Small gesture yields big results

A little customer service can make a mighty big impression. Here’s a recent experience that impressed me:

OXO ( makes, among other things, kitchen utensils that are grip-friendly, especially for folks who have arthritis or other problems holding onto small handles. I’ve bought several of them for older relatives, things like peelers, ladles, etc., with good results. So when I was in the market for a sink mat, and saw one by OXO at a reasonable price ($8.99), I bought it.

This sink mat was different from my last one, which was a plastic-coated wire grid. Though it had served well for many, many years, the plastic had given way in places and rust had crept in, so it was ripe for replacing. OXO’s version was raised a bit higher, with a nicely padded platform. It worked great.

But after about a year, it began to show some mildew. It was made of two types of plastic, a rigid understructure and the softer padding. Where the two joined, the mildew had crept into the seam, where it was impossible (for me, anyway) to erase with scrubbing.

So I emailed the company, explained the problem, and asked for their recommendations on how to clean the mat.

The company representative responded with a couple of ideas on mildew removal (diluted bleach and water OR vinegar and water solution), but added, “If that doesn’t work, send us a photo of the sink mat and we’ll send you a replacement.”

What a wonderful offer! I tried OXO’s mildew removal suggestions first; but the mildew proved impossible to dislodge. So I took a photo and emailed it with my address, and a few weeks later, a brand-new mat arrived.

Note that I hadn’t asked or even hinted for one in my original contact with the company. OXO went above and beyond to make a customer happy. Great job, OXO!

Another story: A company that makes pancake syrup changed its bottle for one shaped like a rustic jug with a pouring spout or lip. Very cute. But when I used it, I realized that the pouring spout was just for show. The actual pour came through the top of the jug, where it dripped and was a bit messy.

I called the company’s toll-free phone number and explained that the product was perfectly fine, but I had a wee issue with this “jug.” Perhaps, I suggested, pouring could be a bit easier with a spigot in the “spout” or a drip-proof channel on the top of the jug.

The customer service rep listened, took my name and address, thanked me, and told me she’d send some coupons for my trouble. Fine. A few weeks later, the coupons arrived, along with a letter that said basically, “Thanks for your feedback, but because we might face copyright issues, we’re not interested in your suggestions for improvement.”

Holy moly. There was no need to say that. A simple, boilerplate “Thanks for your feedback/We love to hear from our customers/We hope your future experiences with our product will be satisfactory” would have more than sufficed, would have kept their legal noses clean, and wouldn’t have needlessly turned off a customer.

Which brings me to the art of making a good complaint. I’m not a particularly combative consumer, but if something goes wrong, or an experience disappoints, I think most companies would like to know about it. My suggestions for an effective letter/email:

  • Give them a bit of background. (Note: A BIT.) Are you a frequent customer, or did you buy the product just this once? Do you generally like their product or service?
  • Tell them what went wrong, or what you didn’t like. Concisely. “I expected this to happen, but instead this happened.” Or “I thought it would taste like AA, and instead it tasted like BB.”
  • Include relevant information about the product or service: time, date and place of incident, price paid, item or code number, use-by date, whatever identifying information you can supply.
  • Tell them what you would like them to do, and be reasonable. “I would like a refund of the $X.XX I paid for this product.” Or “I would like a replacement widget for the one that broke after only two hours.”
  • Exit gracefully. Thank them for their time and assure them that you will be awaiting their response. Don’t forget to give your contact information: email, street address, phone number.
  • Do NOT rage, be insulting, threaten, or use inflammatory language.

(And incidentally, if you like a product or service, believe me, you will make someone’s day by pointing THAT out — something we should all do more often.)

Fortunately, most of my consumer complaints have been small, which may be why I’ve had generally good results with these steps. In fact, more often when I’ve contacted a company, I haven’t asked for anything. I merely pointed out a flaw, and concluded with “I know you can’t fix this now, but I felt sure that you’d want to know about it.”

Remember, the folks at the other end are people, too. Give them an opportunity to make things right. You might be pleasantly surprised with your results.

(c) Copyright Laura Groch 2013


4 thoughts on “Small gesture yields big results

  1. I have got free coupons and when my daughter was a baby did not like the diapers that I bought. Decided to call. They were so nice and did not want to loose me as a customer that they ended up sending me a case of diapers all sizes. Even if there is nothing wrong still call. Most companies love feedback. And you get free coupons.


  2. Dr. Pepper is sending me some coupons because I informed them that one of their 12 packs I had recently purchased seemed to have been missing the flavoring. I didn’t even ask them to do anything. I just thought they’d want to know.

    I like your suggestions, and from my years of dealing with it from a receptionist/president’s secretary I would add that it isn’t necessary to start at the top of a company to lodge a complaint, no matter how important you are. You will probably get faster results going through customer service since your complaint is just going to end up being forwarded that direction anyway.


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