While driving on the Interstate, a rock hit the edge of my car’s hood. It chipped away some paint, and I wanted to touch it up. I went to the parts store, provided the VIN, and the sales rep said, “Today is your lucky day; I have that color in stock.” I paid for my purchase and drove home with my touch-up paint. Five weeks later, on a Sunday afternoon, I finally got to work on my touch-up project. I read the instructions and applied a little paint on a white plastic plate for a test. That didn’t look like my color at all. That was definitely a different color! I needed to return it for the correct color.
Monday morning, as soon as they were open, I called the parts store. I recognized the voice of the sales rep who sold me the paint and told him in a friendly way what happened. He listened and then got defensive, saying, “I can see in my system that I sold you the correct color!” I replied, “But that’s not what you ended up giving me. And I would like to return the wrong paint in exchange for the correct one.” He answered, “Our return policy is 30 days, and you are past the 30 days.” After this response, I asked to speak to his manager. The manager came to the phone, I explained again what happened and included the conversation I just had with his employee. The manager said, “I apologize for the mistake. Absolutely, you can come in at any time and return the wrong paint for the correct one. And you don’t need to bring a receipt; we have your purchase in our system.” I decided that I will exchange the paint, but never go to this store again to buy a product.
Besides my disappointment about the wrong color, it was disappointing that I had to get the manager involved to get this resolved, because the sales rep was not able to make that judgment call and make an exception to their return policy. Maybe he wasn’t allowed to make such decisions. Maybe he wasn’t trained properly to know when to make an exception. Maybe he had poor judgment in general and was unable to think and resolve the problem. Maybe he made exceptions with customers in the past and got in trouble for it. We don’t know. Whatever the reason was, it was not a good overall experience for the customer.
To make customers happy, we must know when it is time to make an exception to the rules. Is it worth to lose a customer over a $35 product because you aren’t willing to make an exception? We can agree that this is not the case. Our managers may know. But do our sales and customer service reps know? This may be a good opportunity to look at our employees and to assess how they interact with the customers when they handle complaints. Do your sales and customer service reps know when you make exceptions?