I see that you used my coupon code FREE SHIPPING without my permission….Please let me know if you’d like to pay $4.00 shipping cost or I need to cancel your order.

Thank you!

As a bride-to-be who hasn’t gotten enough sleep this year—and someone who writes about customer experiences for a living—I was irate. Not only was I frustrated that I couldn’t check buying the garter off of my to-do list, but I was also annoyed that the merchant’s wording made me feel like I had done something deceptive.

Against her permission? How is using an accessible coupon code equivalent to going behind someone’s back? Also, I know the shipping charge is only $4, but why was I being punished with extra costs and cancelled order threats for leveraging resources that are available to everyone? Shouldn’t the merchant pay for the shipping charges and uphold my coupon code if it was her fault that the code was made available in the first place? The costs weren’t going to break her bank, either—but forcing me to pay it could cause her to lose a customer.

As someone who believes in the phrase “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” I tried to explain my scenario politely and concisely in my reply.

Hello,

Thank you for the note. I use the Chrome extension Honey, which scans the internet for coupons and automatically applies valid ones to your order at checkout. I used this online tool before checking out at your store and the FREE SHIPPING coupon was automatically added and considered valid. The act was not meant to be done without your permission, and I apologize if it came [off] as a deceitful act.

Because I simply used a coupon code that was considered valid, I would prefer if it was honored. However, I really do find your work beautiful, and I am willing to pay the $4.00 shipping cost to avoid my order being cancelled if need be.

Thank you very much,
Elyse

PS: Here is the link to Honey’s website if you would like to learn more about it: www.joinhoney.com/install

Note: FREE SHIPPING was how the code appeared—I was not writing in all caps for dramatic effect.

I truly didn’t know how the merchant was going to respond. Was she going to cancel my order? Was she going to charge me for the shipping? Was my request to honor the coupon code going to put a bitter taste in her mouth, resulting in subpar quality?

I took a walk around the block to vent my frustrations to my fiancé and go over a few other wedding to-dos. Shortly after my quick spin, I saw I had a response from the merchant, which read as follows:

 Hi Elyse,

I am kind of old fashioned with all those new internet technology …..Don’t worry I will cover your shipping cost 🙂

Thanks

I couldn’t believe it. The merchant was able to transform what could have been a negative customer experience (possibly ending with a negative review and poor impression of Etsy) to a positive one. I thanked her for her great customer service and said that I was looking forward to receiving my order.

This transaction reinforced a few key lessons all retailers (big or small) should keep in mind. Here are my five.

1. Consider the value of getting your way. Playing the blame game never gets anyone very farespecially customers who are looking to buy from you. If your brand made a mistake, own it. And even if the quarrel isn’t the brand’s fault, ask yourself: Is forcing the customer to side with you worth possibly losing their future business and spreading negative word of mouth? Most times, it isn’t.

Heck, I’ve had brands throw me a bone before. I once asked Papyrus to refund my shipping costs after the “papa bear” mug I ordered for Father’s Day arrived at my dad’s house the day after the parental holiday—even though I paid for expedited, three-day shipping. The greeting cards and gifting company informed me that the arrival time of my item still fell within their shipping guidelines, but it refunded the costs anyway, which I appreciated.

2. Get all of the facts before making accusations. Instead of accusing the customer of something negative right off the bat (which you should really never do), ask questions. Why did that customer demonstrate a specific behavior? Is this his first time interacting with your brand? Is he familiar with how your product or service works or your policies? Did he have a negative experience with someone else at the company? Getting the back story can help brands understand why customers behaved the way they did and avoid any false accusations. 

3. Strive to inform. If you must disagree with the customer, explain your reasoning clearly and politely. Link to information explaining your policies (which are hopefully written concisely) and detail why his action goes against them. Tell him that you still value his business and open the door for further communication or information if need be. Even if you end up giving into the customer’s request, it’s a good idea to relay this information anyway so that he knows for next time. And hey, maybe knowing that you gave him a free pass will help elevate your brand in his mind.

4. Consider how those associated with your brand will affect it. Let’s face it: Not every employee or brand ambassador will reflect your core values or objectives all of the time. Mistakes happen. However, these negative experiences can tarnish the brand’s overall image, rather than the image of the individual responsible for the mishap. Even though I had a negative experience with one of Etsy’s vendors, for instance, it still made me disappointed in the Etsy brand overall.

However, companies can help avoid some of these errors by clearly outlining their standards or codes of conduct and reminding those who represent the brand of them on a regular basis. Take inventory of how well your employees or influencers know your mission and give them resources and best practices to ensure they follow it. Also, be sure that the consequences and incentives of not following or following these guidelines are clearly communicated and enforced.

5. Be nice. Being kind to your customers should always be a priority and should come across in all communications. Instead of saying “you did this” when something goes wrong, rephrase your wording and be less accusatory. For example, rather than saying “you used a code without my permission” the merchant could have said “A code was applied to this order that shouldn’t have been made readily available.” You might be surprised how a slight change in tone can cause customers’ reactions to change.

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