How much do we trust our customers?

The last post on “Lifetime Guarantee” elicited the response that we expected. The reasons not to offer it are clear and time tested. The reason's to offer it are not. That's why I thought it's time to broach the subject.

One of the things that happens when you have been in this business, or any business long enough is you start to grow blinders. When the subject of guarantees comes up the first response from all of us is the exceptions. The person that abused the policy. The person that just does the craziest things, like trying to return plants bought somewhere else. We remember these events because they are so outlandish. We forget the other 99.9% of the people who don't abuse the policy. Most every guarantee that is offered by garden centers is based on having been burned in the past. Someone abused the policy and so we add a layer to the guarantee to “protect' us from the customer, who is always looking to find a reason to return something.

Reading the comments on guarantees one thing stands out. We all have a story of some outlandish claim made by a particular customer. Formulating a guarantee in 2008 we still remember that guy that pulled some outlandish stunt in 1999. If a person continues to return plants over and over again I find nothing wrong in asking them not to shop with us. Why do I want this person driving me nuts. If they are not my customer then I don't have to offer that guarantee. The idea that we have to do business with everyone regardless of how they behave is wrong.

How many people are going to plant a hedge and return it three years later because it didn't grow fast enough for them. If they do, we would refund the purchase price or give them credit for what they spent, not the value of the hedge now. How many people are going to waste three years of time only to dig up the hedge, haul it to the nursery, and get the purchase price refunded. I would guess less than 1% of the customers.

Victor rightly says, “ I believe all businesses need a firewall to protect them from those who would take unfair advantage.” The firewall is to not do business with those individuals. If they are taking “unfair” advantage why do I want them in my store? Life is short and they can shop elsewhere.

Chris's response, “I’m not sure that I see the real point of a guarantee for the life of the customer. Do real gardeners expect such reassurance, and for that matter do reasonable customers expect such a warranty?” No. The 99% of my customers are reasonable and don't expect such a warranty. They will never use it, but like the idea that, as Chris said, “ guaranteeing that you will always help them figure out what has gone wrong, or prevent problems from occurring, seems reasonable and doesn’t have the feel of a marketing gimmick.” This is the approach I want to take.

We don't want a ''lifetime guarantee” to be gimmick. We want it to be a statement of fact. You are our customer, and if you ever have a problem we are here to help. In the rare case when a customer does feel the need to return something it's nice to know there are not a list of requirements to meet before the replacement is made. These are my customers, why would I not replace that plant because its a few day's over the guarantee period?

It's so easy to see and remember only the “bad” because those instances are so rare in our business they stand out. We develop policies based on bad experiences, and not based on the overwhelmingly good experience we have with our customers. The good customers live with policies based on the “bad” customers.

Our business are facing big challenges ahead. It's the sacred cows of our business that need to be re-looked at. Our relationship with our customers has to be based on trust. They trust us, we trust them. The question is how much do we trust them? And if we don't, what hope is there for the future of our business?