CUSTOMER SERVICE IS LACKING

by Stephen Lett

As a regular catalog and online shopper, I am more critical when it comes to customer service aspects of buying by mail because catalog marketing has been my profession for over 40 years. That said, I am still a regular shopper and I want the same level of service other consumers expect. This past holiday season, I had several customer service experiences that caused me to pause and wonder how some companies are treating their customers; my shopping experiences were mixed. I want to share with you a positive customer service experience. I purchased an item on a family member’s Christmas wish list from a Michigan based company called Zingerman’s. I had no trouble placing my order. Zingerman’s substituted one of the main contents (they did publish a disclaimer that this could happen). However, it was fine because they were careful to substitute a better-quality item than what I had ordered. A couple of weeks after Christmas, I received this handwritten note for the gift order I placed in December. Pretty amazing. Definitely customer service at its best!

Handwritten postcard

I will remember receiving this thoughtful postcard. It left a favorable impression and it instilled trust and confidence in Zingerman’s as a Company who cares about their customers. According to the Beyond Philosophy Blog published November 2, 2017, 96% of unhappy customers don't complain, however 91% of those will simply leave and never come back. A dissatisfied customer will tell between 9-15 people about their experience. Around 13% of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20 people. “On average, happy customers tell nine people about their experiences with a company”, Ken Markidan wrote on February 14, 2017. I wanted to purchase cooking ingredients, etc., as a gift for my wife. I settled on a complete kit. I sent a message via their website because I was not sure exactly which items I needed to order; no response after 48-hours. I then called their customer service department to ask if a particular item was included in the kit. The CSR replied, “I think so but I’m not sure”. Well, if they don’t know, I asked myself, who does? I reluctantly placed my order after signing-up for their emails and receiving a code for 10% off my order. I entered the code, but the discount was not extended to me. So, I sent another message via their “Contact us” form and again, no response. Eventually, after another phone call, I received the promised discount. What a hassle. I placed a gift order online for another family member which totaled over $300. I received an email two days later saying I needed to call their 800 number to complete my order. To my inconvenience, I called the company and was put on hold, then transferred. I explained I received an email to call and was there a problem with my order? They replied no, it is just their policy to verify and confirm shipments for first-time (and last time in my case) purchasers. Wow. A consumer shops online for convenience and does not want to be required to call a customer service department only to be put on hold in order to verify shipping, billing and credit card information. Make it easy for the customer! This seems so easy and simple. A final experience to share is from a well-known clothing/outdoor company which involved a credit for a returned item. Here is the timeline of my frustrating experience:

  • 11-09-2018 I placed an order for five items, all Christmas gifts.
  • 12-27-2018 One item, a pair of gloves, didn’t fit. I called Customer Service to exchange for another size, but they were out of stock. Therefore, I returned the gloves that day for a credit to my credit card.
  • 01-08-2019 I called for a status since I had not heard anything from the company. I was told my return was not in their system and they could not find evidence of my return (I used their return shipping label via UPS).
  • 01-18-2019 Called again; still no satisfaction. No credit; no response.
  • 01-21-2019 I wrote an email to Customer Service. Received a response stating they received my return on January 3rd.
  • 01-22-2019 Received email stating that a Supervisor will be contacting me in 1 to 2 business days. Never happened.
  • 01-26-2019 Finally received a credit on my credit card.

This company took 23 days and several communications to issue my credit. Totally unacceptable from a consumer’s viewpoint. This level of service does not instill confidence or build trust. The likelihood of ordering from this company again is low. It is not worth having a disgruntled customer over $37. Make it right for the customer and deal with the internal operational issues later. Don’t make internal problems your customer’s problem too. I believe a best defense against a strong offense, i.e., the Amazon factor, is customer service. How customers and prospective buyers are treated will determine their life-time-value. It seems so simple yet so many companies fall short when it comes to the customer service experience.  I realize the holiday season is a busy time of year for catalogers and online retailers, but I am not letting these companies off the hook. Not one of my emails or messages to customer service departments were answered … not one. If I asked business owners and top management if their company provides excellent customer service, they would most likely say yes, of course. Most of us are focused on sales and I get that. It might pay to take the time to fully understand how we operate at the customer level. Don’t just think or assume you are providing good customer service; experience it. Live it. And make a commitment to be the best you can be when dealing with your customers. It is the best defense against Amazon and it will help ensure these buyers come back.

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Stephen R. Lett is Founder & Chairman of Lett Direct, Inc., a catalog consulting firm specializing in digital marketing, circulation planning, forecasting and analysis since 1995. Mr. Lett spent the first 25 years of his career with leading catalog companies; both business-to-business and consumer. He is the author of a book, Strategic Catalog Marketing.  He can be reached at 302-539-7257 or by e-mail at steve@lettdirect.com.