Thursday, 29 December 2016

If Customers Aren't At The Heart Of Your Business, You Won't Remain In Business

Me typing at Christmas cartoon
'Tis the season to be hacked off. Tra la la flippin' la la la. They had one job: deliver two hampers to my family. They goofed it up. I could either use this post to shame them or to talk about how effective customer service can make mess-ups right. I might as well do both.

My customer service experience

My usual choice for hamper deliveries to Ireland is Baskets Galore. They're a bit pricy to say the least but I'll give them this: they deliver the goods — in every way. I punch in my debit card number and the goodies arrive every time. Well this year I decided to see what other service providers there were and discovered this shower via Baskets Galore, the idea being that you can build your own hamper via their website. However, their website doesn't provide the details of how you'd go about this and BG doesn't provide that service themselves (I'd ideally like a low-calorie version of the meat and cheese basket) so I went to t'other lot. That was my first mistake. The second mistake was actually trusting what I saw on their despatch screen: all it does is provide you with the order number, date, "ship to" names, and order status. There is no tracker so there's no way of finding out whether your hamper got delivered or not, you have to trust them to do it. Well they betrayed that trust when they failed to deliver hamper #2. They compounded their error by taking a laissez-faire attitude to the situation when I called. Basically, I said, "You failed to deliver one of the hampers I ordered then ignored my email asking what went wrong. Explain." The customer service representative's response was pretty much, "**** happens. Lots of stuff goes missing or gets damaged due to the huge volume of orders." When I asked why they didn't warn me that something had gone wrong it turned out they have made no provision for tracking orders. That's ridiculous, other companies do. It's not that hard to set up some kind of alarm or notification for when parcels don't get delivered per instructions.

The lesson: customer service do's and don'ts

Well lesson #1 is, "Never use again. Baskets Galore deliver the goods right first time. It's actually worth the money spent for that reason," but that doesn't help out, does it? Since it is the season of goodwill I'm going to tell them what they need to do going forward. There are five things they need to bear in mind:

  • Information management
  • Communications management
  • Customer relationship management
  • Disaster management
  • Reputation and goodwill

Information management

In my Medium blog post, In Defence Of Bureaucracy, I wrote about the importance of effective information management. This basically means thorough record keeping and the ability to know how and when to act upon the information therein. When companies want to save money they'll usually get rid of the admin staff first, forgetting entirely that we're not the oil rag, we're the engine.

Any attempt to automate an administrator’s job is likely to affect the quality of records compilation and processing, the reason being that it’s only as good as the system used to gather and act on the data.- In Defence Of Bureaucracy, by Wendy Cockcroft on Medium

Processing data is where it's at where customer service is concerned, and you need competent human beings to do it. That means knowing what to do with the information you have.

Communications management

I believe that's first mistake was to go cheap on I.T. The easiest thing to automate — the tracking system — wasn't linked to the websites's customer accounts with some kind of notification to warn if something went wrong. Their second mistake was to go cheap on the staff. Result: there's no quality control and the response when you call to complain is "Meh!"instead of "I'm really sorry we stuffed up your order and made you look like a chump in front of your family. Something went wrong at the depot and we didn't hear about it in time to let you know or to sort it out. We can get this out on the next delivery run if you like. Or would you prefer a refund?"

As I type this they've been emailing to thank me for my feedback and to advise that they're looking into setting up a tracking system ("'ll be a lot of hassle, though!") to which I've replied that all they have to do is link to their courier's existing system but it turns out that they use a local one which has no tracking system and therefore no way of letting them know the status of each individual delivery — unlike Baskets Galore. Lack of information of every kind is a big problem here; getting some smart administrators and competent I.T. staff in would solve the problem. Yes, it would cost more but the benefits would be worth it. Without effective communication at all levels nobody has any idea of what's going on at any given time so if something goes wrong, nobody knows until after Brother lets you know that Dad got his hamper, but he didn't. Had I known the parcel hadn't gone out because [excuse] I could have let them know it was delayed but on its way. How many other people are that company hoping don't notify the sender that their hampers never arrived? Because that's the only way I had of knowing something had gone wrong. It's not good enough, Sort it out.

Customer relationship management

Excellent interpersonal relationships are at the heart of good customer service. When we'd booked a lifter to use for the high level lighting along with two men, then had to call the job off because a home emergency took one of the men off, I had the task of letting the customer know. I wasn't happy about it but I didn't delay, I got straight on the phone and I told her, "Sorry, we can't make it, John's* wife needs to go to a hospital appointment and he has to drive her there. We can't get anyone else in to replace him at such short notice. We'll have to postpone the job." Susan* was very gracious about it. Okay, it helps that we have an established working relationship and she trusts me to to my best to provide a great service but even if we'd never exchanged a single email or call I'd still have got on that phone to let her know the job wasn't going to happen after all because that's how I roll. Needless to say I went straight back to the breach to see how I could get the job done by someone else ASAP. The trick is to identify the customer's need and meet it in the most efficient way. First and foremost listen to the customer, then do what she wants quickly and without making a fuss.

Disaster management

When something goes wrong with a service you're providing (as outlined above with my own service provision) the thing to do is identify the problem and effect a solution. We all mess up sooner or later and people are very understanding. There is no moral right to get your dodgy deeds forgotten but making a mistake is not the thing that wrecks your reputation, it's the way you deal with it when called to account. I've provided a how-to guide for cleaning up the mess in my post, How To Resurrect Your Reputation: Five Steps To Success. The short version:

1. Stop digging
2. Get out of there
3. Evaluate the situation and make a plan for what to do next
4. Develop your self-awareness
5. Make lemonade — and sell it

Basically, if someone complains about you because you screwed up, at the very least apologise and try to put it right, then put systems in place to reduce the likelihood of it happening again. Don't make excuses and don't act as if it didn't happen. It did. Now deal with it quickly, efficiently, and above all, courteously.

Reputation and goodwill

Here I am slagging off on my blog, but if you read my companion post How Your Web Presence Affects Your Reputation you'll understand that a) an internet mob of great justice is unlikely to descend upon them at once and b) I can't (be bothered to) do much to affect their reputation by blogging about them. I've had someone try to do that to me. Remember what happened? A few snarky exchanges that resulted in two negative posts about me floating near the top of the search results. That I've linked to them on my own blog is probably not helping but they've done nothing whatsoever to dent my personal popularity or cause anyone to disrespect me; people believe I fell foul of a troll, which is true. This happens to opinionated women. Nobody can wreck your reputation by what they say about you online; it's how you yourself behave that affects what people think of you. Therefore, if someone complains about you because you screwed up, at the very least apologise and try to put it right, then put systems in place to reduce the likelihood of it happening again. Don't make excuses and don't act as if it didn't happen. It did. Now deal with it.


A company's reputation is based on the conduct of its staff from the lorry drivers who deliver the stock to the administrators processing orders to the service personnel taking calls. If they perform well their customers will be satisfied and will keep returning for more great service (as I'll be returning to Baskets Galore). If they don't, their customers may elect to complain online but it's much more likely that they'll simply sod off and look for a better service elsewhere. If they complained more vocally, particularly online, the company in error might decide to raise its game a lot sooner but if they keep quiet the company won't even know there's a problem till they see order numbers plummet while their competitors do better. If improves its service I might consider writing about how they rose like a phoenix from the ashes of infamy, kind of thing, but given what I've seen so far I won't be holding my breath. Learn the lesson, people. And may the new year see a stronger focus on customer service.

*I've changed their names to protect their privacy.

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