Customer First

We are all human and we make mistakes, in fact, every brand does.

What differentiates a brand from its peers is how they accept their mistakes and make amends on complaints and feedback from customers. A customer may have received a damaged product or a certain product may not have lived up to their expectations from the brand. The higher you rise, the higher the expectations of your patrons. What do you do? How do you deal with such difficult situations? Sometimes it is inevitable that you will let down your customers even though you may have tried your best or it may not be your fault at all, how do you diffuse the situation so that the same customer becomes your customer for life and becomes your brand ambassador for many years to come.

At Anand Prakash, in the last 15 years, we have had our mix of complaints and a few disappointed customers, but today, we can say with confidence that we don’t have an unhappy customer that we know of who has an issue that is unresolved.

How do you do it? It comes right from the top, if you sensitize your team that customer service is paramount and the customer is always right then you have won half the battle. We need to accept that there will be some issues with products, like in our case, because we are selling millions of them and we need to pro-actively resolve them. Let me share a few examples.

This Rakhi season, compared to other years, we quadrupled our Rakhi sales as lots of customers preferred placing their orders online from the safety of their homes due to the COVID 19 pandemic. Two of our customers wrote to us that their Rakhi’s had some quality issues and that they were embarrassed because their brothers wrote to them about it. We accepted our shortcoming and apologised, and immediately dispatched a personal letter to the brothers, about how their sister chose a Rakhi from us after going through many other brands and they were very hurt and disappointed about it. We then coordinated with the sisters and dispatched replacement gifts and a personal letter from us talking about this in detail. We cannot bring back the day but yes we can make sure that we apologise and help in resolving it to the satisfaction of our customers.

We truly appreciate your effort towards making your clients satisfied & making them believe in your brand. We always loved your unique designs & hence reverted back about the issue. I must say we have had a very good experience about your products before & about your services regarding corrections. – N. Rane

Customers are looking for brands that respond and take responsibility and are willing to forgive if you accept and help resolve their complaints. In my experience of more than a decade, I have not come across a customer who is unwilling to forgive if we have heard them, accepted their complaint and have made efforts to resolve them. For premium brands, customer expectations are very high and such brands must make an ardent effort to live up to those expectations.

A few years ago we were to deliver forty goldplated gifts to a prestigious government organisation on a certain date, it was a public function to felicitate award winners. On the eve of the function we realised that due to a religious holiday, we may not be able to deliver the gifts on the promised day. The organisation was furious with my managers and I had to step-in to fire-fight the situation, for me, the immediate solution was to help my customer save face during that function and I was willing to go to any extent; I immediately offered them complimentary goldplated gifts for the award function and promised to deliver the actual order in a few days. This diffused the situation and saved our reputation, the organisation is still our customer till today and has issued us a letter of recommendation.

Another example is when a customer purchased a bookmark in India to gift it to his colleague on a work visit to Hong Kong. He opened the envelope and found the packaging to be completely destroyed. He wrote to us to give us his feedback without any expectations from us. We immediately shipped a new product to his hotel in Hong Kong and he was able to present it to his colleague there in exactly the same way that he had imagined.

On the flip side, there will be times when a few customers will try and misuse this. For example, a customer wrote to us that many of our alphabet metal bookmarks had tarnished, she was distraught and unhappy with this. We were surprised because there could be one tarnished piece in a thousand but not ten pieces together, our quality checks are so rigorous that sometimes the process of QC is longer and more time consuming than making the product itself. We recalled the products and replaced them and on our inspection, we found that the customer had applied a strong chemical adhesive to stick it to another surface. Our team called the customer and inquired about the adhesive, she finally relented and said that she had made a nameplate out of our alphabets on a piece of wood by applying a strong adhesive. Since this was a one-off instance for our company, we just requested the customer to use the bookmarks for the purpose that it was made for.

There will be times when there is bound to be misuse, you have to analyse and see if its a one-off case. If it is happening regularly, then corrective action will have to be taken and systems need to be put in place to confirm if cases are genuine. For us, luckily, misuse has been very rare.

Being a boutique brand has helped us control our services and we are aware of every bouquet and brickbat that comes our way, though I must confess that it has been more of appreciation. We are able to act on every complaint and feedback, however small it may be. Our best ideas have always come from our customers who have gone out of their way to write to us.

(Picture: A few feedback forms received from customers at our retail stores)

We are ever thankful to our wonderful patrons who have been with us for many years, as a sign of our appreciation, we regularly send personalised gifts to them without their expecting it. Many will say that it is bad for business to be indulging in such extraneous expenses but I strongly feel that if entrepreneurs have to build strong brands and compete with larger organisations then this is a small price to pay as this is in our hands and we can build our businesses one step at a time. It is a time-consuming process but it has a rock-solid foundation.

A brand that is consistent with new products, services and good customer care can benefit from long-term customer loyalty, and the lifetime value of a customer pays for any kind of spends you might incur in keeping them happy.

Your customers will be your online guardians and will help you grow in the years to come. Their goodwill is contagious and it will percolate to new customers, who will already be convinced about your brand through feedback and advice that they have received.

We encourage customers to write to us and in every online order, we include contact details for feedback. We are eager to listen to them and improve ourselves as the only competition that we have is us and we wish to be better than what we were yesterday, this is the only way for a brand to grow and conquer the hearts of its customers, this has been our style for many years and we have been able to retain our patrons for decades now with consistent new innovations in our product lines and stellar customer service.

Steps for good customer service

  • Listen to customers by providing communication channels like numbered physical and digital feedback forms, post-purchase survey emails, a feedback email address in all email signatures and on store invoices, product tags and packaging.
  • Have a dedicated person or team to monitor the feedback coming through the above channels.
  • First accept the customer is right and pacify them, you will be surprised that half the problems are resolved only by giving the customer a chance to speak, therefore, just listen. A customer does not want to listen to a “No” or some odd justification, accept that the customer is genuinely unhappy and offer to resolve the issue.
  • Explain your company policy for the issues raised by the customer and ask for time to resolve them. Give a clear time frame for the same. Assure the customer that you will help resolve the problem and you are going to see it through irrespective of the time it takes.
  • Keep the communication channel open between you and the customer.
  • Proactively take action to resolve the issue as soon as possible and once resolved, confirm with the customer.

In the end, most of the times, you will receive a heartfelt thank you, a beautiful message and a lifelong customer who will go on to become your brand ambassador.

This was first published on LinkedIn

(The above is from experiences through my entrepreneurial journey that started many years ago)

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