Where I buy a sweaty dress & learn lessons about customer service
I'm pretty sure that you, like me, hope that all your buying experiences are straight forward, simple affairs, that leave you with the product or service you wanted, at the time and price you were expecting. When this happens I'm a happy customer who will in all likelihood spend my money with that company again. And if my experience is particularly good - step up my local Deli No.74, John Lewis, The Lime Tree Restaurant in Bollington, Cheshire, and the Sainsbury's delivery driver who during the recent heavy snowfall, parked his van at the bottom of a hill and set out on foot to bring food to my front door - then I'll share the positive experience with one or two of my friends, and we all know that that kind of word of mouth is good for business.
We also know that if we have a crappy experience with a service provider, we tend to share it with many more people (yes, writing a blog piece about it does count as many more people!), and that's not so good for business.
Cue my recent experience with a large online fashion retailer.....
Having recently been nominated for a national wedding industry award I was on the look out for an awards-ceremony-worthy-outfit. I'd fully intended to take a day off work to go dress shopping, but with less than 14 days until the do realised that this wasn't going to happen and resorted to the laptop... In less time than it took to drive to a local shop I'd seen around 50 potential dresses, chosen and ordered 'the one', and set about deciding if I would need to also buy a jacket / shoes / bag / accessories to complete the outfit.
48 hours later the dress had arrived, I'd tried it on, it fit, hubby said it looked good, I bought nice shoes to go with, I was a happy Heidi.
Not so happy when on the morning of the awards do I carefully laid the dress out ready to iron, checked care instructions to make sure I didn't use too high a setting when pressing, and spotted a mark on the hem. 'Never mind', I thought, 'no-one will spot a mark on the hem.'
'Oh! But they might notice that small tear in the front of the skirt!'
'Oh! And if they don't notice the mark on the hem, and the small tear once I've fixed it with a couple of stitches, they'll definitely notice those huge sweat stains under the armpits!'
The moral of the story dear reader, is that when ordering a dress, even a relatively expensive one, from a large online fashion retailer, get the outfit out of the packaging as soon as it arrives and scrutinise it in the light of day, not give it a cursory glance at 9pm on a dark winters evening.
The lady that I spoke to in the customer service department of the large online fashion retailer was as helpful as the structure of a large online fashion retailer would allow her to be (incidentally it took me much longer to find a phone number that would allow me to speak to someone in customer services than it took to buy the dress in the first place). No they couldn't get a replacement dress to me in time for that evening's awards do. Yes I could have a full refund and free returns. Very sorry that the dress had 'somehow slipped through our quality control', and as a goodwill gesture I could have a 10% discount off my next order. My next order?!
When it became obvious that the situation couldn't be fixed I wasn't even that annoyed, just disappointed and determined to never shop with them again.
The point of this blog piece is to demonstrate the biggest difference between a shopping experience with a large online retailer, and a shopping experience with a small independent craftsperson like me.
If you're big national, or international business, the very scale of your operation means that a small *percentage of your customers, will have a rubbish time with you, and will probably never darken your door again. Mistakes happen. Not all your staff will be as conscientious or well trained or experienced as they could be, meaning items will 'slip through their quality control'. And when things do go wrong, they're too big to be able to drop everything, or rearrange their day to make sure you end up with the goods or service that you should have had in the first place.
A small, independent, business like mine can afford to be far more careful in the first place. Nothing leaves my studio without me checking it, double checking it, trying it on for size and comfort, checking it again, showing other craftspeople where I work for feedback, checking it, lovingly packaging it by hand, and taking it personally to the Post Office where I only ever use a signed for service to send goods to my customers. On other occasions my customers come to my studio where I get to know them, design something especially for them and their occasion, make them tea, have a giggle, and make absolutely sure that I have everything from them that is needed to provide seamless service with no nasty surprises at the end. All of this because I'm processing a maximum of 5-8 orders a week, not 5-8 thousand!
And on the extremely rare occasion when something has gone awry - cue the customer who sent me an incorrect postcode - I had the ability to rearrange my day to track the package down, get it sent back to me, and then take it in person to my customer (thankfully she was only an hour up the road). Again, this can happen because I'm not one of many departments attempting to process orders for thousands of expectant customers up and down the land.
I accept that not all shopping experiences can be made with small independent retailers, and there's definitely a place for goods and services that can be with you in a matter of hours, but personally, if my sweaty dress has taught me anything it's this...when it really matters, when it absolutely has to be the best, delivered on time, as described, as agreed and as purchased, I'm heading to where I know it's most likely I'll get exactly that - the small, independent businesses just like mine.
(*2017 Institute of Customer Service figures shows UK customer satisfaction at 77.8% meaning that 23.2% of us got a sweat stained dress, or similar, in the post)
Me winning The Wedding Awards 2018 award for Best Wedding Accessory Designer in the North...wearing my non-sweaty back up dress...