A lesson in customer service (or, How to Save a Life….)

I learned a valuable lesson today from my wife.

She runs a boutique Facebook business from home selling children’s clothing. The problem with the business model is that by the time she invoices customers for the goods, quite often they have changed their mind and don’t proceed with the sale. Wasting a lot of her time, she sent out a message requesting, in short, that if people don’t communicate with her or pay the invoice, that the orders will be cancelled. The message was conveyed with some emotion and quite a few “!!!” to get the message across.

Within hours, a reply came through criticizing the message, along the lines of “ …you need to consider that your customers may have bigger issues in their life and you should be nice to them, they may be having a really bad day and take your message as aggressive like I did. They could be broke or suicidal or anything. I am taking off my order and will encourage my sister to cancel hers too…”

My wife had choices – she could ignore it, she could retaliate with emotion and aggression, or she could do what she did. Her reply simply explained that she was a mum working from home, and that this wasted time with invoices was sacrificing time reading to our kids or other family time.

The customer response was amazing. She opened up, explaining to my wife that her husband is away from home for 3 months, her car needed expensive repairs, she had just lost a pregnancy and she was depressed and alone, thus the over reactive response to the initial message. My wife still had tears reading the response to me. She is picking up the tab for the customer’s order. I believe that at worst, she has made her customer’s day a little better, at best she may have saved a life.

So what is the takeaway for business here? Firstly, a retaliation to criticism with further criticism in this case would most likely have led to a negative outcome for all concerned. Secondly, a level of transparency and communication to customers can often lead to acknowledgement and understanding, and even a closer relationship. Third, and most valuable, is that by reading between the lines and being more aware, we have the ability to do great things, meaningful things for people, with very little effort.