Our Customer Service Policy (Oh No!)

WRITTEN September 27, 2018 Author: Rich Atkins

Should your business’s policies always be applied, in all cases, for all customers? Only company leadership can decide that. The most important thing when making business decisions is putting yourself in the customer’s position. Determine if these policieswill invite people to return, buy more, and become fans; or drive customers away to seek other providers.

Strung Up
I bought guitar strings from an online provider that stated a 30-day return policy. As it turns out, I sold my instrument and got a new one that required different strings. This new guitar arrived more than 30 days beyond the dealer’s policy-stated return-time.

So I had purposeless strings that I needed to exchange. They were brand new–never even opened. I wanted to trade for a higher-priced set (that would mean more money on top of the original sale for the online provider).

Mistake #1 – Disappointing Response
I was met with a rigid return policy enforcement. I was stuck with a product I couldn’t use. What did this business gain by being “firm on policy”? I was told to contact the string maker for a resolution.


The manufacturer helped by exchanging the products! In this case, D’Addario became the hero, and the online dealer was the villain. The folks at D’Addario also expressed frustration with the dealer’s inflexibility.

Customer Service Take-Away #1

Apply policies with an eye on retaining customers. Bend the rules when appropriate, especially for good (returning) customers.

Mistake #2 – Social Media Blunder
After my post on the dealer’s Facebook page (remember, it’s a public forum), they defended their stance (showing that the customer is “wrong”):
“We consider a 30 day return policy very reasonable. Other retailers of strings have very similar policies. If we bend the rules for one then the policy would be invalidated and you were directed to D’Addario because they are much more able to deal with these issues. We also don’t make a secret of this policy …”

Customer Service Take-Away #2

Always show that you are your own customers’ advocate. Do this especially when the public is “looking.” Use social media as a marketing tool to show your audience that you’re “on their side.” A better answer would have been:

“Fair point. Even though our policy is clear, as a courtesy, we will review your case and get in touch with you.” (Then, they can conduct the return and ask that it not be publicized—something that is reasonable for a happy customer who now is a fan.

Don’t Lose the Lesson

At Improving Communications, we have “policies” too, but they’re only enforced when dealing with difficult customers. We had a good (returning/repeat business) customer who was very late on paying an invoice. We chose not to punish and impose the policy-stated charge for being late. Pettiness like that only encourages customers to find another provider.
Life’s Little Instruction Book offers a great bit of advice: “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” The online dealer lost a customer. The real lesson here is this: Flexibility, and situation-appropriate customer treatment goes a long way in keeping customers and turning them into fans.


This information is used in the Improving Communications Customer Service curriculum. If you’re looking for ways to improve your communication skills, register for one of our public classes.


Stay Connected

Subscribe to the IC weekly newsletter for tips and advice on your communication skills!

Public Classes

Effective communication is empowering. Get started on your path to being more clear, brief, and effective.

Upcoming Classes