Drowning in Customer Service

By Max | This morning I wanted to purchase an item over the internet – a specific item … I won’t tell you what it is as you’ll probably be able to track down the offending online retailer (and this is not about them as their competitors were no better). But I will add that the item was by no means rare or unusual.

So, it’s Monday morning and I need the item for a meeting on the weekend. On other words I had 4 work days to get it delivered to my office. Simple, right?

I found the item online, put it in my online ‘basket’ after I see it labelled ‘INSTOCK’. Given I work in a major capital city I assumed 4 days was going to be plenty of time to get the item. Then things started getting weird.

Prior to paying I thought I’d double-check the delivery terms and timeframes. After a thorough search, I finally located the ‘delivery terms’ tab where surely I would confirm that indeed INSTOCK means I would get it by Friday.

Apparently not. Here’s what it said (I have xxx’ed out some words where it would give away the retailer).

Instock Titles: The “instock” position is displayed for all xxx on our web site. Most of the over 3 million xxx available to order are in stock at our fulfilment centre or one of our suppliers. We receive regular stock updates from our suppliers and amend the instock position accordingly. Fulfilment % for instock titles generally exceeds 99% – in other words less than 1 in 100 items ordered is not available and in these instances we will try to source from alternative suppliers. When we receive your order it is passed to our suppliers generally within an hour. Our suppliers then process you order generally according to their business days (this varies to the Australian business day where the supplier is overseas). It is generally not possible to change an address once an order has been placed as typically it can be processed and on its way to you within hours or you placing the order.

In case you have no idea what this means (as I did the first 3 times I read it), I have taken the liberty of translating it for you:

“We use the in-stock description liberally on our web site because we really don’t know what we have in stock. In fact we use it even for out-of-stock items. This seems odd but rest assured there’s a good chance you’ll have this item soon, but we just can’t tell you when. If by chance we don’t have it, then we need to get some dude in our warehouse to ring around and hopefully locate one for you then we’re still not sure when you’ll get it because their warehouse dude might need to ring someone else and so on. If we can’t find one for ages and you move houses in the meantime, then that’s bad luck and there’s unlikely to be a refund because you can’t find a phone number on our web site anyway. If this is mission critical, forget it.”

So what? I’m not sure … but it was an unusual effort at customer service.

The Bull wrote an article a few weeks back about ‘is your business difficult to do business with?’ This is an example of a business which is difficult to do business with. So for a quick empathetic customer service audit, try this on:

– Are lawyers running your customer service centre – by all means, get them to approve the wording, but don’t let them write it.

– Get a few friendlies (outside your company or division) to read over it.

– Don’t treat your customers like they are stupid. Even if they are, they’re your customers and you need to make life easy for them and make them feel good.

Tomorrow morning I will walk to a different retailer down the road and ask them to phone their fulfilment centre, order me the item, then I’ll pick it up Friday. No sweat.

image via FFFOUND