How Great Customer Service Can Make or Break Your Business

Alternately titled: Why I love Costco. And why I almost didn’t love Costco anymore. And how great customer service turned what could have been a bad situation around. 

Let me preface this with the fact that I love Costco, have been a member my entire adult life, and many many have fond childhood memories of long Costco trips with lots of samples. My family is notorious among my friends for being an extreme Costco loving family.

I made special trip to Costco for diapers today. It wasn’t totally out of my way, but diapers were the only reason I went today rather than a more convenient time next week. For the first time ever, they were out of Kirkland Signature diapers in our size.

The alternative was a new-to-us upgraded version of Huggies. That cost a full $8 more than the Kirkland Signature – for the same sized box. Yikes!

My options, as I saw them:

  1. Grab a box of more-expensive Huggies and ask if a) there were more Kirkland Signature diapers somewhere I missed or b) if they would price match.
  2. Not bother asking, and pay for the more expensive diapers.
  3. Not bother asking, and make another stop at the regular grocery store for store-brand diapers.

Option 1 seemed the most logical. Option 2 wasn’t an option I could bring myself to do. That’s a chunk of change, and the type of thing that gets me on principle even if we did have wiggle room in our budget. Option 3 seemed exhausting and an option to avoid if at all possible (see: two toddlers).

At the check stand, I asked if there were diapers somewhere I had missed, and about price matching otherwise. The person boxing groceries (whose name tag also read “Supervisor”) went to check.

Customer service fail

Sure enough, the diapers were on back order. And no, they couldn’t price match.

I commented that I expected more from Costco’s customer service. I asked if any other locations had diapers, naming my next closest location. It would be another trip, but I could hold off a day or two and make it work if I needed to.

Nope, the only location that has diapers is a good 40 minutes from our house the opposite direction. And when I clarified again that that didn’t work for me location wise, and was there anything they could do for me, I was told again, nope, sorry. This definitely wasn’t the great customer service that Costco is known for. 

Resigned to a trip to the grocery store for cheapo diapers to last until Costco re-stocks, I figured it would be worth swinging by Member Services and asking about a complaint form. I proceeded to share what had happened, and Rachel became my new hero.

Actually, first she just handed me a form to fill out, then as I was starting to fill out the form, we were casually chatting. I mentioned how long I’d been a Costco member, she asked me what had happened. I told her. She said she was going to go check something. A few minutes later, she came back – with a $20 Costco gift card. I told her that definitely wasn’t necessary, I wasn’t looking for a handout. She then offered to have someone go get a box of diapers for me, ring them up, and use the gift card toward them.

Um, well, if you insist. Give me what I came for originally, at a deal and save me a trip to another store? Why, yes and yes.

I was tempted to give her a hug. I resisted. Instead, we came home with diapers, our budget and my heart both a little happier.

The moral(s) of the story

  • It always pays to ask politely. And ask again, respectfully, if you get an unreasonable answer.
  • Customer service up front can save a company money – as well as loyalty. Had the front line supervisor agreed to price match, my frustration would have been avoided, and the company would have saved $12. And what if I hadn’t gone to customer service to give feedback? I would have shared my frustration with Costco with at least one person (hopefully I wouldn’t have let it get to me too much, although this is the type of thing that has been known to drive me batty. Sorry real life friends and Facebook friends. I’m working on it.)
  • No matter what your job or business is, customer service matters. Providing excellent customer service the first time around not only leads to loyal customers, but is likely to save the company money in the long run. In this case, Costco would have been $12 richer by agreeing to my initial (seemingly logical) first request.

PS – Am I the only one that thinks it’s slightly odd that the only time in three years I have seen a Costco diaper outage just happens to be the first time there is a more expensive alternative? I’m really hoping that was random coincidence, although the cynic in me is slightly skeptical.

What would you have done in this situation? Do you have an example of customer service making or breaking a brand or store loyalty? 

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