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Customer Recovery: Guarantees and Communication

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#1   Posted: 5 Jul 2012 10:29

I recently received a glimpse into one company's amazing handling of a customer complaint. Jeff Frank of Simplicity Sofas, an online furniture retailer, shared with me an email exchange that occurred when a customer had a problem with her sofa. A bit of background first — Simplicity Sofas uses its website as a showroom, and its customers are, as a rule, so pleased that they act as evangelists for the company, giving it some of the best word-of-mouth advertising ever. Read the following letter and you'll understand why:

Hi Mary,

It's nice to hear from you. Simplicity Sofas has come a long way in the 3 1/2 years since you bought your sofa. I am attaching a summary of what has been happening to us since then.

Since we first opened in November 2007, Simplicity Sofas has now sold its furniture to more than 2,500 customers. In all that time the company has never received a negative review either from a customer or from professional reviewers and industry "experts."

You are about to find out why.

At the time you bought your furniture Simplicity Sofas was using the same type of cushion that is used by about 90 percent of furniture companies in our price range. It has a 6-inch-thick polyurethane foam core and is backed by a one-year warranty. This type of cushion typically begins losing its shape and resilience after about three years.

About a year and a half ago we decided it did not make sense for us to sell cushions that would only last three years when the rest of our furniture is built to last for 20 years.

We discontinued all of our lower quality polyurethane cushions and now sell only two options — both of which are backed by life time warranties:
Our current standard cushion uses an 8-inch-thick Ultracel High Resilience foam core with a Dacron polyester fiber wrapping. This type of cushion is normally found in sofas selling for at least $2,000. The bottom line is that we will send you a new set of Ultracel foam cushions at no charge. (Note to the reader — the customer paid less than $1,000 for her sofa in 2008.)

The Twillo Bluestone fabric you ordered for your sofa is still available from the mill so we will cover the cushions for you with brand new fabric. The Twillo is a microfiber so I do not think there should be any noticeable color difference between the new cushions and the rest of your sofa. If there is I will send you some new covers for the back cushions,

Ann will write up a replacement parts order on Monday. We should be able to order the fabric, sew the covers and make the cushions in about two weeks. We will ship them by UPS Ground. You will get an email from Shannon, our customer service manager, notifying you when they ship and giving you a tracking number.

I hope you are having a wonderful holiday weekend.

Jeff Frank, Owner
Simplicity Sofas

Well, how do you think Mary felt after receiving that letter? Despite her initial complaint, she learned why Simplicity Sofas is in the forefront of customer service. The company focuses on quality, innovation and improvement. It acknowledged her concerns and laid out a plan to solve them, promising continued communication throughout the process.

There are valuable lessons that can be taken from the letter:

1. First, Jeff set the tone of the letter by pointing out Simplicity Sofas' outstanding reputation. It was an indicator that he was leading into solving Mary's complaint.

2. He didn't make excuses, but he explained why the problem occurred.

3. He told her in detail how the company would remedy the situation.

4. He gave her the names of the employees who would be handling various steps of the process.

5. He gave her a time frame of how long the work would take.

6. He promised that she would be notified when the replacement product was shipped.

Jeff gave me some additional information about the story. The customer paid $875 for her sofa in 2008, and the cost of the replacement cushions is approximately $150. A traditional furniture company would consider this an outrageous amount by accounting standards to fix a "customer service problem." But Simplicity Sofas gladly offered the upgraded cushions for free.

Why did they do it?

The answer offers another lesson in outstanding customer service. The company views the situation as a marketing investment. According to Jeff, the investment is justified if the customer buys from Simplicity Sofas again, or convinces just one other person to make a purchase. Simplicity Sofas can leverage the customer's "delight" by communicating it to others as well (you're reading about it now) and it's likely that the $150 invested to make one customer happy will lead to thousands of dollars in resulting sales.

I predict you will be hearing more about Simplicity Sofas in the future ... in fact, I'm sure of it. The company has more lessons to share, so I'll be writing about them again. Stay tuned for more.

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