Sunday, May 31, 2009

Customer service, done right

Recently, I complained about an experience my wife had at 24 Hour Fitness. On the same day I posted, a senior member of the company submitted a reply to my posting, attempting to make the situation right. There was a bit of piling on by other commenters, but at least 24 Hour Fitness's Harry was trying to do the right thing and provide a remedy. I don't believe Gina ever took Harry up on his offer, so the situation was never completely resolved, but at least he tried.

Similarly, I recently had an interesting customer service experience with Proflowers. I had little or no experience with ordering flowers online, but my favorite local flower shop went out of business and I need something for Mothers Day. I remembered reading an article about Proflowers' unique business model that ships flowers directly from the grower to the customer; something about by eliminating the local retailer middleman, the flowers can be a little cheaper and, more importantly, arrive at the customer's home with more of their useful life remaining.

(From a marketing perspective, it also helped that I was constantly reminded of Proflowers through their advertisements on ESPN radio. Remember, in a post last year I both admitted that I listen to sports talk radio and commented on radio advertising effectiveness. This is another example of radio's effectiveness [although I can't comment on the ROI associated with radio advertising investments].)

I decided to give ProFlowers a try, ordering a bouquet of Gina's favorite flower, tulips, to be delivered for Mothers Day. Well, their arrival was very disappointing. It was basically 15 flowers in a cardboard box. No decorative paper, no flower food, no little water bulbs on the stems, and two of the stems damaged. After we put the flowers in water, they all laid over and never looked right.

I shot off a quick email to their customer service and received a near-immediate response, apologizing for my disappoint experience and offering me a free order, including free shipping. I ordered the same thing, 15 tulips, to be delivered the next week.

When the second order arrived, it was a completely different experience. This time there was flower food and the flowers were wrapped in paper. Most importantly, the flower came with instructions on how to put the flowers in water and support them initially so that they don't lay over. The flowers turned out great.

After the pleasant second experience, I'm willing to assume that I was just the unfortunate victim of a random, errant shipment and give Proflowers another chance.

If they had just offered me a discount on my next order, I would never have made another order because there would have been too much risk associated with it. They removed all risk by providing the second order completely free. They did so because they recognize the lifetime value of a customer, rather than the value of a single sale. It's amazing that some companies focus solely on the value of the sale.

Knowing the lifetime value of a cusomter is good marketing, and can lead to very good customer service.
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