Flexible Customer Management Policies

Smart companies have customer service policies in place to protect their best interests and the bottom line. Smarter companies, however, know how and when to bend certain policies for customers who have the right profitability, loyalty, frequency of purchase and long-term revenue potential. This helps protect customer loyalty and works to maximize the bottom line.

The challenge in today's market, however, is institutionalizing a system wherein each employee understands customer centricity - and the right employees are adept in exercising flexibility with appropriate boundaries. Databases, systems and policies are critical tools. Executing based on the knowledge gathered by companies is another thing entirely.

Beyond loyalty programs, when it comes to appropriately recognizing customers in the service arena, most companies fall short. This is why customers losing out on good service have little choice but to become more vocal and tenacious.

Consider this recent experience.

I went to Best buy to accomplish two things: First, I needed to return an extra power source I'd purchased for my laptop. The associate who helped me had sold me the wrong model. The kicker was, I didn't realize it was the wrong adaptor for three months because while I had purchased the smaller model for a trip to Europe, I had forgotten to bring it with me. When I finally took it out of the package and realized the extra $90 power source was useless to me, it seemed worth trying to return.
Second, I was with my sister-in-law, Leah, who was ready to buy a new laptop with my assistance.

We trolled the computer department first, and I left Leah to play with the model I had recommended. I then approached the customer service desk to return the power source.

It only took a minute of watching the dull-eyed customer service representative handle the woman in front of me to predict that I was going to need a supervisor. After 10 minutes, she turned and walked away, cautioning me to get a supervisor if I wanted any “real help.”

When my turn came, I made my case and, as I suspected, “Dulleye” expertly spouted the 30 day return policy to me. I thanked him and asked for his supervisor. After a long wait, an eye-rolling supervisor approached, and the two huddled with briefly before he approached me.

It's enough to say that both "Dulleye" and "Eyeroller" expertly spouted "policy" to me. After explaining for the second time that 1) The packaging was intact; 2) The item had not been used, and 3) the exact model was still being sold on the shelves, I said in an exasperated tone "Look, YOU guys are the one who sold me this power source -and it's the wrong one!"

I was met by open mouthed, blank stares and a glance toward the counter from both of the policy drones. So, I continued:

"Does it help to know that I've purchased FOUR laptops at Best Buy this year alone? I've actually come to purchase another one today, and I'd hate to take that sale to another store because I'm short on time. What do we need to do to make this right?"

After another wait, I asked for the store manager. I watched as “Eye Roller” explained my situation to the store manager, shaking his head vehemently to indicate that Best Buy should not refund the money. So far, about 20 minutes had elapsed.

Hope sparked as the store manager walked over to me with eye contact and a hesitant smile. I repeated my plight to him. I explained that I would love to exchange the power supply for the right product, but they didn't happen to sell one. I was fine with store credit and it only made sense. He wasn't quite convinced.

So, with one final push, I drew upon my inside knowledge of Best Buy's customer management infrastructure and added:

"I understand you've got policies for a reason. In fact, I write, speak and teach about customer service for a living. Because of this, I also understand that Best Buy is flexible with its policies for good customers. I'm a good customer. In fact, it may help your decision to know that in Best Buy's profiling schema, I am considered a "JILL" and I carry a profitability level of four out of five. I understand this means that you guys should want to keep me as a customer at this store."

This is where the store manager got the nickname "Wide Eyes." I continued with a pleasant smile.

"Now, Jeff over there (pointing to our Geek Squad computer sales rep, Jeff as he waved) is helping me and my sister-in-law with my fifth laptop purchase of 2006. So, can we return this cable now, or do I need to head for another store?"

The store credit was issued immediately. We bought another laptop that day, too.

Now, I was fortunate enough to have been previously shown my entire Best Buy purchasing history, demographic profile and profitability number in an interview with a Best Buy executive several months before. She had explained to me congruently how someone with a profile like mine would (hypothetically) be handled in a return policy decision. The same executive had also described how hard it was to get her staff to understand the simple categorizations to make exceptions to the rules on a case-by-case basis.

I'm glad I had that knowledge in my back pocket – but ultimately all of this serves to make a point.

I’ve written a bit about Best Buy in the past. In short, what's great about Best Buy's system is that it maps customers to persona-based profiles that help associates understand the type of customer they are dealing with. It also assigns a simple profitability scoring scale from 1-5 (5 being the best). This should make it super easy for any associate to quickly grasp the value of a customer without doing a detailed analysis on purchase history.

… The problem is getting people to use this knowledge. I went through three people to get Best Buy to treat me like a "Jill" with a profitability multiple of four. And all three had access to my profile. Not one of them looked at that information – despite my earlier pleas.

The truth is, it just takes time to operationalize a flexible customer service framework. A myriad of factors weigh in, including training, turnover, management preferences, staff maturity, common sense, level of experience and individual store policies. Over time, it should only get easier for Best Buy to properly train customer service associates to review a customer's profile, understand their value and to take action that is fiscally responsible and that meets the customer's requirements to remain loyal.

However, until this happens, the sadder truth is, it's still the tenacious are more likely to get the service they deserve. While most of us aren't positioned to know how we're profiled in a store's database, there’s good news:

The visibility created by the internet, social networks and sites like "You Tube" are creating popular outlets for wronged and vocal customers. The exposure risk companies now face will only create more impetus for them to get customer service right the first time – and to invest in appropriately flexible customer service management policies and procedures.

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LEIGH DURST

LEIGH DURST
I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.

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