Day: October 7, 2011

Friday, 7 October 2011

10:37 – I’ve just had my first report of shipping damage on a kit, in this case a broken thermometer. The buyer wanted to know if there was anywhere local that she could buy another one. I apologized for the inconvenience, and told her I’d get a replacement in the mail this afternoon, which should arrive Monday. It surprised me that it would even occur to her that the breakage was her problem.

That is, perhaps, a commentary on the declining level of customer service among many American companies. Not all, by any means. Companies like LL Bean and Costco do well, in no small part because their policy is to treat their customers (and employees) as they themselves would want to be treated. That used to be the norm for American businesses: “The customer is always right.” That’s the type of business I patronize, and I’ve always known that when I started a business, that’s the way I’d treat my own customers.

Doing so is simple enlightened self-interest. Treat customers badly, and they’ll never buy from you again. They’ll also tell everyone they know of their experience. Treat customers right, and you’ve made a friend for life. They’ll continue buying from you, and they’ll recommend you to their friends.

Solving a problem for a customer at no expense to them often involves incurring a cost, so “results-oriented” short-term thinkers consider it foolish to take a loss rather than charge the customer again. In fact, that small short-term loss nearly always translates into a much greater long-term profit. For example, one person who bought one of our kits emailed me to say that she’d spilled one of the chemicals, and asked if she could buy another bottle. Sure, I could have charged her for the replacement bottle and shipping costs, and she wouldn’t have thought twice about it. But instead I just shipped her a replacement bottle without charge. Counting the item itself, as well as time, packaging, and shipping costs, that might’ve cost me $10 or $12. But that small loss translates into a very happy customer. She’ll tell her friends, and some of those friends may in turn become new customers.

13:37 – Colin is closely related to both Duncan and Malcolm, with several recent ancestors in common, so it’s no surprise that Colin shares many of Duncan’s and Malcolm’s personality traits. Colin is much nearer in personality to Duncan than Malcolm in most respects, and I was reminded of one of them a minute ago, when I gave Colin a dog treat.

Malcolm would eat anything we were eating, without hesitation. Pickles, celery, anything. In fact, Malcolm would eat anything we offered him. That made it very easy to give him pills. Hold down the pill to him, and he’d take it gently and swallow it without question. Duncan, on the other hand, was almost insulting. He’d beg when we were eating, but if we offered him some of what we were eating, he’d sniff it thoroughly before eating it, just to make sure. I actually had a conversation with Duncan about this, explaining that he was insulting us by implication, suggesting that something good enough for humans might not be good enough for him.

And Colin is much like Duncan in that respect. I just went into the kitchen to refill my Coke, and decided to give Colin a dog treat. He watched me take down the container from the shelf. He knows that container is full of dog treats. He sat on command, waiting for the treat. When I held it down to him, he spent two or three seconds sniffing it before he took it. Just like Duncan.

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