Customer communications and the art of defending loyalty

Customer communications: an epic fail by a well known retailer pushed our Sean Fleming away for good. Can you guess who is it?

Customer communications done wrong can kill a Brand. Or, at least, drive a lot of people away. So beware and read my morality tale.

It is now 12 months since I last commuted to an office. My car has been driven so infrequently that I’m sure there must have been times recently when it wondered if I had been kidnapped. Like most of you, over the past year I’ve had far fewer outings of all kinds – whether by plane, train, automobile or even simply on foot.

So I’m not entirely sure why, a few weeks ago, I felt like I needed to buy new shoes. The urge was strong even though the reasons were pretty weak. After all, it’s not like I actually go anywhere anymore.

In the end, I ordered three pairs of shoes from the website of a well-known footwear brand that we will call Woodland, to protect the innocent. I know… man who doesn’t need new shoes buys lots of new shoes

Things did not go smoothly. But you probably guessed that, didn’t you? This would be a pretty pointless column if it was about that time I bought some shoes and everything went smoothly. Instead, it’s a column about missed opportunities to communicate with customers and the consequences of missing them.

These boots were made for walking – not purchasing

The first problem I encountered was really quite strange. Search filters are invaluable when you’re trawling through many hundreds of product options. On the Woodland website, I could filter by gender, style, type, category type, colour and size. 

So I did. That’s a lot of options and it meant I could browse in-stock items of the right style, colour and – importantly – size. After choosing a pair I liked, I tried to buy them. But even though they were showing as in-stock in my size, I couldn’t add them to my basket because they weren’t actually available in my size at all.

Now, I think that’s because they came in different colours and had sold out of some sizes in some of those colours. But I can only guess.

Thousands of choices: But not for delivery

I persevered and chose other items, added them and bought them successfully. Three pairs of shoes, totalling around $300, chosen from a list of hundreds of possibilities using six filters. But there was only one delivery option, which was described as standard.

Literally thousands of permutations of size, colour and shape. Only one delivery option. The word ‘disproportionate’ springs to mind.

After placing my order, I was sent a tracking link. Great! I like tracking links. 

For a whole week, the tracking information showed there had been no movement, no progress at all. Eventually, I contacted the courier. Let’s call them Warble. They told me my order was not yet in their network. So I contacted the retailer’s customer service department. 

This was the reply:

“So sorry about the delays, we had to get the products on this order in from our EU warehouse as we had no UK stock so there was an unexpected extra few days added to the delivery time – an email should have been sent to you to advise of this so I am very sorry you were not given any info on this.”

There was no email advising me of the delay. 

Two hours later, my order was delivered. 

That was a surprise. After all, Warble had told me they didn’t have my order. Go figure.

Return to sender: Web address unknown

Another surprise was that of the three pairs of shoes I ordered, I didn’t like any of them enough to keep them. So I went back to the Woodland website to find out how to arrange a return.

None of the links relating to returns took me to a place where I could initiate a return. Some delivered dead ‘505’ pages, some took me to the main home page, most just took me to a page with no relevant information.

Eventually, the same customer service agent I had dealt with previously sent me a link so I could print off a returns label and book a collection from the courier. 

But it didn’t end there. I received no confirmation of my return booking, no confirmation that my return had been received, no ‘we are processing your return’ email… nothing, nothing, nothing. It was like my return had fallen into the void.

Again, I emailed and asked what was going on.

This was the reply:

“Yes you should have received an email, however other customers have mentioned the same thing and their collections have been fine so I believe this is an issue on the couriers side as they usually send a little note out to confirm when they should arrive.”

Then, about a week later, the refund materialised. Which was nice.

In total, I count that to be about six, possibly seven, missed opportunities to communicate effectively with a customer. We’re not in the infant stage of ecommerce anymore. There are no excuses to be hopelessly poor at customer communications. 

Each and every stage of the order-to-delivery process involves a series of automatically triggered actions with information sent to different parts of the supply chain. Not including customer communications as a matter of routine is almost an act of negligence. The data and the technology to make such things simple and seamless are readily available.

I often conclude pieces like this by making a point about dissatisfied customers voting with their wallets. This particular story certainly concludes like that. Why on earth would I choose to buy from a business that cannot, or will not, keep me informed about my order, and won’t even allow me to make a few basic choices about delivery? I think it is safe to say that I won’t be buying from them again. But I wonder how many disappointed customers it will take before things improve. 

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