The Value of Customer Service

You won’t see company names on for one reason:  When eBay bought GSI Commerce for $2.4BIL, it was a record setting acquisition in the ecommerce industry at the start of a furious M&A spree on Wall Street (record since broken multiple times over, eBay recently re-sold GSI for only $900MIL after firing most of my old managers).  Everyone at GSI knew about the deal long before it was finalized and forced to sign confidentiality agreements as soon as insiders knew it would be finalized.

One of my best friends and I worked at the two companies for a combined 12-years, both the kind of guys who went above and beyond for everyone, every day, with a smile on our face.  One of the ideas that we often had difficulty getting through to our management and clients was the idea that, “If you spend money on World Class customer service now, you’ll get it back tenfold in sales later.”  This was a tough idea to sell because we were on the front lines solving customer problems and knew just how grateful people were when you gave them the perfect solution to an order gone wrong while those who set policy were in high-rise office buildings half a country away.  Two examples from my personal experience:

A Canadian woman, we’ll call her, “Jessie,” ordered a $2,500+ Oak Crib Set and paid $500 to have it delivered to the middle of nowhere Canada.  By the time it arrived broken, she was 6 months pregnant and extremely emotional when she asked for a supervisor and was transferred to my line.  The problem, in the end, was that living in the middle of nowhere Canada requires large shipments to be handed off to questionably careful shipping providers who may or may not handle your package with care like a FedEx would.  The other problem was that company policy made it nearly impossible to instantly refund $2,500 without jumping through a week’s worth of hoops to get it done.  Another problem is that without an instant refund on a broken shipment, poor Jessie couldn’t afford a re-order without spending money she needed for bills, food, and Christmas.  Another problem was that I had to seek approval for any solution that cost more than $500 (hence the hoops).  The solution came down to me asking forgiveness instead of permission.  Aforementioned best friend and I had both figured out our software systems better than anyone and knew how to issue refunds whenever we wanted to whomever we wanted, so I took a $2,000 gamble and manually issued the refund without asking permission (I’ll save the resulting discussion with my supervisor for another day), waived the shipping fee on the reorder, and told her I would watch the order carefully and only charge her card when I saw that the refund was sent through.  She was ecstatic.  Problem, the re-order came broken as well.  Problem, the 2nd re-order came broken as well.  Problem, the 3rd re-order came broken as well.  On our 4th reorder attempt, after working with Jessie one on one for over 3 months, she finally received an undamaged Oak Crib Set for the cost of $1,500, no shipping fee, will love me forever, and will return to to buy baby stuff because she was thrilled with my service every step of the way.  Jessie has no clue how many times I was pulled into offices for doing what I did, but 3 years later my actions would become Standard Operating Procedure.

A Texas couple screamed me to deafness for 3-hours at 7a.m. on Christmas Eve morning one year.  The problem?  The Big Wheels they ordered for their grandson hadn’t arrived in time.  They ordered due to our guaranteed 2-Day Delivery Promo and it hadn’t come yet.  When was the order placed?  At 5 p.m. on December 22nd, and I was being screamed at 38 hours later.  Check FedEx tracking while on the phone with them and their order is expected to be delivered on December 24th by 7 p.m.  Seems like an on-time delivery to me.  The problem?  They were driving 4-hours across Texas to meet with family and failed to set the shipping address to the place they would be at when the order was delivered on time.  What took 3 hours?  Because I was being threatened with lawsuit by an attorney if I didn’t fix the problem, I offered to attempt to find them a Big Wheels in a Texas ToysRUs and told them I’d issue an immediate refund and put it on hold at the store despite the fact online was a whole different company than brick and mortar stores and no store manager was required to hold anything on behalf of the online store (I was confident in my persuasive skills).  What got them off the phone?  Nothing, actually.  They complained to corporate.  But, before I told them I was terminating the call whether they liked it or not, I had literally spent 3 hours calling EVERY Toys R Us store in the entire State of Texas.  I found 1 Big Wheel left in stock (that’s what happens around Christmas).  The 1 I found was a 4 hour drive away, in the opposite direction of their family gathering.  Before ending the call, I gave them 10% off their next order for the “terrible ordeal” they’d suffered through.  When I checked the order status a week later, they gleefully kept the Big Wheel and had already used the 10% off coupon code I gave them on another $300 order.  Not performing actions like the above is precisely why ToysRUs nearly dropped GSI Commerce as an ecommerce service provider; despite appearing to be a successful company to the outside World, failing as much as GSI Commerce management did on the inside is a sure-fire way to reduce client revenue, and that poor management was the reason GSI was purchased and eventually resold for 37.4% of it’s original purchase price (it took eBay a few years to realize how much they overpaid for GSI Commerce).

No matter how much they kick and scream in the moment.  Customers’ loyalty is won through actions like the above.  It took 3-Years to convince corporate to change policies to match the behaviors above, but when they did, it increased re-order values by something ridiculous like 256% or 257% and went from “small test on policy change” to “company-wide Standard Operating Procedure” in a matter of weeks, and GSI/eBay got to keep ToysRUs as a client after all.


Never underestimate the value of going above and beyond.