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Flawed Customer Services - Alienating the Customer


In part one of this three part article it was shown that a particular supplier failed to make a sale because they had made it unnecessarily complicated for a certain category of customers to locate the required information to purchase the product. Because they also failed to gather any feedback the flaws in their procurement procedures are likely to remain undetected and unresolved.

This second example does receive feedback but as you will see it is feedback that is going to the wrong person, if the 'problem' is also the customer services channel then problems can exist that are not apparent to the company.


Example 2 - Alienating the Customer

While in travelling in South Africa I found myself wanting to watch a DVD on my notebook computer but when I tried to access the DVD through Microsoft's Windows Media Player it displayed an error which advised me that I needed to purchase an add-on before I was able to access DVDs.

Windows Media player directed me to a list of suppliers and I chose one who greeted me with the marketing line, 'You are five minutes away from watching a DVD on your computer'.

 

Mistake 1 - No trial

Not providing any free trial for commodity applications is unusual as it benefits the manufacturer and the customer if the software can first be tested to ensure it works and meets the customer's expectations.

With a trial offer if there is any problem with the application potential customers do not generally mind if they have had the chance to try before they buy.

Mistake 2 - Un-documented and Unnecessary Restrictions

Because of the relatively low price of the product I completed the online order form and received an email order confirmation giving me a link for the download. I clicked on the link and my download accelerator kicked in that allows me to download files quicker by splitting the download file into smaller files and using simultaneous downloads.

After a few seconds the download failed and I found that I was unable to restart the download. I looked at the email confirmation and found instructions on how to log onto the suppliers website and check the progress of an order and in doing so I found a download button. Unfortunately when I clicked on the download button I received a message informing me that I had exceeded by download limit which was set at five and therefore was left with no option but to email the suppler for assistance.

I received an automated response to my email to notify me that my email query had been received and that they would deal with my enquiry using their first come first served support policy.

After several hours I received a response to my email informing me that they had reset the download count and then, as an aside, also notified me that their download procedure did not support download applications that allowed the download to be restarted and/or accelerated.

Turning off the download accelerator I was able to download the file without too many problems.

Download accelerators are common and allowing restarts only sensible as it reduces the download traffic where some unreliable connections are concerned. However, if there are restrictions that do apply, then not displaying what they are prior to the customer clicking on the download link is inviting support problems.

Mistake 3 - Falling between Sales and Support

Once the download was complete I installed the software and when loading the DVD that I wanted to watch a DVD I was asked to register the product online which I did.

Once I had completed the online registration and created an account to allow me to receive technical support the application started and the application read the title and gave me the options to 'play', 'reset' or 'eject'.

I selected 'play', the screen went blank and then it returned to the same menu, no error message. No matter how many times I tried, even after restarting the computer I could not get past the 'play' option.

I visited the supplier's website and navigated to the support page and entered my account details but the password I entered was reported as being incorrect. After a few attempts I took the option to have my password sent to me again. A message came up to say that an email had been sent to verify the password and I was able to see from the displayed message that the verification email was being sent to the correct email address.

After several hours and multiple attempts at having the password re-sent no password confirmation email was received therefore preventing me from being able to register my problem using the proper technical support procedures.

Mistake 4 - Not understanding the Customers query

I sent an email explaining the initial problem with the download that I confirmed resolved and reported that I now had a problem with the software and was also unable to access the technical support page to report the technical problem.

After several hours I received an email reply that simply gave me instructions on how to download the software.

I replied pointing out that the problem was no longer with the download but with the software and also not being able to access the online technical support.

I then received an email confirming that I needed to register the product to get technical support.

I replied to say that I had registered the product, that the registration was confirmed because when I tried to log on to the support I was receiving a message to say that although it recognized my login ID the password was incorrect. I was able to request a password confirmation, that appeared to be being sending it to the correct address but I was not receiving the email. I confirmed to them that I was therefore unable to log on to technical support and register the problem.

Mistake 5 - Annoying the customer

I was naturally annoyed to receive a reply to say that they were unable to deal with technical support calls and that I needed to contact the technical support by telephone. A basic rule for good customer services is that you do not get the customer to do a company's internal communication.

In my reply to them I pointed out that the cost of the software was not worth the cost of the international phone call in trying to call a technical support line in the USA. I requested that they notify their own technical support team on my behalf or perhaps they might find it easier to offer me a refund.

Mistake 6 - Making the customer really annoyed

I received confirmation that they were unable to deal with technical queries and again listed the procedures for me to register the product to obtain technical support.

I took my time to reply and spell out clearly that they really needed to read what I had previously written and that we were now beyond the technical support stage and that we were now in the commercial decision stage where I would like then to agree, or advice otherwise, to a refund.

Mistake 7 - Losing the customer

I finally received an email offering me a full refund and a partial apology for the problems. The refund was received once I had agreed to delete the downloaded software which I was more than happy to do.


Summary

By offering a full refund the supplier resolved the problem to my full satisfaction but made no attempt to fix any of the reported problems, either as to why I was unable to access the support area, why I was not receiving the password confirmation and why the software did not function properly.

Whatever personal criticism I might have with the people who were responding to my emails, there was no alternative channels open to me to contact the company's management so that I could alert them to my growing frustration.

When one customer experiences a problem it is often important and useful to understand the cause of the problem even if the final solution is to offer that customer a full refund. In this particular case there seemed an unnecessary demarcation, and no internal communication, between sales and support preventing customer's problems, that fall between both camps, to be addressed.

Requesting customer feedback that is then channelled through to management is not a new idea. Hotel and restaurants chains have for years often had feedback cards that are not handed in to the staff but posted directly to head office, ensuring that negative comments are not lost and positive comments genuine.

Read part three of this three part article Customer Services - Single Point of Failure.


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Martin Day is a Director of Survey Galaxy Ltd
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