Customer Service Hero: Dodge & Burn

Customer Service Hero

Many aspects of business are difficult — if not impossible — to control. Influencing, or even predicting, the multiplicity of factors that impact the success or failure of a business keeps many entrepreneurs up at night. Business owners struggle to reach new markets, develop sound supply chains and keep up with changing social and technological trends, many of which they have no control over. That’s why more and more savvy business owners are looking to optimize areas of the business that they do control. Customer service, for example, is one aspect of a business that can be controlled to a high degree. Unfortunately, many businesses overlook this critical area of opportunity; however, my recent experience with an online t-shirt retailer Dodge & Burn reinforced my belief in the power of customer service.

As an avid photographer and collector of camera equipment and paraphernalia, I happened upon a website selling photography-inspired graphic t-shirts. There were a range of colours and styles to choose from, each with a different camera model printed on the front. After perusing through the website and checking out the shipping options, I decided to purchase four shirts. Within minutes of checking out, I received a confirmation email of my purchase and a notice indicating shipping time.  Excellent.

A few days later, I was the happy recipient of four t-shirts. After unpacking them, I washed them so they’d be ready to wear the next day. I decided to wear the black one first, but as I was putting it on, the shirt ripped. Disappointed, I showed my girlfriend and exclaimed, “I just bought this! And now look at it!”

A few days later, I was reading an article on the photography blog PetaPixel when I noticed an article about Dodge & Burn. A few other readers had left comments below the article so I decided to share my experience about my t-shirt ripping. To be fair, I also pointed out the excellent communication and fast shipping of the seller.

The day after posting my comment I received an email from the owner of Dodge & Burn, Ted Rybakowski:

I heard through the grapevine that one of your shirts ripped.  We’ll be more than happy to send you a replacement (provided we have it in stock).  Let me know which shirt was faulty and I’ll have a new one out to you ASAP.

 I was blown away by Ted’s dedication to customer service. Ted was obviously aware of the press he was receiving on PetaPixel, and had read the comments section under the article. He could have easily overlooked my comment, chalking it up to a whiny customer. Instead he took it as an opportunity to service his customer and stand behind his product. I replied to Ted, by complimenting him on his service and thanking him for his offer. To that he replied:

Actually, I saw your comment on PetaPixel this morning and was sorry to read that your shirt tore before you even wore it.  Part of the fun I have in running this business is that I get to run it exactly how I want to, and that includes making sure my customers are happy (it’s right there in the FAQ where we describe our customer satisfaction policy)!  Your replacement shirt is going out in tomorrow morning’s post.  Don’t hesitate to get back in touch for any reason.

Ted certainly made his point: I was one happy customer — happy enough to write an article about it and happy enough to share the experience with my friends and other photography enthusiasts.

When customers are treated fairly it stands out. Sadly, it stands out because so few businesses focus on it. If every business treated customers as fairly as Dodge & Burn did, I wouldn’t be writing this article. It would be par for the course.

The opportunity is clear: when others are ignoring their customers, focusing on customer service will increase all-important brand loyalty. Ted heard that his customer’s shirt had ripped its stitches; however, by standing behind his product, by setting things right, Ted will reap what he has sewn. His act of recompense has turned what would otherwise be a one-time sale, into a word-of-mouth bonanza. As a business owner, you can’t control everything, but you certainly can control your dedication to your customers.

Hey Managers: Listen Up

I’ve been lucky. Over the years much of my time has been spent talking to managers and business owners, secure in the knowledge that my voice was being heard. Admittedly, I’ve encountered managers who didn’t listen to a word I said; they were too busy trying to impress me with their own business acumen or, worse yet, just loved the sound of their own voice. However, seven times out of ten, the managers I’ve worked with have been eager to hear my suggestions; they genuinely want to improve their business and they’re willing to consider new ways of doing so, even if it means pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone.

The years I spent consulting were rewarding, but after 15 years, I decided to make a change. I began working on a communications degree — majoring in journalism — while continuing to consult during the summer months.

No sooner had my spring classes ended, then I was invited by a friend of mine to meet with him and his two managers. They wanted to discuss a new business venture they were working on. I agreed and we set up a meeting. A few days later I found myself sitting in the president’s corner office, taking in the impressive view the city’s river pathways and the mountains beyond. After exchanging pleasantries and lamenting the cloudy, rainy weather, the four of us – my colleague, the president and the vice-president – sat down around a small circular table to discuss the situation. My colleague sat silently beside me while management outlined their goals for the new venture.

After taking some notes and asking some questions, I felt the time was right to start making suggestions and outlining a course of action. The president had suggested a number of great ideas; however, there was one particular idea that could potentially cause serious problems in the future it was implemented. As tactfully as possible, I pointed out the potential pitfalls of the president’s idea and suggested an alternative course of action. Next, I referenced other well-known organizations that had successfully used a similar approach. Finally, I outlined the benefits of my approach and the risks of ignoring it. Having made my case, it was now up to management to make a decision. They made it quickly. The president said, “You’ve made some good points. I think your ideas fit with the direction we want to go”. Awesome. They would implement my suggestion.

We wrapped up a few minor details, discussed next steps and then concluded the meeting. My colleague walked me out of the office and accompanied me down to the lobby on the main floor where we said goodbye.

As I walked back to my car, which was parked a few blocks away, I thought about how well the meeting had gone. When they spoke, I listened, and when I spoke they reciprocated. It was an exchange of ideas amongst equals with the purpose of solving problems. I found myself motivated. These managers had respected my opinions and now I wanted to prove my worth. I wanted to prove that their trust was well placed.

Unfortunately, not all managers take the time to listen and truly consider the ideas proposed by their employees.  In other cases, managers pay lip service to employees by asking for suggestions but then ignoring their replies. Because of this, many employees simply stop sharing their opinions. A recent study conducted in 2011 and published by the Journal of Business Ethics, suggests not listening to employees also tends to increase conflict in the workplace. According to the study, “disgruntled employees took out their frustrations on co-workers because they feared losing their jobs or experiencing other reprisals if they challenged their managers.”

The disadvantages of shutting out employees, and ignoring their suggestions can damage, and even destroy morale in the workplace. In a competitive economy, businesses cannot afford to have unhappy, unproductive employees.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Employees whose managers paid attention were more likely to offer input and got along better with one another, thereby improving the organization’s morale and functioning as a whole.

Employee engagement consultants Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton have gathered empirical evidence supporting the concept that happy workers are more productive. In their new book All In: How the Best Managers Create a Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results, Gostick and Elton make a convincing case. They looked at data from over 700 companies and found the ones that were most successful had employees that were “engaged, enabled and energized” – something the authors refer to as E+E+E.

Engaged, enabled and energized was exactly how I felt after my meeting. Knowing that my ideas are heard and considered — and occasionally implemented – keeps me motivated and enthusiastic about my job.  As the research indicates, happy employees are more productive. Admittedly, listening to employees is just one of the many factors involved in keeping employees happy, but it might just be the cheapest, easiest and most effective way to do so. That’s advice worth listening to.