Good Customer Service Doesn’t Grow On Trees

, , , , | Hopeless Right | December 26, 2018

(I work in a garden centre. Due to being the on-site horticulturist and having a very even temper, I end up getting the complaints and difficult customers, even though on paper I am not officially responsible for complaints or refunds. It is close to Christmas, and we are working flat out, hauling real Christmas trees about when my radio phone rings.)

Coworker: “[My Name], sorry about this, but I’ve got a really angry customer who wants to speak to someone about a tree. She’s shouting really loudly. Can I put them through?”

Me: “Go ahead; I’ll do my best.”

(Click.)

Me: “Hello. This is the plant department. I’ve been told you’ve got a problem with a tree?”

Customer: “IT’S FULL OF BEETLES!”

(I realise from her tone of voice that she isn’t angry; she’s really, really upset.)

Me: “Oh, dear! What kind of tree is it, please?”

Customer: “I bought a Christmas tree from you, and I brought it inside, into my living room. A few hours later, all these beetles crawled out of it, and now my house is now full of them!”

Me: “Wow. That sounds… absolutely horrible. I’m so sorry! We definitely need to sort this out for you.”

Customer: *much calmer now* “Yes, so I was wondering… do you have any artificial trees? I’d like to buy one. Could you reserve one for me?”

(I pause to process what she just asked. Yes, she doesn’t want a refund. She isn’t threatening to get us fired. She wants to buy a replacement. Buy.)

Me: “Madam, I can assure you that you are well-deserving of a refund in a situation like this. This absolutely should not have happened at all, and I’m horrified that it did. We need to get that tree back here to examine it, and also a sample of the beetles. If you can’t bear to touch it, I’ll arrange to have our delivery driver pick it up for you, free of charge.”

Customer: “So… you’ll give me an artificial tree in exchange? I’ll have to get a smaller one, since they’re much more expensive.”

Me: “Well, this is an exceptional situation, so I’m going to stretch a point and say that as long as we get your tree back, we will do a straight swap: the same size artificial tree for the real one.”

Customer: “You’d do that? That would be great! I’ll get my husband to bring the tree back.”

Me: “Okay, I’ll make sure a similar artificial tree is put on one side for you. Could I take some details, please?”

(I take the details, and put a nice artificial tree on one side. It’s twice the price of the real tree she bought. I also plant up a small pot of primroses as a complimentary gift for her, and quickly wrap a red bow around it. The husband brings the tree in, and it is infested with Cinara piceae, a kind of big, ugly aphid. The warmth in her home had no doubt made them wake up and become active. I’ve never seen this happen before in Christmas trees, but her story all checks out. I give the go-ahead for her to get her refund and replacement tree. Unfortunately, I am with another customer when she comes in, but apparently, she bursts into tears when she is handed the complimentary pot of flowers. Slight overreaction, I think, but okay. Some people are just made that way. Fast forward to a little after Christmas. We have a visit from one of the directors. She is known for being strict but fair, and also a stickler for rules.)

Director: “[My Name], I had a letter about you from a customer. I wanted to discuss it with you.”

Me: “Really? What was it about?”

Director: “A lady said she had a tree full of beetles…”

Me: “Oh, the beetle tree! Yes, I remember all about it. I realise I went against refund policy by giving her goods worth twice the amount of the diseased tree, but I felt it was a very unusual situation and could have become a complete PR disaster.”

Director: “So… Do you think you made the right decision?”

(Okay, I’m in trouble. “What the heck?” I decide. “I might as well stand up for myself.”)

Me: “Yes, I do.”

(The director suddenly smiles and hands over an envelope.)

Director: “She sent you a Christmas card. There was a letter in it that told me about the tree. Her son had a bad motorbike accident earlier this year and is spending his first Christmas in a wheelchair at [Customer]’s house. They wanted to give him the best Christmas he could have. She said that you saved the day.”

(I can feel my eyes tearing up.)

Me: “Oh, right.”

Director: “So, well done. You did the right thing and saved us from a seriously embarrassing situation!”

(And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I got promoted: by breaking the rules! I’m very happy to add that I have handled tens of thousands more Christmas trees since then, and have never seen a “beetle tree” again.)

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