Luggage being lost at airports can be huge problem for customers ... how it is sorted out by the company can make big difference for both parties. Picture: REUTERS
Luggage being lost at airports can be huge problem for customers ... how it is sorted out by the company can make big difference for both parties. Picture: REUTERS

From mid-2019 to end 2020, I tracked a number of transactions, to see how well business in SA, in the words of Paul Simon, was “keeping the customer satisfied”.

The mix was eclectic, with the overall impression that many businesses seem unaware of the potential brand and reputational risks in mishandling a customer problem, which is often demonstrated by poor reaction times and product knowledge, an inability to escalate issues to a senior decision-making level promptly and a complete lack of common sense and objectivity when assessing and resolving issues.

A summary, of selected matters with outcomes, is shown below. These selected examples, set the scene for a discussion with the golf discussion panellists — first with Jason Rowe (Golfers Club) to be followed in tomorrow’s section with commentary from Robert Jasper (Sandton Sun), Peter Dros (Fancourt), Damian Wrigley (Pearl Valley) and Alistair Collier (John Collier Golf), about what the golf business can learn from these examples and each panellists approach to customer service, in their respective golf business environments.

Airline — flying Lanseria to Durban return with Kulula in 2019, retrieving the luggage at King Shaka International Airport, took longer than the flight. My case was damaged and though it was eventually repaired, after a “fight”, the retrieval required two trips to Lanseria, because after receiving an SMS notifying me that the case was ready, when I got to Lanseria it was discovered that it was still in Durban.

As an apology for the inconvenience, I was sent a travel voucher valued at R500. Having to pay in more money to use the voucher is irksome, but the fact that I am still waiting for the voucher’s “activation” instructions is extremely poor.

Washing powder — a top brand’s product was lumpy with the powder getting stuck in the clothes by not dissolving during the recommended wash-cycle. Having taken product photos, copied bar codes and e-mailed these to the company’s customer service structure, I am still waiting for the promised feedback as to why the product is defective.

Computers — I purchased a new laptop and while the “misses” in customer service terms were numerous, a summary would be: the store involved failed to complete the data and e-mail transfer for which it was to be paid the prescribed fee and during this process missed three of its own deadlines, involving me in the time and effort to make multiple phone calls and trips to the store. And then it damaged the laptop from which the info was being transferred.

When appraised of the issues and inconvenience suffered, the group’s senior management assured me it “valued my custom”, which it felt had been fully demonstrated by offering to waive the fee, for a job that was never completed.

Finally, some sense prevailed and I was provided with a full refund, but this did not address the waste of my time or damaged laptop (this remains unresolved). The store lost both the original sale’s value along with my custom of 26 years.

The central question is whether the customer and customer service have got “lost” in what I describe as a race to the bottom line, but which increasingly feels more like a race to the bottom.

The irony is that the customer is the bottom line, when 90% of normal businesses’ only renewable resources are their customers. You would hope that common sense would prevail, with customer interactions being dealt with professionally. Sadly this is often not the case.

Jason Rowe: I agree 110% with your comments that customers, in any retail environment, are a very precious resource. In your examples, the glaring miss is not seeing the downside to wasting a customer’s time, instead of admitting “we messed up” and making a real fist of retaining the customer’s goodwill.

I believe that a professional, early intervention at this level will sort out most customers’ issues and turn them into brand ambassadors. My pet hate is when a retailer can’t finalise a prompt plan of action to sort out a customer’s problem if an item is clearly faulty or defective.

I’m a firm believer in erring on the customer’s side and dealing with my supplier later. The issue must be sorted out asap and handling returns or claims shouldn’t be seen as a nightmare, but rather an opportunity to garner the customer’s lifetime patronage by proving that we care about their problems.

To be continued.

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