The Gift of Customer Feedback and The Perils of Canned Responses

shutterstock_127148657I received a canned response last week. It sounded canned. It felt canned. And how did I feel? Well, canned.

I’m not going to name the company, primarily because it’s a company with which I enjoy doing business. I recently placed an order, received it as expected and was asked to complete a survey. Perhaps I’m picky, but I only answer some surveys. This being a company I liked, I wanted to help out.

I was asked what I liked and disliked about doing business with the company. Here was my response.

Disliked: I can often find lower prices elsewhere, so I’m careful to shop around.

Liked: Consistency. I can always count on you to have what I need.

Common customer experience wisdom tells us to respond to feedback. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a response three days later. Unfortunately, my pleasure was short-lived. Here is the first paragraph of the response:

Dear Evan,

Thanks for your order and survey feedback. We try to offer the most competitive pricing possible. Regrettably, prices fluctuate due to many factors including availability of supply, market demands and manufacturer promotions and prices can increase without notice. Our prices are generally the lowest in the market.

Wait a minute. See that last sentence? While it’s very pleasantly worded, the company is basically saying I’m wrong. Perhaps I’m overreacting, but what if I were a truly unhappy customer. Would this make me feel better? Probably not. The response goes on to explain a few more details about pricing:

Please note that we constantly negotiate with our suppliers to obtain the best prices so that we can offer our customers the cheapest prices. There are times when we were only able to obtain a better price on subsequent shipments from our supplier and we lower the prices accordingly on the newly obtained merchandise. Many times, the price increases on subsequent shipments.

And then explains a rather complicated price drop policy which requires me to monitor prices:

As a courtesy, if the customer contacts us within our return/exchange period, 30 days from date of purchase, if the [company] price drops during that time, we will honor the lower [company] price although at the time of the sale we purchased this merchandise at a higher price. We must be contacted while the lower price is still in effect.

We thank you for your patronage and look forward to you shopping with us again and giving us the opportunity to provide you with the best possible service.

Sincerely,

Ralph

All-in-all, this isn’t a bad response. I could take issue with the complexity of the explanation or the process for dealing with prices that drop within 30 days, but I’ll let that slide. Instead, let’s consider the opportunity.

Customer feedback is truly a gift and when dealing with an unhappy customer, it’s an opportunity to go above and beyond to please the opportunity. An opportunity to create a Purple Goldfish. Here’s how I might have handled the response:

Dear Evan,

Thanks for your order and survey feedback. We try to offer the most competitive pricing possible. Regrettably, prices fluctuate due to many factors including availability of supply, market demands and manufacturer promotions and prices can increase without notice. We’re sorry we don’t always meet your expectations.

As a token of our appreciation, we’ve added a 10% discount to your account, which will be automatically applied to your next order. We value your patronage and want to keep you as a customer.

You may also be interested in learning about our Price Drop program. In case our price drops within our return/exchange period, 30 days from date of purchase, we will honor the lower [company] price and automatically issue a refund to your method of payment.

We thank you for your patronage and look forward to you shopping with us again and giving us the opportunity to provide you with the best possible service.

Sincerely,

Ralph

With this response, I added two Purple Goldfish. The first was a 10% discount. This is very simple and inexpensive way to create loyalty, especially when the original feedback related to pricing. The second was an automatic price drop program. Instead of putting the effort on the customer to check pricing, why not do it for them? Sure, you may lose some margin occasionally and perhaps you’ll hesitate to change prices, but those are surmountable challenges.

These ideas may be more than some companies are willing to do, and that’s understandable. My point, however, is this: look for every opportunity to add customer value or reduce the maintenance of doing business. The companies who rise to the challenge of doing more will be far more successful.