One of my most fun projects over the last year or so has been to help a company in the ecommerce business with a few product marketing challenges. As a result of writing and blogging on their behalf, I’ve come to know the industry pretty well.

One of the factors that really drives the industry is customer service. This is because everything revolves around the buyer experience, so that people can find what you’re selling, select it, pay for it, receive it, consume it and come back for more as often as possible. Competing on price can often become a race to the bottom and a loss-making business, so your chief competitive weapon is continuous customer delight.

This sounds pretty simple. It gets less simple when you want to sell your product in more marketplaces, because then you have more portals to manage stock levels for, and more places to manage your customer service communications from. Technology comes to the rescue in the form of software platforms that allow you to centralise your stock control, orders, shipments and most important of all customer communications, in one place.

Interestingly, the vast majority of us all are also online consumers, so at an anecdotal level we know what it’s like to be on the end of exemplary or excremental service. Which brings me to the reason for this post.

About three months ago I succumbed to a Living Social bulletin advertising, of all things, dental floss heads at a ludicrous discount. In Ireland, these offers tend to be from UK companies, so you then have to stump up for the shipping as well. Except, it’s not so straightforward. Sometimes, you contract with Living Social to buy the product, then with your special code you then go through to the vendor’s website to arrange and pay for postage directly with them. The first time I couldn’t get the website to accept any of my credit cards, so I had to raise a ticket with them and Living Social, who referred me back to the vendor. Two weeks later, I managed to get the website to accept my credit card and take the requisite amount.

A month later, no floss heads. I sent a pithy email to their support centre to say that I had never received them.

How Not to Do Customer Service

How Not to Do Customer Service

This is what I got back. A loose collection of standard responses and qualifying comments pasted and patched together in different typefaces, masquerading as a considered reply to my problem. I didn’t hold out much hope. They’re either appalling at customer service, or too busy correcting hundreds of undelivered orders, or both, with one being a consequence of the other. Suffice to say, I haven’t got my floss heads yet. These days though, being woeful – or woegious as my Irish friends say, one of my top ten new words of the last decade – is a very dangerous game, because it’s easy for buyers to rate their experiences and influence other buyers. We all know that folk don’t ask vendors for a recommendation, they ask their peers, and the online world makes this a breeze.

I’m too nice, and too tolerant to make a big fuss. But that’s about to change. They have my money and Mr Nice is about to become Mr Nasty. The online pen is far mightier than the sword :-).