“The Client is King” is a popular business mantra that is pounded into the ears of managers across the U.S. during customer service seminars. Take care of your clients and they will take care of you, goes the thinking. The concept, even if not applicable under all circumstances, is a pretty good modus operandi for almost any business.
Treat your clients well – keep them happy – and they will keep coming back. It’s pretty hard to dispute the idea. After all, consider the alternative. How successful would a business be if it systematically treated its clients like scum?
Of course, there are well run businesses in all countries and cultures. Some care more for their clients than do others. Some are even annoying and abusive. But disrespectful businesses tend to go out of business soon.
Even so, I think it’s fair to say that the client is king concept has not quite caught on yet here in Argentina. Examples abound – waiters who don’t say thank you or store attendants who talk on the phone while you wait impatiently to ask a question or make a purchase. These things can and do happen in any country. But one key area in which Argentina’s capitalistic system has yet to mature is made manifest when it comes to returning purchased items. Many stores make it a hassle to return items. Many even make it impossible to return items except within certain limited, and usually inconvenient, hours. Customer service has improved vastly since I first came to Argentina in 1995, but problems are still rampant.
I recently bought a gift bracelet from Tuareg, a jewelry store in the Alto Palermo Shopping Center. “What happens if my girlfriend doesn’t like it? Can she return it?” I asked. “Yes. She can return it, but only between Monday and Friday.”
Of course, this policy makes it hard for many working people to return goods (or gifts) they don’t like or need. Tuareg also only allows customers to exchange items for products of equal or greater value. This means that if you don’t like something you got from the store, you might actually have to pay more to exchange it for something you do like. Getting your money back is not an option. “You can exchange the item at any of our branches but none will give you your money back.” Tuareg’s policies are common at other retailers.
One exception to such lame practices, actually the only exception I know of, is Zara, the Spanish clothing company. Zara treats it clients like kings. To the best of my knowledge, Zara is the only retail business in Argentina that gives customers up to 30 days to exchange items for a full cash refund. No questions asked. No loopholes to jump through. They just give you your money back. Perhaps it seems silly to highlight something as seemingly mundane as Zara’s policy. After all, Zara’s approach to customer service is standard practice in the U.S. and other countries, where fierce market competition has fine-tuned business practices. But here in Argentina, Zara is a model to be emulated. It stands out as a company that respects its customers’ interests at a time when many other businesses do not.
Go to Zara’s website and you will find this quote: “The customer is at the center of our particular business model.” That might seem like little more than common sense, but common sense isn’t always all that common, is it?