We've all heard a story or two about Zappos' customer service, and about how their executive team has built a culture that values customer satisfaction above all else. Many of us have heard Tony Hsieh talk about how they have enable every CSR to make a customer happy without the need for escalation to a supervisor.
But as more businesses start embracing that model, what happens when a consumer is faced with exceptional service from two competing retailers? What's the winning strategy to keep or maintain a customer's loyalty in a climate where many merchants are reallocation resources to "customer satisfaction"?
Here's my recent story.
I was scheduled to run the US Half Marathon Women's 10K on November 1st. It was my first-ever race, and I was both excited and tremendously nervous about it. Early in my training, I'd visited a local chain of fitness stores, Sports Basement, for a gait analysis and help picking out a pair of running shoes. They did a fantastic job putting me in a pair of Mizuno Wave Elixirs which fit me so perfectly that they never needed to be broken in. And, because I have a friend who's a buyer there, I enjoy a year-round 15% "Friends & Family" discount on everything I buy. Their service and selection combined with the discount has long made Sports Basement my go-to store for all things athletic.
As race day approached, I made the rookie mistake of not realizing until too late that my shoes badly needed to be replaced. I headed over to SB only to find that they were out of my size in that store as well as their three other locations. When I explained that I was a mere 10 days away from a race, they did everything they could to help, INCLUDING calling a dozen of their local competitors to see if they could source me a pair locally.
When that failed, they got me into a pair they thought I might be happy with, and told me to take a test run in the next couple of days, and if I didn't like them, to bring them back no questions asked.
After a four-mile run the next day, I realized those shoes would never work, and found the Elixirs on Zappos.com for a few dollars more and placed the order.
Well, on Halloween Day, the shoes still hadn't arrived, and UPS.com showed they wouldn't be delivered until the following Monday, after the race was good and done. I posted this pathetic missive on Twitter:
Dammit dammit dammit. My running shoes from @zappos have a "rescheduled delivery date" of Monday, which is too late for the 10K. Near tears.Within five minutes, I had a response from Zappos asking for my order number so they could track it. I sent it (via Direct Message) along with an acknowledgment that this was not their fault, and not their problem to fix.
Obviously, they disagreed. I have no doubt that they would have shipped me another pair Priority Overnight if this had all happened a day earlier, but since they had no such options, they apologized profusely, wished me luck on the race, deposited a $30 credit to my account, AND invited me to Zappos VIP. Of course, I thanked them publicly on Twitter.
But what now? As a consumer, how do I balance my business between Zappos and Sports Basement? In this case, it's easy -- athletic-wear at SB, all other shoe purchases at Zappos. But what if these two companies were truly direct competitors?
Both companies exhibited the ultimate in customer service, but in very different ways. So tell us, who would have won your future business?