Work for the 99%, not the 1%

I was speaking to someone who helps run customer service for a large company yesterday. A theme that came up fairly frequently was working for the 99% percent of customers that aren’t trying to scam your company and taking your chances with the 1% that do.

A lot of companies treat their 99% like criminals because of the 1%. You have probably been a store where you have to a dressing room unlocked or get a number saying how many items you brought in. This is because the 1%, or even the 5% steals from the store and they have “had to” implement this policy.

Other companies have ridiculous return policies because they think their customers are out to get them. You have to bring your receipt, it has to be returned within 30 minutes of purchase, it can’t be washed, it must have the original tag, etc. The extent that they take the return policies to is crazy.

Other companies, though, don’t treat their customers like criminals and I think they are doing something right. Nordstrom, for example, has a pretty much unconditional return policy. There are urban myths about Nordstrom accepting a tire on a return (they don’t sell tires). Nordstrom trusts their customers and I would say this has been great for the 99% of customers that aren’t out to get Nordstrom.

Radio Shack’s terrible return policy made me swear off the company forever.’s excellent return policy made me a lifelong customer. Radio Shack subscribes to the “our customers are out to get us” philosophy and that doesn’t work.

In April, I wrote a post about how to handle shoplifters. It was prompted by me reading a passage about a woman who was falsely accused of shoplifting.  It’s not uncommon for stores to force people to check their bags. How annoying.

Newsflash: A vast majority of your customers don’t want to rip you off or scam you. A huge majority.

That applies to all types of industries – not just retail. A lot of industries think their customers are out to get them – it just seems to be really obvious in retail. Lots of software companies make you jump through hoops to get your software activated. Why? They think you pirated the software. We’ve come to accept it, but it’s the same thing. There are plenty of other examples. Actually, they are usually disguised as “policies.”

With that in mind, don’t treat your customers like criminals. Work for the 99% that mean well, not the 1% that don’t.

7 Responses to “Work for the 99%, not the 1%”

  1. - thoughts on the retail industry, visual merchandising, customer service, and good design said:

    Jun 05, 07 at 10:47 pm

    Express Lane for 6/5/2007…

    Rundown of things I’m digging, on the web, today, June 5:
    This link has made it’s way around the web, but for good reason: New York Magazine has provided a fascinating look into how various businesses are run, and able to stay alive, in New…

  2. Rob Wallis said:

    Jun 06, 07 at 4:52 pm

    My comments on “How to lose customers” article:

    Reply to their email with a computer-generated response, then actually attempt to answer their question with another computer-generated response. This actually happened to me with IKEA.

    I emailed them through their website, asking about specifics about their return policy. I received what appeared to be a computer-generated email, apparently pulling the keywords “return policy” out of my message, and parroting the text that was already in place on their website.

  3. Rob Wallis said:

    Jun 06, 07 at 4:54 pm

    The above should have included this link.

  4. Libraries without fear « The Fifth Law said:

    Jun 06, 07 at 6:04 pm

    […] The second post is from Service Untitled, “Work for the 99%, not the 1%“: A lot of companies treat their 99% like criminals because of the 1%. You have probably been a store where you have to a dressing room unlocked or get a number saying how many items you brought in. This is because the 1%, or even the 5% steals from the store and they have ”had to” implement this policy. […]

  5. Jeremy said:

    Jun 11, 07 at 9:11 pm

    A really big Toy Store just lost a lot of business in a DFW suburb for the 1% rule.

    Z received a gift for his birthday that is a duplicate of something that he already has. He also received a few [Toys Store] gift certificates so we took the duplicate gift [a toy that [Toys Store] carries] along with the gift cards to do a little shopping this afternoon. When we went to the Customer Service Center [and I use the term “customer service” loosely!], we were told that they cannot do any exchanges if there is no cash register receipt, gift receipt or internet receipt even if they carry the item {the return policy changed as of June 12, 2006}…they won’t even give you store credit on a gift card so that you have to spend the money in their store at their exorbitant prices {this item sells for $24.99 at [Toys Store] and $17.84 at [DISCOUNT]}! If I could provide the phone number of the person that gave Z the gift, they could search their database to see if it was purchased at [Toys Store] {that alone seems a little creepy to me and somewhat an invasion of the purchaser’s privacy}. Not remembering the phone number of the purchaser off the top of my head, we opted to put the gift back in the car and spend the gift cards at [Toys Store] for what I plan to be our LAST visit to [Toys Store]. Please join us in boycotting [Toys Store] until they change their return policy…no more [Toys Store] gift cards for parties, no more gifts from them, etc.

    If you are interested in voicing your opinion on this policy, you can call Guest Services at 1-800-869-7787 and select the Return Policy option [believe it or not, they get enough complaints to have operators that specifically deal with this issue!]

  6. Service Untitled said:

    Jun 11, 07 at 11:50 pm

    Hi Jeremy –

    Thanks for your comment! It definitely seems like the store gave you the run around. I hope they change their policy sooner than later to avoid losing more customers.

  7. Service Untitled » It’s Company Policy - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    Aug 31, 07 at 10:09 pm

    […] Seth Godin has a great post on giving (and receiving) the benefit of the doubt. Also, check out my post saying to work for the 99%, not the 1%. Technorati tags: Policies, Customer Service, Customer Service Experience, Robot, Geek Squad, Nordstrom « The Key to Success in Retail   […]