Friday, August 19, 2011

Retailers Doing Grudging Favors

I shattered the glass on my iPhone, and the Apple Store "genius" told me it's normally $200 to replace, but that, as a one-time courtesy, he'd swap me a new phone. And then he got very solemn, and told me they'd never do me a favor like this ever again. Ever.

A chill descended. My delight at saving $200 had been replaced with a rush of dread. I very nearly asked him to take my money - take whatever he wants! - just, for God's sake, don't cut me off like that! I've been a loyal Apple customer since 1988, and for two hundred lousy bucks, I'd used up every iota of built-up good will...forever?

That script is actually standard Apple policy. There are online accounts of "geniuses" making the same caveat: don't expect any more favors from us. This is it. Last time. Never again.

It's terrible retailing. And it's something restaurant managers do all the time. As a teenager, I once found an industrial staple in a fancy brownie dessert. Non-indignant and undemanding, I quietly told my waiter, who brought over a restaurant manager, who I also quietly told. He nodded wearily, his face flushed with anger, and he brusquely comped the fancy brownie (which I'd finished 75% of before hitting the staple) and walked away. No apology, no anything.

I understood what had happened. Customers pull this all the time: finding a such-and-such in their so-and-so. It's a gambit to have their meal comped. So the guy chose a middle route: comp just the frigging brownie, and let the kid know he knows what a lying little shit he is.

The big issue I was left with wasn't the mortifying way I'd been treated, or my bleeding gum where the staple had scraped the flesh. It was this: why on earth had he comped the brownie? Think about it. If my story was honest, his non-apology and scant redress would ensure I'd never return. If you're prepared to lose a customer, why comp anything?? And if I was a liar, again, why comp anything?? He'd lost eight bucks on the brownie, lost my good will, and gained absolutely nothing.

This is a huge but little-discussed error retailers frequently make: it's irrational to ever do a grudging favor for a customer. If you're going to lose even just a buck on a transaction, milk every iota of good will out of it. Or else don't do it at all. One or the other. There's no benefit from a grudging favor.

The "genius" should have smiled and said, "You've been a customer a long time. We really appreciate that! And I can imagine how awful it felt when you shattered that glass. We at Apple want you feeling only terrific about our products. So, here, give me that nasty old beat up old phone! We're going to give you a brand new one, better than ever! Of course, this isn't something we can make a habit of, but, then again, I know you'll be careful from here on out not to drop your phone again!

They could even leave off that last sentence. If I were to return a month later with another shattered phone, would I conceivably get furious if they didn't do another free swap? How many customers would react like that, maybe 1%? And is it worth chilling the other 99% at the moment they'd otherwise glow with good will?

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