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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Customer Service?

Today, I tried to get a refund from Pottery Barn (owned by Williams Sonoma) for a gift gone bad.  I had a gift receipt, which I figured would entitle me to full return privileges.  Wrong!  It entitled me to "store credit."  So, I asked, "what would have I gotten if I had returned the gift with no documentation at all?"  Answer: "store credit."

Hmmm.  Let me get this straight, there's no difference between having a gift receipt and not having one?  Answer: not so.  The gift receipt makes it easier for store personnel to record the return.  Well, I'm glad I could be of service.  As a customer, I live to make the work of store personnel easier.  After 10 minutes of trying to escape voice menu jail, I finally got to a person who transferred me to...hold...hold...hold.  After 10 more minutes of that, I hung up and used my smartphone to track down the president of the company.  I also found the number for HQ in San Francisco and got hold of Jennifer, the president's assistant.  She was very patient and polite and told me that it is, indeed, their policy not to give refunds without the original payment receipt.  I told her that I realized that, which is why I was calling an executive.  I wanted to discuss the error in the decision to have such a policy.  Let me explain.

The receiver of a gift from Pottery Barn (PB) is likely to fall into one of two categories: 1) someone who has never shopped at PB before or, 2) a repeat customer who likes their products.  Let's look at the effect of this policy on both types.

For #1, this is their first experience with PB.  It will probably be their last (after the spend through the forced spending spree).  Had they been greeted by a friendly clerk who cheerfully refunded their money with no hassle, their opinion of PB would likely be elevated as a company that is easy to do business with.

For #2, this annoying experience is likely to destroy any goodwill that may have been created in the past.  I happen to be a #2.  Pending the return from vacation that the executive in charge of this policy has taken, I am hoping to receive a phone call to discuss this policy.  It is my belief that my current sentiments about Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma can be reversed with the appropriate attention.  I am a firm believer that companies can make mistakes and customers will forgive them if their recoveries are strong.  Pottery Barn has some serious recovering to do to win back my business.
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