Target Stung by Customer Service Mishap

Target Stung by Customer Service Mishap
This morning I read a surprising story in my hometown newspaper, the Minneapolis StarTribune. A Target store manager threatens to call the police on a 79-year-old customer, has her hauled away to a hospital for a mental evaluation and then files a trespass order barring her from returning to the store.

All this happened because she wanted to return a product and get her money back.

Of course, when you tell it this way, Target sounds like an evil monster.  At the very least the store manager who handled the situation sounds like he needs more customer service training. The facts seem clear though. The customer had a receipt. Target had already taken her money. Was she wrong in expecting her money back? I don’t think so.

On the other hand, Target could argue their policy is that a customer has to wait seven days for a refund if they paid with a check. No exceptions. This is to prevent Target from losing money due to fraud. Except, in this case, the customer’s check had already cleared. They had her money.

And, Target could also argue the lady was “acting crazy” or she was “out of control” or at the very least “causing a scene”. And maybe she was. But that sort of conclusion would be in the eyes of the beholder.

Unless you were there, you’ll never know. And I’ll never know. So I will not judge Target on what I think might have happened. I’ll stick with the facts and offer some advice on how to prevent situations like this in the future.

What DID happen was Target got some very bad publicity because of how they treated a customer. And it did not have to happen.

Advice #1: Give the customer her money back (cash, not gift card)

An easy solution would have been to give the lady her $30. I know that is, technically, against their policy but policies are not federal laws. They are not carved in stone. And if you’re given the responsibility to manage an entire SuperTarget then I would hope you have enough authority to bend a few policies in service to your customers. Especially when the reason for the policy had been nullified: Target already had her money. There was no way she could have been “ripping them off”.

Advice #2: Communicate with your customer

Rather than judge her based on her age, appearance, temperament or the way she talks, just communicate with her. Listen, let her vent, apologize and confirm you understand her story. Then talk with her like you’d talk with a friend – not like she’s an adversary. This might have prevented the situation from escalating.

Advice #3: Remember, you are there to help your customer (not to cite policies)

If the store manager had remembered his job was to serve his customers and acted like it, he could have avoided this entire situation. His focus should have been to be a problem solver, not quote policy.

Advice #4: Never fight with your customers

When a situation starts to spin out of control, it’s hard to shove it back in the right direction. But I can guarantee, fighting with your customers is not the solution. Calling the police and filing court orders will only make the situation worse. Sure, if the customer presents a threat, you have to deal with that. But I find it hard to believe this customer was threatening anyone. Again, if the store manager had taken the time to understand the situation and given her the cash refund she asked for, maybe all this could have been avoided.

Many people will argue that you should never break a policy. Policies exist for a good reason: to protect the company. But that’s the wrong attitude. Customers come first. They are not always right but they are always necessary. Every business exists to serve their customers, not to serve policies.

When a company has a situation like this, it appears to be focused on serving itself, not its customers. And that will drive customers away faster than anything.

I’ve shopped at Target for decades. I’ve watched it grow into one of the world’s most successful retailers. Target has become an industry leader and they’ve done it while maintaining a corporate reputation that says “we care about our customers”. From the products they sell to their store design and placement to how they treat their customers, they do a wonderful job serving their customers. They are a good corporate citizen and Minnesota is lucky to have them. So it’s too bad to see an article like this. It mars an otherwise fine reputation.

On the other hand it provides a fantastic reminder that we are here to serve our customers no matter how challenging that task might be.

The article was written by Kevin Stirtz