Friday, April 29, 2011

Customer Disservice

I'll diverge a little from the norm here to tell a story of bad customer service.

In a recent fiasco of epic proportions where a large Amazon seller falsely advertised a price on a twin mattress (illegal) the seller was quite clear that they weren’t going to do anything about it. More or less. And we’re not talking about a small difference in price, this was HUGE.

After a lot of trouble and lost lunch hours, things appear to be on the mend, so I’ll leave their name out of this, but I think the story itself deserves telling, and the lesson learned:

My wife found a killer deal on a twin mattress on Amazon and we jumped on the purchase. We waited, the box arrived. But there was a problem: it was the wrong size!

I notified the seller immediately, they said they would fix it, and days later we got another shipment. But it was the same as the first, which was not what we ordered. Aghast, I went back to the computer; after multiple e-mails I turned to the phone, speaking to 4+ customer service reps, 2 of them supervisors, for a lovely 2+ hours on the phone. Pissed and ready to bite, I turned to my last bastion of hope, before I started to look into more official alternatives:

Social Media

I ran a brief rant on Twitter and posted on the company’s Facebook wall. Though none of the phone calls from earlier had gained any results (beyond the offering of a small discount), the Facebook post to the company’s own wall seemed to get results in just hours. (Yes, I did indeed click “Like”, made my post and then “Unliked” them—devious, aren’t I?)

What did I take away from this as the moral of the story? Don’t bother with the customer service phone numbers, just tweet and post on Facebook.

Is that a little bit sad? Or just a sign of the times?

I’m a young guy, not privy first hand to the “good-ole” days, but I’m not so young that I don’t recall that customer service representatives used to fix problems for you. Companies seemed to be more responsible. Perhaps that was just the naivety of youth. Either way, customer service call centers were located in the States and not outsourced to someone with an accent so thick you had to strain to understand what they’re saying.

Nowadays, even if you get a local call center, it seems the company motto is: “Placate the customer with words, but do little to nothing else...even if it’s our fault.”

So what caused this shift? Probably something along the lines of ever-increasing need for profit, amidst high competition and producing a product/service that is only just barely good enough. But let’s not look at why things have changed, let’s look at WHAT changed.

For this post I’m focusing on the retail world.

If you think back to the “good-ole” days, a business had a greater interest to uphold to customer service standards. If they didn’t, “Mary” would tell “Sue” and soon the whole knitting club, or bowling league team would form a picket line to boycott a prominent store location. You had instant impact and word spread. When the scale of everything was smaller, this was probably all that was needed to get a business in line. With increasing scale and in the growing online marketplace at the turn of this century, I think the ability to do that disappeared. For years, the only web presence of a company was their own website—wholly controlled by them with no way to “picket” in front of a storefront. News media remained one way to get the word out, but except for the big stories, most was only local interest newsworthy.

If a multi-billion dollar company—spread across the world and cyberspace—creates a couple angry customers (or even a couple hundred), what do they care amidst the masses? Seems like some don’t.

So, what is an irate customer left to do?

Well, perhaps Social Media is the new tool of the day to get the word out. With Facebook, Twitter and others (to different extents), companies have a virtual storefront that people can and probably should “picket” to help that company know their displeasure. I know I will in the future. In a day when customer service seems more interested in commiserating and sounding nice, this may just get results.

Those are my thoughts, does anyone else have any stories of social media fixing their corporate retail woes?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for reading, now tell me what you think.