As a company that likes to provide advice as well as the best possible service, it’s only fair to say this isn’t directly an article about our services. But if your company is selling products over the web, it would be ‘best practice’ for you to read on, as running a high quality e-commerce website doesn’t begin and end with stocking the right products at the right prices and having a robust and well-designed website to sell them from. Every third-party you contract must play their part in maintaining your reputation.
Think of this as a case study – albeit one where a few names have been concealed. But what happened is a true story, and one that might be eye opening if your company’s reputation is important to you. It is, we hope, obvious, that – at least as far as your customer is concerned – an order isn’t completely fulfilled until they receive the wonderful product that you have sold them.
One of our staff recently bought an electronic gadget through a company’s e-bay store. (E-bay were, let it known, faultless, and are largely irrelevant to this story: it could have easily been a Google shop or the company’s own e-commerce site.) Payment was seamless, after the company – based in South-East Asia – had very promptly answered a couple of email queries. Once payment was complete, our staff member received a parcel tracking number almost immediately by e-mail. All very efficient.
Sadly, this is where it all started to get very frustrating. The shipping company – an international courier, whose website speaks proudly about providing a 24/7 worldwide service, attempted delivery. (If there was one oversight on the vendor’s part, it was to use a payment system that could accept only the same delivery address as the address at which a credit card is registered. No buying a present for a friend then.) As our colleague goes to work – so he can afford to buy gadgets and generate business for courier companies – he’s not at home during business hours.
The courier company did leave a card, although they hadn’t thought to complete it. All it had was the tracking number. Along with an explanation that their delivery hours were Monday to Fri, 9am to 5.30pm, it gave an online service to request a redelivery date (none of which would have helped, but the website couldn’t find the tracking number anyway …), and a phone number (same office hours, and no answerphone out of hours.) Understandably, our colleague started to feel a little mystified as to how he was going to receive an item that he had by now already paid for.
Making a very hasty phone call to the courier company the following morning, the only thing that could be done was for the recipient (the courier company weren’t going to do this for him) to contact the vendor, and ask the vendor to request the courier company to accept a change of address. As before with the vendor, all seamlessly done – despite time zone differences – by email within minutes, with the possible exception that the courier company needed to charge them for the change of address and – as they’d advertised the product with free international shipping – they needed to pass on this cost (which added 5% to the purchase price, by the way). A few minutes later, payment for the surcharge was made. A day or so later, the South-Asian office of the courier company emailed our colleague to confirm the change of address was in place. No word from their UK offices, but our colleague – perhaps rashly – assumed all was well.
So imagine his surprise when he arrived home a few days later only to get a knock on the door a minute or so later – well past 6pm, so it wasn’t going to be a courier. No, it was a neighbour, clutching the wrapped gadget, which they’d attempted to deliver to our colleague’s home address. No card left, no answerphone message, just a parcel left to the trust of the neighbour who was, until this moment, a complete stranger to our colleague. And no refund for the change of address admin fee either. Oh well, at least he had the goods.
The surprise deepened the following day when he received a letter from the courier company. It was an invoice. For VAT payable on the imported item (fair enough, although not all customers will be aware this is a legal requirement, and good manners suggest that any e-commerce vendor should point out that import charges might be levied on items being sent in or out of the EU and other tax regimes), and … for a further admin charge that added a further 10% to the cost of the item.
Our colleague emailed the courier company, to receive … total silence.
End result? By sheer chance, our colleague got his product – although this ultimately reflects that he has honest neighbours more than anything else. The cost of the item has risen 15%, and even the botched delivery has taken over a dozen emails. And the courier seems to have failed at several levels – offering a service to customers that can deliver at their convenience, responding to queries, being accessible to respond to queries, and raising unexpected charges on two occasions. If it hadn’t been for the courtesy and prompt treatment of the vendor at every stage (and their most recent email was a heartfelt apology for what our colleague had had to put up), it would have been very easy to blame them for the whole affair, and besmirch their reputation publically.
Our colleague’s understanding of e-commerce and the myriad layers that can be involved made him more understanding of the vendor’s attempts to do their best than he suspects many people would be. But they are now actively reviewing their choice of international shipping partner, and their emails were clearly anxious that our colleague had felt they acted promptly at every stage – processing the order, packaging and handing to the courier.
There’s a lesson here for any e-commerce organisation: realise that your reputation as an e-commerce business doesn’t just rest on your capacities and capabilities, and those of your web designer/developer (who, of course, we hope you ask detailed questions of before signing up their services). Your reputation also rests on the abilities and customer service of every other third party organisation that plays a part in processing your customer’s payments and actually getting their purchases to their door. As far as the people buying the products are concerned, their order isn’t fulfilled until they’re holding what they’ve paid for. And even then, ‘fulfilled’ might not be the word they’d use …