Using customer service best practices to turn unhappy clients into returning customers

I’m an active eBayer. I’ve sold more than $30,000 worth of items since I opened my account in 2003 as a sophomore in college. I definitely bought things as well, but my eBay rating of 434, with 100% positive feedback, has come from a combination of both sides of the transaction.

I take the process seriously because I think that is what it deserves. I strive to do my best in providing useful feedback to sellers of items I buy, as well as provide regular communication, secure packaging, and fast shipping to buyers of my items.

A few weeks ago, I was selling a United States military “blood chit,” a cloth document that explains, in numerous languages, that the bearer is an American and is in need of assistance and a reward will be given for anyone who provides aid and assistance. My grandfather collected them when he was in the military and gave me several hundred of them. For the last few years, I’ve sold them on eBay, about one per month.

An experienced eBayer won the item and I mailed it to him the following day in a standard postal envelope, doing so because it saved money on shipping, both for me and the buyer. In my follow-up communication to the buyer, in which inquired if he was satisfied, he said that the chit arrived with a fold in the corner and blamed my shipping method for the crease. “I got the chit today. I must say I am not a huge fan of your shipping tactic. The edge got pretty bent up due to the letter having been badly folded during the shipment. It is not the end of the world but it appeared to have been in perfect condition before shipment and is now rather folded up in spots.”

At this point, I had a choice: ignore the comment and be happy that I got his money or do what I could to make the situation right because I care about him. This is the basis of customer service, and the definition is in the name…serving the customer. If everything you do in any transaction, trade, etc. is focused on serving the customer, you do everything you can to make a bad situation right. Zappos, the shoe-selling company which Amazon bought for a gazillion dollars, is famous for this, so I’m not the first to preach about it.

Because customer service is important to me, and I wanted to ensure I did what I could to right the situation with this eBayer. I messaged him and did the three things that are important in righting a wrong with a customer, what are called the three A’s:

  1. Acknowledge
  2. Apologize
  3. Act

“Dang… I’m really sorry about that but thank you for letting me know. The reason I mail them that way is because I used to ship them in a priority mail small flat rate box which provides some structural integrity but I got feedback that people thought it was unnecessary and cost too much.”

Then, I provided my suggestion on what might be a good fix:

“Is there a way I can make it up to you? I have many of them and could mail you another one if you’d like. If you’d like to cover the $7.50 for shipping I can send it in a small flat rate box which will guarantee no folds. Again, I’m sorry about that issue. Let me know what you think.”

He responded almost immediately saying that he’d be happy to cover the shipping cost. “That seems fair and I appreciate that!” Then he asked about my collection: “How did you get so many?”

I told him about the history of them and how I received them through my grandfather. I said I would send him two, just because he was really interested in them (and I had dozens). He asked me how much I would be willing to accept for two, and I responded that I would actually up the offer again and send him an excellent condition copy of each of the three versions, one for Europe, one for Far East, and one for Russia (they had the letters E, F, and R, respectively.) I said, ” I want you to have all three, so I’ll send you the set for a total of $22.” We agreed on $21 dollars and I mailed them the next day, providing him the tracking number.

The buyer confirmed that he received them a few days later, writing: ” Very pleased with them! Never even realized they had zoned them guess I just never payed enough attention! They are super cool. Cheers.”

I was glad that he was happy, so I made sure he knew that: ” Excellent. Glad you like them. As I mentioned, I have a bunch more so just let me know if you ever need more. Have a great weekend.”

His response?

“You too hope your long weekend is great! I will keep you in mind now that I know you have more! If I need them you will be my first call! Cheers.”

And there it was. A returning customer converted from an unhappy buyer. It was all because I cared about ensuring he was satisfied. Everybody in business, sales, teaching, or anything really has the opportunity to ensure your clients are satisfied. Go above and beyond and you might be surprised at how it turns out.

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