Customer service the long, wrong way

Discussion
Jan 29, 2015

I recently had a very telling experience with a high-end retailer — a store known for its exemplary customer service and where I spend an embarrassingly large amount of money. The journey began with an online purchase of Marco Bicego earrings that, unfortunately, upon receipt, were too big for me. So, I decided to return them, and that’s when the saga began.

I called the customer service department to get a return label so that I could send the earrings back. The customer service representative explained to me that the order had already been cancelled and that my credit card was refunded. I informed her that I was looking at the earrings at that very moment and that my online credit card transactions showed that I had not been refunded. She was baffled.

I asked to speak to a supervisor who explained that the earrings I ordered online had been shipped from one of their stores because it had not been in stock at the warehouse. She went on to explain that when an online order is shipped from a store, the retailer has to cancel the online order and place a new order with that store. She also told me that it has been difficult to integrate the online and point-of-sales systems and she didn’t expect that it would happen anytime soon.

When four weeks after returning the earrings I did not see a credit back on my card, I called customer service again and asked to speak to a supervisor. She told me that the earrings were at the warehouse; they need to be shipped to the store and the store needs to provide me a credit. After more than a dozen calls, I saw a refund on my credit card.

But there is more. Several weeks later a supervisor called me to relay that, as a good customer, they were offering me a $100 gift card. I told her, "Given that I am a very valuable customer who does way too much business with you every year, I thought you would have treated me differently through this process." She was very quick to respond, "We treat all of our customers the same; it doesn’t matter whether they spend a dollar or ten thousand." That’s a nice egalitarian comeback, but it was the wrong answer for me.

Should retailers and CPG companies train their customer facing staff to compensate for inefficiencies in their internal IT systems? How can retailers use customer interactions as a way to listen, learn and build long-lasting relationships with customers?

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17 Comments on "Customer service the long, wrong way"


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Peter J. Charness
Guest
7 years 3 months ago

Omni-channel—easy, right? Usually a customer service representative should have the capability to satisfy the customer (when the customer is right) immediately and dig through the internal systems nightmare of correcting the accounting later. No excuse for making the customer the victim of the system’s disintegration. The systems fixes are going to take a lot longer than the necessary training.

Tom Redd
Guest
7 years 3 months ago

This is like a “duh” question. Associates must fill in the gap between reality and operational planning. At a large department store that I shop a lot (and I have a fashion advisor there) they are always warning me or surprising me about what may happen on my bill, when they are not using their iPads and still taking notes on what I bought. They are the gap fillers, and at a store or a call center this is what associates must be skilled at.

Retail is in an era where the process and the technology are not right. Why? They were created yesterday, some far, far off yesterday. Associates must deal with the NOW. Today! This is how loyalty is maintained and the positive words about a retailer are shared.

TRedd

Ken Lonyai
Guest
7 years 3 months ago

Retailers need solid customer-centric customer service policies and plans that empower and enable whomever is charged with making the customer happy regarding issues that occur. To do that in an omni-channel world, all systems and modes of customer interaction must be available to the brand representative at all times, or they are likely to hit roadblocks that customers won’t understand or accept.

An intelligent “system” will track all issues/resolutions and allow/encourage representatives to enter info and their views of the incident so that system-wide analysis can be executed, weak points identified and corrective measures made.

Tony Orlando
Guest
7 years 3 months ago
This is the catch-22 of any business, where the faceless online transaction can blow up in their faces at the store level. I know there are many on this panel who believe e-commerce will be the be-all and end-all, and brick-and-mortar stores will continue to suffer. While it is probably true, there are issues in the marriage of the omni-channel equation and there will continue to be problems. Who understands how to deal with these types of situations, which will increasingly happen? Much better training, accountability and total seamless communications are required to make online work, especially in dealing with the high-end customer, who simply wants to be taken care of. I spend hours thinking about the future of retail, since it is what I do, and further erosion of our customer base is inevitable. However, this does not mean that we as retailers can not be successful if we make a supreme effort to win over our customers with better service, and outstanding signature products that they must have. Throwing tons of technology at… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
7 years 3 months ago
Tony has hit the nail right on the head. For whatever reason too much effort is put in to technology thinking it is the almighty savior. When in fact, it can become the source of the problem. I, just this week, had an encounter with one of the largest, if not the largest, furniture companies in this area. Simply put, we ordered a new mattress and box spring. No big deal, right? Until it came time to deliver. We had the order scheduled for eight days after purchase. Come delivery day they were not sure if they had the merchandise or if it was scheduled. Okay, finally scheduled, and we were called at 8 p.m. telling us they had three deliveries before us and would first thing the next day be okay with us. I decided to accommodate the obviously tired drivers and said it would be. The next day we called and were told the delivery was cancelled. We got it rescheduled to much later only to find out the mattress was on back… Read more »
Tom Smith
Guest
7 years 3 months ago

Until the CPG company can install an integrate a CRM that gives every employee a 360-degree view of the customer, the customer-facing staff must do whatever they can to address the customers’ needs and report back to management what the issues are.

Any company that cares about making the sale more than having a “customer for life” should just milk their company until it no longer has any customers and just close up shop.

It shouldn’t take too long with the number of customer-centric companies coming online today.

Life is too short to eat bad food and to accept poor customer service.

Vahe Katros
Guest
Vahe Katros
7 years 3 months ago

ABC: Always Be Consulting! Consultants and consulting firms should use every botched event like this as an opportunity to sell services. Contact the people who handle this account and help them, and in the process turn this problem into an opportunity. Why? Because retailers rely on you to be part of the team. Let me rephrase this question: Should retailers and consulting firms train their consultants to compensate for the staffing limitations of internal IT departments? Go Tata, Go!

Ed Dunn
Guest
7 years 3 months ago

The core issue is IT/IS vendor loyalty. Many retail IT vendors did not expect any changes or disruption in the industry and their solutions are lacking and not cohesive. In addition, existing IT solutions are closed and not proprietary to add solutions to. But retailers appear to be loyal to their vendor and these outdated systems and cannot implement omni-channel and other retail technology fast enough.

RIchard Hernandez
Guest
7 years 3 months ago

Wow, well that was not a good experience. I come from the school that every customer experience should be tailored to the customer. Retailers lean too much on systems and carefully-scripted scenarios to serve customers. At the end of the day, we as customers want to close the loop on a good shopping experience, and jumping through hoops isn’t my way of doing this.

James Tenser
Guest
7 years 3 months ago

An excellent customer experience anecdote from Seeta, who clearly understands the implications of the disconnect that afflicts her favorite high-end retailer. Trying to train customer-facing personnel to compensate for systematic breakdowns is like putting a Band-Aid on an artery, however.

You can’t train your way around a fundamentally failing business practice. If a retailer hasn’t sufficiently integrated its view of central and store inventory and established sound in-store-versus-online policies, it sets its people up to fail again and again.

Sorry to sound like a techno-geek, but you have to fix the systems first so that your excellent people know they have an opportunity to succeed in every customer interaction.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
7 years 3 months ago

I know it is hard to believe but in some cases, if given the training and the freedom to think and act, that real live people can do more than automated systems. They can actually solve problems and develop relationships with customers.

On the other hand, if not given the training and tools they need, just stay with the automated system.

Shep Hyken
Guest
7 years 3 months ago

Perfection is not reality. Even the best, most customer-focused companies (retailers) will make a mistake now and then. But the best companies have trained their people and have a system that works to right the wrong. Their goal isn’t to just fix a problem, but to renew their customer’s confidence.

It doesn’t matter what or who caused the problem (IT, support, shipping, etc.), whoever gets the complaint, owns the complaint. That person may have to pass it to someone else, but it’s the way the problem and the customer is handed off that makes a difference. There’s no room for an “It’s not my department” mentality.

Retailers should record conversations and interactions to learn how what works best and what doesn’t work at all. Roll play out scenarios. Teach people how to handle different types of customers and complaints.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
7 years 3 months ago

FIX THE SYSTEMS. This is bizarre.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
7 years 3 months ago

Based on Ms. Hariharan’s experience and the response she got, they may treat all customers the same but treating everyone bad is certainly no claim to fame. Even if true it was not a very bright thing to say. My next call would have been to her supervisor.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
7 years 3 months ago

Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see how this was an IT problem; it sounds like a typical bureaucratic (“going by the book”) problem.

As for “training to compensate,” I would think offering a generous—to me at least—credit would fall under that description…of course the customer has to be receptive to that response.

Kai Clarke
Guest
7 years 3 months ago

Yes. Why wouldn’t they? All systems have weaknesses, or fail at times and great customer service starts with recognizing this and then making certain that the customer is always taken care of…always….

Kate Blake
Guest
Kate Blake
7 years 3 months ago

No. You rip apart your IT department and have them intergrate both systems. Take no excuses and refuse to let them off the hook. Remind them that they are also in customers service and that they have let you down.

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