Don't let an unhappy customer walk out of your store

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I'm not Imelda Marcos but I do like shoes. I'm not fanatical, I don't have too many, but those I do have have been bought with purpose and consideration.

I'm also one of those people who really believe that, when it comes to shoes, you get what you pay for.

Perhaps it's a guy thing?

Hi-Tec is a UK brand with a strong South African following (I even thought it was South African). In South Africa Hi-Tec is well known as a hiking shoe brand. I've never owned a pair, but have seen them looking good on friends' feet. So when I was passing a Hi-Tec store last year I stopped in and bought a pair of walking/hiking shoes and a pair of vellies or veldskoene.

And I was pretty happy. No issues. They even made an overweight guy look like he was trying.

But then the walking shoes started cracking at the toe flex point. A little while later the internal heel support wedge broke through its cushioning and made the shoes unwearable.

And then the vellies heel seam tore.

So I dropped them an email. They were pretty friendly and asked me to take the shoes to a store (after showing proof of purchase and sending photographs). So I followed up and visited the store (where they again took photographs of the 'goods').

The store guys are really nice: friendly and, behind their Covid masks, I think are all smiles. I told them the story and indicated that, given Covid-19 lockdown regulations, neither pair had been worn that much or taken a dominant walking share within my shoe portfolio.

They sent the photographs to head office (first mistake, why aren't the people at the front line of customer experience not empowered, like at Ritz Carlton, to solve customer problems at their own discretion?). Head office told them to tell me that the shoes were out of warranty (true - but somehow I think they should last longer given that they're Hi-Tec and not an own-label brand sold as 'slightly damaged' from a Diagonal Street store) but they were willing to offer me a 30% discount on any new shoes I wished to buy - they offer the same discount to people who complete a brand survey!

Now why would a customer who's had a bad product experience spend more money -- even at a discount -- buying a product with which he or she has just had a bad experience?

So I walked out leaving one of the pairs with them to 'recycle'.

(Later they mailed me offering to replace the vellies, which I'll probably do when I remember or have the inclination or am in the area - but now it's really not something I'm rushing to do).

In my mind Hi-Tec is not living up to their brand promise of "Delivering durable footwear and apparel since 1974".

Which is why I'm cross with Hi-Tec. I have a standard which has been built up over years of shoe buying and by my +5 years worn shoes from Merrell, Adidas, RM Williams, Timberland and others. Even my Superga 'takkies' are still going strong (although a bit slippy now that the tread is smooth).

In our own business, we absolutely hate having an unhappy client. We've written about this here and here.

We will do everything to ensure that our client's issue is resolved to HIS or HER satisfaction (not our own). And we really really don't split hairs on replacing or refunding. We don't want an unhappy client who possibly would bad mouth our products.

We really believe in the LL Bean or Ikea "no questions asked" guarantee (LL Bean used to have a true "life" guarantee but then people started taking the piss and basically 'borrowing' their stuff on the way to a music festival or to go camping and then returning the items on their way back home).

So Hi-Tec have left me unhappy. Imagine if someone really famous with many many many Instagram followers left with the same unhappy feeling. And started posting about Hi-Tec letting her down, about the product not being durable, that the service sucked and even, in a fit of anger, publicly smashed them.

So what would I have expected from Hi-Tec (which would have cost them very very little)? I'd probably have left contented if they'd just said "we're sorry, and, yes, these shoes don't look great, please pick a replacement of your choice on us."

There are other things you can do when dealing with an unhappy customer.

If they'd just done a simple exchange, I'd still own a pair of Hi-Tec's in which I'd walk in the world. And, hopefully, I'd have a positive product experience and thus a good story to tell. Who knows I might even have bought a few more pairs of Hi-Tec's in the future.

Instead I'm writing a blog about a crappy product and service experience.

And now it's highly unlikely that a new pair of Hi-Tec's would join my pairs of Timberlands, Merrels, adidas, Freeway vellies or the Superga's.

Update: On the 5th of October I was in the area and so dropped by to take them up on their offer. Service was great (they remembered me, even with a mask). So I ended up purchasing a more expensive pair of shoes, plus two pairs of socks and, to my wife's horror as we have 10 sets, a suede and nubuck cleaner. So I walked out happy. But during the two/three weeks of not wearing a pair of Hi-Tec's I ended up turning into Imelda Marcos and bought two additional pairs of shoes: a pair of Merrel's and a pair of hiking shoes from Decathlon - that money could have been theirs.