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3 Easy Ways to Avoid an Online Customer Service Disaster

Over the past month, the QLP Blog Squad has had our fair share of online customer service disasters. I spent over 2 hours on EA Games live chat trying to resolve a mistake, Jill had a flower delivery website clear out all of her information because of “inactivity,” and Jeff…well, you’ve read about many of Jeff’s customer service experiences.

Since many of us have come from retail backgrounds, we’re usually pretty lenient about gaps in our shopping experiences (e.g. I’ll never argue over a $0.05 price difference). But some companies have pushed too many buttons. The most obnoxious part is that a handful of frustrating experiences could’ve been completely avoided if the companies had just done a few simple things. Based on our collective experiences, here are ridiculously easy ways to avoid a customer service fiasco.

Don’t promise something that you can’t deliver.

Bad Customer Service

Who cares if I promised next day shipping? I have to make my tape fort now!

I’ve been back and forth with a novelty items company for months now. We’ll call them “Company B.” Company B has a lot of issues with their business model, but mostly, they never do what they claim they’ll do. First of all, when ordering my collection of ornaments, it was indicated to me that Company B would send me an e-mail each time they sent out a part of my collection.

As you can guess, I never got these e-mails, just random charges on my credit card. When I e-mailed Company B’s customer service, their ping back said that they would respond to all e-mails within 24 hours. I received a reply in 72 hours.

Takeaway: Confirmation e-mails are key. They’re easy to set up, easy to send, and your customers will get an instant sense of ease. Also, unless you are 100% sure that you can reply to someone in an allotted time period, don’t guarantee it. I would’ve been content if Company B stated that they would reply to be “in a timely manner.” Nobody will complain if you deliver more or faster than promised.

Don’t try to sell to angry customers.

bad customer service

I know you're mad that I sent your order of high-end napkins into the fires of Mount Doom...but how about some acrylics?!

Fellow blogger Amy has been in an e-mail war with an Avon-esque company that we shall call “Company A.” Amy ordered something from Company A about a month ago, and received an e-mail saying to expect her order in 5-7 business days. 12 business days later, Amy still hadn’t received her order.

She e-mailed them, and somewhere within the back and forth, they tacked on a reminder to check out their website for new and exciting products. Not in an e-mail signature, in the actual body of an e-mail. Even though Amy has finally been united with her purchase, she is never ordering from Company A again.

Takeaway: One of the goals of customer service is to deal with complaints fairly and quickly so that you can salvage a lifelong buyer. However, advertising another product or sale within your customer service e-mail is just throwing fuel on the fire. If your customer is currently fed up with your company, asking them to purchase something else can lose their business for life.

Don’t hide or exclude important information.

bad customer service

Tra la la, I can't hear you asking for easy to read information!

Company B doesn’t list any of their “fine print” stipulations about subscription collections on their product pages, front page, or in their FAQs section. Company A asked Amy for her order number without ever designating which of the multitude of numbers was her order number.

Jen had a rough time with an online costume shop that I’ll call “Company C.” After a series of frustrating attempts to buy a custom costume, the company finally processed her order. After waiting two weeks for production, Jen went to track her dress. However, the tracking number she received was not found and was never processed. Since this was a time sensitive order, Company C told her that they will rush the order so she can get her dress in time.

Long story short, due to UPS and Company C, Jen didn’t get her dress on time. A working tracking number would’ve shown that the package was delivered, and she only needed to go to her apartment complex’s office to find her order.

Takeway: Take the extra time to check and double check that all order information is presented clearly and accurately. Make sure that tracking numbers and links are updated and working. What will take an extra few minutes now could save you hours of customer service headaches later.

Customer service fiascos will never be 100% avoidable, but you’ll definitely see a decrease of complaints if you follow these simple suggestions. If you make it a painless process for the customer, they’ll be much more likely to patronize your company again.

Consumers, have you had any customer service disasters that could’ve been easily avoided? Companies, have you made any changes to your order processing or customer service that have helped you avoid conflicts?



Mandy Kilinskis

Mandy is proud to be a part of QLP’s content team. A self-professed nerd, her interests include video games, sitcoms, superhero movies, iPods and iPhones but never Macs, and shockingly, writing. Her claims to fame are: owning over forty pairs of Chuck Taylor All Stars, offering spot-on coffee advice, and knowing an unbelievable amount of Disney Princess facts. You can connect with Mandy on

Comments

  1. Jill Tooley

    Haha, your captions are priceless! They all exactly match what I thought the subjects would be saying! :)

    I’ve had more online customer service fiascoes than I can count, sadly. Just yesterday, I received an email response from an inquiry I’d sent over a week ago (the form claimed someone would get back to me within 72 hours — yeah, right) and guess what? It was a CANNED RESPONSE that didn’t even address my question! So, essentially, they took triple the time to respond to my question and then didn’t even take the time to actually READ it. If I thought that something from the FAQ list had applied, I wouldn’t have sent a separate email! Sheesh!

    I must say, though, there are some companies who deliver positive online experiences every time. I’ve been buying from Amazon for about 10 years now, and I’ve only had 2 questionable experiences. And both times, even though the situation was inconvenient for me, Amazon made it super easy and either refunded my money or gave me a credit for the trouble. It’s amazing that such a huge company can keep up with all of the customer service so well!

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      That’s so frustrating! If the company just took the extra 30 seconds to read the e-mail, they could’ve addressed your issue already. And now you’re probably going to have to e-mail again or call, right?

      But yes, there are places that make online ordering a breeze. I’ve never (knock on wood) had a problem ordering from Amazon, and my orders with Target.com have also gone well. Perhaps the size of the company really does make a difference with how well they can handle their customers.

  2. Juliette Vincent

    I’ve had some similar experiences. The one that stands out the most happened last year. I found “Company G” through some friends and loved their stuff. I placed a large order in plenty of time (according to the site) to have them to put in stockings for Christmas. When I got no further communication (and they were tweeting and posting on the website about all the orders going out) I tried contacting them and they didn’t respond till I opened a paypal dispute. They said my order had been overlooked and offered to refund my money or ship it that week. I opted for the shipping. A week and a half out from Christmas (and about a month and a half after I’d placed my order) I still had no product or other form of contact from Company G. I contacted them, got no answer on multiple emails and I opened another dispute. This time they refunded my money with no message or contact.

    The worst part? I would have been more than understanding if I’d just gotten an email explaining they were backlogged with orders. But I never heard from them unless I directly disputed the money. And though when they replied to my initial dispute about the order and said they were swamped (which is how mine got “lost”) they continued to advertise on their website and twitter about new products and for folks to place their orders then to get them in time for Christmas.

    Needless to say I wasn’t exactly kind about the situation on Twitter, FB and so on. Some of my friends who had been thinking of ordering from them decided not to based on my experience.

    On the other hand I’ve had some amazing customer service from companies like Amazon and ThinkGeek. On the few times something has come up they’ve been amazing and helpful beyond belief. I never worry about ordering from either of them and I admit that they get a decent chunk of my paycheck on a regular basis. :)

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      UGH! Reading your experience with Company G made me seriously angry. I can’t believe that you had to continually dispute payment through PayPal to even get their attention. What kind of business model is that? Did they just assume that you would let them keep your money and you would skip off on your merry way sans goods?

      Thanks for sharing, Juliette. If I ever wander onto Company G’s website, I definitely won’t be buying a thing from them. I’ll just give my money to Amazon or ThinkGeek – since they actually care about their customers.

  3. amy

    I hate when companies say, “We’ll get back to you within X amount of time” and then don’t. It’s okay, I understand you’re busy and maybe can’t get back to me right away, but don’t tell me you will! If you say I’ll get a response within 24 hours I expect a response by then, but if you don’t promise me a deadline I’m fine with receiving a response within 72 hours. Not exactly rocket science. Ugh.

    Obviously, I could go and on but I’ll refrain because it’s just going to get me agitated and further annoyed at “Company A”. Never visiting them again after all the hoops they had me jump through.

    Great post, Mandy!

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      The 24 hour promise is nice, but when it seems like so few companies follow it, I don’t understand why they promise it. People are going to be angry if you promise this and then don’t do it. Like you said, not exactly rocket science!

      Company A has a lot to learn about how to treat their customers with respect. Hopefully they learned at least a little something by dealing with you.

  4. Cybernetic SAM

    Great tips! I recently (for once) had a really awesome customer service experience and I was not expecting it. I had ordered an item online (which usually has the worst customer service) and when I got my time-sensitive item it was the WRONG ONE! Needless to say, I was vexed beyond comprehension. I figured, I would have to go through the trouble of contacting them, figure out how to send the stupid thing back and all the while the original intention for the gift would be lost. So I contacted them not expecting much, and what do you know — I got a response 15 minutes later, with a sincere apology from the owner of the company who insisted that not only would they send me the correct item, but also as an apology to keep the wrong item as well! I was amazed, never had I received such great customer service in my life! I just feel that is a great company move, they owned up to their mistake and made up for it as well in a very painless manner too! So take note, businesses!

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      That is seriously awesome! More online businesses should strive to be as considerate as them! Even if they can’t send out apologies from the owner or send you another item so quickly, they at least should realize that they are making the mistake and work with you to fix it.

      I imagine that since you ended up having a positive experience, you’d recommend the company to others, yes?

  5. Joseph Giorgi

    It’s crazy that “Company A” had the gall to remind Amy to “to check out their website for new and exciting products” when they didn’t even ship her original order on time to begin with. I tell ya! Do online companies really believe that simply ASKING for brand loyalty is enough? Do they not realize that they have to EARN it?

    And if “Company C” can’t get their act together soon, they’ll likely not be a company for much longer. Confirmation e-mails are a MUST – as are clearly defined and working tracking numbers. Jeez!

    All in all, I’ll stick with the Amazon Marketplace. They never mess up my orders and they always send confirmation emails.

    Great post, Mandy! :)

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      I know! I was absolutely shocked when Amy told me that in the office. I mean, really? Since when does trying to sell to someone that’s pissed at you actually work?

      Amazon Marketplace is the best. The confirmation e-mails are such a relief, and if you’re the seller, Amazon yells at you if you forget to send them. What I’m learning today – though I already knew – is that Amazon is effing awesome.

  6. Eric

    Between Shelley and myself, we’ve worked in pretty much industry you can name, and – like you said – we’re usually very lenient and very generous tippers because of it.

    We took a trip to Memphis back in March, and found ourselves walking down Beale Street late one night, looking for someplace to eat. Well, most the bars had their kitchens closed, so we did something I normally don’t do out on the road: eating at the chain, kitschy dining establishment. In this case, the Hard Rock Cafe.

    We walked in, and there was a line to be seated. When we finally reached the hostess stand, they told us there was a cover charge. There wasn’t a band. Odd. Really? Really?!?! I asked if they could just add it to my tab. Not an option, they said. Well, @#$%.

    So, backtracking down Beale, I find an ATM, get it to cough-up a few twenties, and make my way back. There’s a line, again. We wait through it, again, without them noticing we already had waited and would like just to have sat down. They finally seat us on the lower level (mind you, there’s no band onstage, still). After getting our menus and flipping them open, the server comes back:

    “Well, umm, there’s another couple seated here, and we don’t know if they’re coming back or not, so, uh…we’ll just see how it goes!!!” Not cool. “We’ll just see how it goes?!?!” No. No, we won’t. By this time, I see – out of the corner of my eye – the said couple, looking at their former table and wondering why in the hell someone else is sitting at it. Me, not wanting to throw down in Memphis, asked if we could avoid said conflict and be seated someplace else.

    So, conveniently, we walk past the stage (which has no band on it, yet), to the other side of the house, and up two flights of stairs, to the 2nd floor. Ugh.

    We’re seated at another table, there are at least some neat-looking Elvis jumpsuits to look at, it’s a little less crowded, and in the meantime, we wait – again – for a server. She swings by to deliver the menus, forgets the drink order, and doesn’t come back for another 10-15 minutes. By then we’re both A.) ravenously hungry, and B.) parched, so luckily we made a point of putting our drink/appetizer/entree orders in, all at once. House music? Nope. Band playing? Take a guess.

    Drinks come. And so we wait. 25 minutes. Appetizer shows up. Now, me, anticipating Hard Rock’s next move based on their current track record, I tell Shelley, “Bet you anything the entree shows up in the next five minutes.” Well, as soon as I said that, the entrees are plopped-down on the table. Next to the appetizer we just got. And the empty drink glasses that weren’t asked about until the entrees were out.

    By time I made it to my entree, the food was cold, and not all too good. I hate doing it, but I looked at Shelley, and by my face, she knew…we were definitely going to be talking to the manager.

    The server looks baffled, and I mean, baffled, when we ask for a manager. Had no idea that things weren’t going well. Trying not to be upset with her, we finally see a guy, plainclothed, come up to the table. Sure enough, it’s the manager. We explain the situation(s), calmly let him know it was a let-down, and let them down as gently as possible while making it clear it was a less-than-stellar experience. Don’t even get me started on the band.

    He kindly offers to comp our tab, and even offers us a couple drinks at the bar. We told him thanks on the tab, no thanks on the drinks, and after leaving a tip (which we still did), we made our way over to B.B. King’s for some legit house music.

    And, as we’re leaving…

    The band starts tuning up. #$%^!!!!!!!!!! Seriously?!?!

    Will I ever go to a Hard Rock Cafe again, ever, period, stuck-on-a-desert-island desperate? Nope. Never again.

    Fantastic post, Mandy.

    If anything, I’ve learned one thing: companies generally assume you won’t stand up for yourself and you’ll just accept whatever misgivings become of their company and service. If you speak your mind, and keep it calm, usually they’ll come through for you and even give you a little extra for your trouble. As much as they hate having to eat shipping charges, or a tab, what have you…they can’t afford to lose a customer, much less, many customers. Companies should be spending some serious effort on their customer service right now, more than anything, next to prices.

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      1. HOLY WOW. You wrote an entire blog post as a comment! :o

      2. I feel for you and Shelley – that’s insane. Across the board. But I can definitely agree that keeping calm is a huge factor in getting situations straightened out. I spent a very long 13 months working the customer – excuse me, guest – service desk at Target. While branches of huge companies have very set rules, there is always a little wiggle room. And let me tell you, depending on the level of calm and niceness of the guests, I would either wiggle the rules or give a very firm no. But my feelings on how the CUSTOMER needs to also be nice in customer service is a blog post for another day.

      For now, though, you’re right: companies need to accept mistakes and fix them. Eating a $7 shipping charge now can lead to hundreds of dollars in return business and the word of mouth business that satisfied clients drive to you.

      • Eric

        13 months? Bless your soul!

        Every time I’ve dealt calmly with a customer service issue, almost always they’re willing to make whatever adjustment they can. It’s sad to say it, but people actually will thank you, nowadays, for being polite…as if it’s some way to act on a rare occasion. Usually the folks in need of honest help don’t make a big production number out of a complaint, nor do they know how they would like to be compensated before they’re asked, and are always grateful for whatever can be done.

        • Mandy Kilinskis

          Yeah, it was rough. But I’m in a much better place now. :)

          I definitely thanked people who were civil with me. Especially if they were right after someone that yelled at me. News flash, world: If you yell, I’m not going to help you. Just fyi.

          I’ve dealt with people that were so irate, that other customers started telling them to stop yelling at me. I made sure to be extra-helpful to those kind souls.

  7. JPorretto

    Oh Mandy, thanks for the shout out! My friends make fun of my chronic, hilariously bad purchase experiences. Most recently I bought a guitar (from a person, not a company) and it was delivered to me with a UPS label just taped to the guitar shaped case and left on my door step all day while I was at work. WHAT THE F…

    Then there was the time I bought a phone and the guy shipped it…. back to himself. Switched the to/from. #toostupidtolive

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      I literally don’t know how all these things happen to you, Jeff. I swear, they could start a CBS sitcom based solely on your customer service experiences…

      …say, that’s not a bad idea.

  8. Needa

    I have just had a terrible customer service experience with avon.com

    They pulled a bait and switch on me. I received an email two hours ago informing me that their Skin so soft bug repellent in the spray bottle was now available.

    So I go to their website and they charge me $14 for each bottle. I had a coupon code for free shipping. Big deal.
    As soon as I complete the order, their homepage is offering all skin so soft bug repellent products for half off.

    I called their customer service representative and was told that all sales are final, even though I contacted him within two minutes of placing my order, and he did not offer to either cancel my order or refund the price difference.

    If Avon treats all of their customers like this, they should be avoided at any cost.

    Avon AIN’T EVER going to call my keyboard again.

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Yikes! I’m sorry to hear about your bad experience with Avon, Needa! That’s definitely some poor customer service – in fact, it sounds like they weren’t focusing on the “customer” part at all. :(

      I haven’t bought from Avon before, but with stories like that, it doesn’t make me want to start. Again, I’m sorry that happened to you – hopefully the next company you work with will be far more helpful!

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