Thwarting the exit response

Image of Factory Direct logo There are two competing business philosophies which have profound differences with respect to the preservation of an ongoing business relationship: caviet emptor and the customer isalways right. A business which adopts the buyer beware model may survive in the retail world, at least for a time, but it is not a model conducive to repeat customers. A business which adopts the customer is always right model may, from time to time, be taken advantage of by unscrupulous customers, however the focus on customer satisfaction will almost certainly ensure the continuation of an ongoing business relationship. A happy customer, is a repeat customer.

About seven or eight years ago, I was putting together a basic computer for a friend who needed basic internt email access. I had most of the necessary parts kicking about save and except a keyboard. Browsing the sale flyers, I noted that Factory Direct Computers, a discount electronics retailer with a location on Donald Street, had them on sale for the low, low price of $4.99. I purchased one and brought it home to complete the system. What I discovered, much to my chagrin, was that the system would not recognize the keyboard unless the keyboard was plugged in AFTER the computer was turned on. Though somewhat of an inconvenience, given the keyboard plugged into the back of the computer, a bigger issue was that one would not be able to enter the computer's CMOS setup screen to make setting changes to the computer.

I returned the keyboard to Factory Direct the following day in its original packaging, with the receipt, seeking a replacement. The technician, at the customer service counter, plugged the keyboard into a computer that was already running and, quite predictably, it worked just as it should have. "Reboot the computer", I told the technician, "making sure it's the only keyboard on the system and try to enter the system's CMOS." The technician, a much younger and, in my view, less knowledgeable individual, declined to do so indicating that "there was nothing wrong with the keyboard and, as such, it would not be exchanged." Not being satisfied with the service I had received, I asked to speak to the store manager. After several minutes of discussion, the store manager finally agreed to exchange the keyboard for another one but indicated that this was "against his better judgement" believing he should rely on his technician's opinion. The replacement keyboard worked just fine but I couldn't help but feel that the store's reluctance to exchange the obviously defective unit called either my ethics or my computer knowledge into question. I have not shopped at Factory Direct Computers since, nor do I have any plans of so doing any time in the near future. Back in 2012, in an article entitled The Good, The Bad & The Real Fooking Oogly, I wrote about a similar bad experience I had at Sears who were reluctant to refund an item of clothing which would not fit. (They had no suitable replacement in the size needed.) As is the case with Factory Direct Computers, Sears joined the ranks of disavowed retailers for their poor return, or unnecessarily cumbersome, return policy. Mercifully, my list of the disavowed is limited to two retailers.

Image of Tim Hortons' logo A couple of months ago, feeling a bit peckish after dinner and craving something sweet, I decided to pop into the local Tim Hortons to pick up a donut. "Lemon filled," I thought, "or perhaps strawberry filled." When I approached the counter to place my order, I was disappointed to discover that my only option was Boston Cream. Not only was Boston Cream the only donut on display, but there were only three donuts in the entire display case. Not three types of donuts... three donuts... all of which were Boston Cream. "You don't have any in the back?" I asked the server. Ater going to the back of the store to check, she returned, only to inform me that indeed, they were the only donuts in the entire store. Thoroughly disgusted with the experience, I left donutless. I've always figured that if I'm annoyed at something, it makes little sense to keep the annoyance to myself. Annoyance is, in my estimation, something which should be shared. And whom should I share the annoyance with? Why Tim Hortons of course, which is precisely what I did the instant I came in the door. I have to admit, completing the customer experience form on their website was somewhat cathartic and while I can't remember the precise content of my correspondence, I do recall suggesting that it was, by far, the worst Tim Horton experience I had ever had the displeasure of enduring and was I was sufficiently disappointing that I left in utter disgust.

A few weeks later I received an apologetic phone call from the manager of the local Tim Hortons. He did not attempt to make excuses. Rather, he started the conversation by acknowledging that he had received a copy of my electronic submission and that they had "screwed up" by failing to place an order that day. It was an unacceptable error in his view, and one that caused him to initiate redundancy checks to ensure it would not happen again in the future. In an effort to apologize for the inconvenience, he asked that I accept a dozen complimentary donuts. Moreover, he noted that I did not live far from their store location, so he would be honoured to drop them off, fresh and in person, if I would be home. It was clear to me that he had done his homework both in investigating what had happened and in considering a solution. He knew exactly where I lived.

About fifteen minutes later there was a knock on my door and before it stood the manager of the local Tim Hortons with complimentary donuts and a few vouchers for coffee on my next Tim Hortons visit. I thanked him, noting that his actions not only addressed my concerns, but that the apology pretty much solidified the likelihood that he'd preserved an ongoing business relationship. "I'm impressed with the way you've handled this", I told him, "as you've taken a bad experience and turned it into a positive one. You've pretty much disarmed me, owned the mistake and shown me that you value my business. Well done."

The consumer's ultimate weapon is the exit response: leaving the business relationship and never returning. About the only thing more damaging to a business than a customer exercising the exit response is several customers having a bad experience, sharing those experiences, and adopting the exit response. Conversely, one of the most valuable weapons a business has is customer service; a commodity which, if Tim Hortons were the benchmark, has not vanished from the retail landscape. Customer service is still alive and well at Tim Hortons and it would appear they're able to thwart the exit response, one donut at a time.

Well done Timmy's.... well done!

Submitted by "Big Banana" Bob Loblaw, 31 July 2015