Customer Service – You Are Doing It Wrong!

As I’ve been taking this Digital Marketing class over these past six weeks, I’ve started to pay attention to my experiences as a customer in a different way. Instead of being just annoyed/delighted by the bad/good service that I receive as a customer, I’ve started to think things like “How does this tactic tie to their overall strategy?” and “Don’t they know that this is going to harm their brand?” I’ve had two particularly bad customer services experiences recently that I’d like to present here – one that seems to be based on the use of bad systems/lack of competence at digital marketing and the other one that demonstrated the company’s lack of understanding of the way that digital works.

Trying to Buy A Coat Online From Marks & Spencer 

I was in Europe this past August and fell in love with a coat at Marks & Spencer. Sadly, they didn’t have my size in this coat either in London or in Dublin (the two places I went with M&S stores), so I came home empty handed. However, upon returning to Canada, my mother discovered that not only can we order things online from M&S, but they have *free* shipping to Canada! And thus we started watching the website to see if they would ever have that coat in my size again – which they finally did in October!

Idea #1: Why not have a “tell me when this item is in stock again” option in your online store rather than expecting a customer to continually return to your website to check if the item is in stock? Expecting the customer to remember to return risks them forgetting about it entirely, but if your system notified them when the product was back in stock, it would draw them back to your site.

So I ordered the coat on Oct 10 and when it hadn’t arrived by the day their online ordering system said it should have arrived (Oct 21), I emailed to inquire about. Their reply:

Although your estimated delivery date was Monday, 21 October, please allow a further 7 days for your package to reach you.

With international orders under £80 in value and 2kg in weight we use a standard delivery service. This can take longer than with an express courier and parcels can’t be tracked.

If you haven’t received your order by the timescale advised please contact us again for us to investigate further.

Idea #2: Your online ordering system should give the correct information about when and how a package will arrive. Why set the customer’s expectation that it will arrive on a date that is one week earlier than you think it’s going to get there? The system knows from the delivery address that it’s an overseas shipment, so it shouldn’t be hard to give the accurate date. Similarly, their online ordering system does provide a tracking number, but when you click on it, it takes you to the Royal Mail website where you are told that the tracking number is not valid. Again, the system has my mailing address and knows it’s an international order, so why not have the online ordering system tell me that, instead of giving me an invalid tracking number, which will only serve to irritate me?

Three days  later, much to my surprise, I received an email saying my order had been refunded:

We’ve processed your refund in the amount of £79.00 for your Order  xxx-xxxxxxx-xxxxxx.

This refund is for the following item(s):

Item:Petite Pure Cotton Double Breasted Belted Trench Coat with Stormwear™
Quantity: 1
ASIN: B00DDCKT26
Reason for refund: Customer return

Customer return? I hadn’t received it! Then I started to wonder if it was because I’d asked for it to be shipped to the office building where I work 1Don’t get me started on the customer service issues related to the courier business!. Perhaps the main reception desk turned it away instead of notifying me that it has arrived? So I reordered the package, this time to my home address (though I know I’m not home during the day to receive it, I figured the delivery person would leave a notice and I could go pick it up).  But then it happened again: my money was refunded due to “Customer Return”, despite the fact that it has never been delivered to me! And thus began a back-and-forth of emails and tweets between Marks & Spencer and I that can only be described as incredibly frustrating. Some of the “highlights” included:

  • They asked me to direct message (DM) them on Twitter with my order number so they could look into it, but they weren’t following me on Twitter. Whoever is running their Twitter account really should know something as basic as the fact that I can’t DM them if they aren’t following me.
  • The only way to email M&S is with their online ordering system’s contact form. They reply to you via regular email using a “no-reply” email address, meaning that if you want to reply to their message (a) you have to log back into their site and send a message through their contact form, and (b) the person who receives that email doesn’t actually know what you are responding to! In a way, but having this set up, they are using email to broadcast a message to you, rather than engaging you in a conversation. That’s a sure fire way to annoy  customers who are trying to get a problem sorted out. Combine this with the fact that they took a long time to respond, which gave me more time to be annoyed, so that I ended up taking that annoyance out to Twitter in the hopes of getting a response.

M&S tweet 4

M$&S tweet 3

M&S tweet 2

Because of their poor system for tracking email “conversations” (which I put in quotation marks since it was really me sending emails and getting a response from a different person each time), I ended up with completely contradictory messages, such as:

  • The order “probably” got turned back at customs 2Two different reps told me this, though couldn’t very that this actually ever happened. and I should ask customs about my package 3They also told me about one point that they weren’t responsible for my country’s customs regulation (as if I thought they were) and perhaps I should call customs to see if they have a ban on importing coats from England.. When I pointed out the ludicrousness  of their suggestion (Did they really expect me to call up Canada Customs and say “Hi, it’s Beth! Did you get a package for me from England? I have no information about this package other than my name, because they don’t give valid tracking information!”?), they completely ignored it.
  • The order couldn’t be delivered due to an error at their warehouse, said an email from yet another rep, and they were going to give me a £10 store credit to make it up to me. When I asked what good a £10 credit is when they aren’t able to ship me anything, the next customer service rep who replied after that said “The £10 credit we gave to you as a gesture of goodwill, if you want to place any other order you can use that amount for that order.” Which (a) has the tone of “how dare you be so ungrateful when we are giving you money!” and (b) completely ignores my point that the credit is hollow if I’m unable to use it.
  • Yet another rep then emailed to confirm that it was, in fact, an error at their warehouse and not a customs issue. And granted me a second £10 credit and suggested I re-order it a third time. Interestingly, this time the reply included an email address to which I could reply 4I guess I got “escalated” as a customer who won’t stop bitching?. Which I did and after another email with that rep, I re-ordered for a third time. And can you guess what happened?

Indeed – the exact same “error at the warehouse” happened a third time! At this point, I ordinarily would have given up, but I was actually rather enthralled by the multitude of ways they were screwing this up and wanted to see how long this would go on for, so I asked them to explain exactly how they would ensure they wouldn’t screw it up again and what company they used to ship to Canada 5The latter being something I’d asked several times throughout this time without ever getting an answer., got some answers to those questions, and then re-ordered it again, this time with a £25 credit to my account. Much to my surprise, just three days later, I got a message from a courier company that a package had arrived for me from Marks & Spencer!

And then the very next day I received this email from a manager:

Further to your contact about your recent order. I am sorry to hear about the problems you gave experienced. I can understand the disappointment and upset caused.

This is not up to our usual standard of service and we are certainly looking into it. Whenever there is a problem like this, we are always committed to putting it right and preventing it from happening again.

The details of this issue are currently being investigated at our distribution centre and I know they are working hard to resolve this.

I have taken the opportunity to reorder the coat with no charges and will monitor the dispatch process to check there is no further problem with the delivery. I have sent email confirmation of the order summery to you.

Thank you once again for taking the time to contact me; we rely on our customer feedback to improve the service that we offer.

Are you kidding me? I was about to reply that I’d already bought the coat and they’d finally found a way to ship it to me so there was no need for a second one, but then I realized that I hadn’t yet received the package and given their lack of competence at this whole shipping process, I had little faith that the package would actually contain the right product! So I didn’t say anything and, as it turns out, they did ship me the right product in the right size and the right colour. So now, I’m the owner of not one but two identical versions of this lovely coat – a fall coat, mind you, and it’s now winter time.

The whole process – which really should have taken only 3 days from ordering until it was delivered 6Which is how long it took once they finally figured out how to ship it. had taken 42 days, resulted in significant frustration to a customer, some bad sentiment about their brand on Twitter, and cost them £104 7The £25 credit on the coat I ordered plus the second coat they shipped me for free, a £79 value. plus the cost of international shipping for two packages.

Idea #3: Use technology to allow your customer service reps to actually converse with customers instead of impeding conversation. Employ a better customer relationship management system so that whoever is interacting with the customer will know the history of the conversation. That alone could have saved them sending me a second coat – as they could have seen that I’d been given a £25 credit and told to re-order the coat, which I had done.

Black Bond Books Sees The Online World Very Narrowly

The M&S story had a happy ending – it really is a fantastic coat! – but the same cannot be said about my recent experience with Black Bond Books, a local chain of bookstores. I won’t bore you with re-telling all the details of the story 8As I did in excruciating detail with my M&S story!- but you can read the gist of it in the screenshots below.

This was a comment from the company president on a thread on the Black Bond Books Facebook page about the event where she had been incredible rude to me (i.e., a customer) 9I didn’t realize at the time that she was the company president – but she had a nametag on, so when I saw the comment by her on the FB page, I Google her and found out that she wasn’t the store manager, as I had originally assumed!:

Black Bond Books 1So I wrote this comment:
Black Bond Books 2

Her reply, followed by my reply to her:

Black Bond Books 3

The interesting part for our purposes here is how Ms. Jesson reacted to the online criticism of her customer service. She responded to my first message (a full day *after* I posted them) and then when I replied to call her out on the fact that she was not telling the truth about what happened and that the real criticism was actually her rudeness… she deleted the conversation off of their Facebook wall.

Now, one of the things we’ve been learning in our Digital Marketing is that the part of the digital world that a given brand controls is just a tiny speck compared to all the conversations that are going on out there. So sure, Ms. Jesson can delete my criticism from her company’s little Facebook wall, but that is tantamount to sticking her head in the sand. Because aside from the fact that my criticism was there for an entire day – which is an eternity in digital land – she can’t delete my tweets, my Facebook postings, any blog postings I write, my friends’ tweets and Facebook postings and the ensuing conversations had ther (of which there were several), the screenshot of the deleted postings that I put onto Flickr… well, you get the point. It’s a big wide digital world out there and the plethora of online platforms out there give your customers a way to amplify their word of mouth.

Idea #4: Don’t be a jerk to your customers. You never know how many Twitter follower they might have.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Don’t get me started on the customer service issues related to the courier business!
2. Two different reps told me this, though couldn’t very that this actually ever happened.
3. They also told me about one point that they weren’t responsible for my country’s customs regulation (as if I thought they were) and perhaps I should call customs to see if they have a ban on importing coats from England.
4. I guess I got “escalated” as a customer who won’t stop bitching?
5. The latter being something I’d asked several times throughout this time without ever getting an answer.
6. Which is how long it took once they finally figured out how to ship it.
7. The £25 credit on the coat I ordered plus the second coat they shipped me for free, a £79 value.
8. As I did in excruciating detail with my M&S story!
9. I didn’t realize at the time that she was the company president – but she had a nametag on, so when I saw the comment by her on the FB page, I Google her and found out that she wasn’t the store manager, as I had originally assumed!
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