Tuesday, 18 January 2011

How Important is Good Customer Service?

Today, I got an object lesson in how not to promote customer satisfaction.

My day job is in the IT department of a large fashion retailer in the UK. I work at the headquarters in the Midlands, with a 90 minute round-trip commute each day. One of the benefits we head office staff get is the opportunity to order products sold by our company via the company website, so that they can be delivered to our office instead of our home address. As all deliveries have to be signed for, this is a useful perk and most of the head office staff make good use of this facility.

12 days ago, I ordered a digital camera from the company website, as it was on sale and therefore cheaper than buying it from Amazon (Panasonic Lumix FP1 Digital Camera - Pink (12.1MP, 4x Optical Zoom) 2.7 inch LCD) or Argos. I'd ordered a number of items from our ecommerce website before and had always received the goods within 2 working days. I was not expecting any problems this time either.

I was wrong.

As always, I was notified the following morning that my order was on its way and due to be delivered that day. Wonderful? Not quite. Clicking on the tracking link gave the message "Item misrouted to wrong depot". That was where my journey through a 21st Century purgatory began.

I tried to contact customer services. It took 45 minutes of being rerouted from one department to another before I was told to email my query to an anonymous internal mailbox where I was assured that they looked at those emails "at least a couple of times a day"!

The email was duly sent and I waited. For 2 days. At that point I got an email telling me that "it appears that your item has been misrouted to another depot". You really could not make this up - the best solution they could offer was for me to reorder the item "if you need it urgently" and then return the original item whenever it arrived! They advised me to wait 7 working days before I contacted the department again regarding my missing order.

I waited for a week before reordering the camera. This time, I got a tracking message saying "Order generated." For 2 days. At that point, I gave up and emailed the anonymous internal mailbox and waited. For another 2 days.

Yet again, I got told "There seems to be a delay at the warehouse with your order." You think? Yet again, I they advised me to wait a further 7 working days before contacting them again.

This time, I answered the email straight away, telling them to cancel my order and arrange a credit to my account. No doubt it will take another 2 working days before I get a response to that as well.

All of this is a timely lesson on the importance of good customer service. Just as I now won't recommend shopping for electrical items via this retailer's website, my customers won't recommend me unless I deliver when I say I will, explain clearly and politely what the situation is regarding out of stock or delayed items, etc.

I know that I am being recommended to their neighbours by some of my repeat customers. That's very important to me as it means I'm building a long-term relationship with my customers that will help me build my business on solid foundations. Just as importantly, I can teach others how to retail using the same philosophy. Poor customer service would destroy that relationship and demolish my business. It's a pity I can't get that message across to a FTSE-listed fashion retailer.