Grinding the Gears of Customer Service

Written June 6th, 2010 by
Categories: CEO's Blog
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At the end of the day, b2b2dot0’s raison d’être is all about customer service.  Our company’s mission is to enable SAP manufacturers to provide a world class self-service order management experience to their customers.  We also know that providing mind-boggling customer service to our clients is at the core of our business model.  So when I see examples of bad customer service, I just cringe…and write about it 🙂

Today’s episode of “Customer Dis-Service” is of special interest because it unmasks an industry wide dark secret of the B2C (and many B2B) eCommerce websites of SAP Manufacturers.  I’m going to call it the “eFacade Syndrome”.  That’s when the front end website looks like it’s integrated with SAP, but it’s not.

Our story begins a few weeks back when six of my bicycling friends came rolling into my Kerr Lake weekend retreat on their third night of a four day multi-state self contained bicycling tour.  Self contained, for the uninitiated, means that they were toting 30-40 lbs of life’s essentials (camping gear, clothes, toiletries, cooking utensils etc.) on their bikes and were prepared to rough it at the end of every day’s 50-70 mile trek.

That’s why it struck me so funny when one of the gang, Jack Warman, asked me if I had a coffee grinder.  A coffee grinder?

You see, Jack is clearly a coffee aficionado.  I’m not talking about the Starbucks “venti Caffe Verona leave room for the skim milk” kind of guy.  I’m talking hard core “grind it fresh, brew it with filtered water, drink it black” coffee aficionado!  Jack even roasts his own coffee beans.  In fact, he  was schlepping a four day supply of his extra special personal roast for all six riders.  Hence his request for a grinder.

Unfortunately, I had to confess that we didn’t have a grinder at our lake house.  I evoked the “we left it at the city house” standard excuse.  But I couldn’t tell Jack that we only buy ground coffee and store it in our freezer until we’re ready to brew…too bourgeois.

That’s when Jack says “no worries, I brought my own” and then begins to recount his travails of acquiring this bike camping essential.

After scouring the web, Jack found the PERFECT manual grinder, but no one seems to have had it in stock so Jack went straight to the Manufacturer’s site, RusTekDirect.  After finding that they too were out of stock, Jack engages in the following email thread (summarized and normalized for the 3 hour time zone difference) with RusTek’s customer service department:

April 21 5:53AM  – Jack inquires as to when the product will be back in stock.

April 22 11:02AM (30 hours later !) -Jack gets this email:

Hello Jack,

No, I’m sorry I
don’t have an exact date.

We hope to be
manufacturing and selling new product by Fall this
year.

Thanks for
your interest! (notice the exclamation point???  He just disappointed Jack to no end, but is happy that Jack took interest????)  

April 22 11:33AM  – Jack really wants the product and tells the manufacturer that he can’t find it anywhere and really wants one.  Can he help him find a dealer?

April 21 1:10PM (almost 2 hours later) –

Hello again
Jack,

We have a few
(literally) still in the warehouse.  They are
brand new, unopened items.  If you want one, simply order it on the
RusTek
website.

Many thanks in
advance.

April 21 1:18PM (8 minutes later…you think Jack’s anxious about this?)

Hi David,

Sorry to bother you again.I definitely want
one, but the RusTek
site says “Out of Stock” and there’s no “Add to Cart”
button.

Can I call in my order? Or, is there another
way I can order it
online?

Thanks for your
continued
help with this,
Jack

April 22 2:42PM (1.5 hours later) –

Sorry Jack,

Please check
the RusTek site again – I went
into the site and changed the inventory number to reflect what we have.

Thanks.

Twenty minutes later Jack’s order entry saga was consummated.  End-to-end, his interactions with RusTek spanned over 34 hours!  Why?  Because of a disconnect between the website and the back end inventory and fulfillment system.

Jack loves the product but rightfully hates the purchasing experience he had to go through.

Here are my takeaways from this experience:

  1. There is no substitute for having great products.  But nowadays, unless you’re Apple and have locked in the market to your proprietary hardware and software, that’s not enough.
  2. Don’t confuse activity with results.  Interacting with your customers doesn’t mean that you’re providing them good customer service.  More and more consumers (and purchasing agents) look like Jack.  While he was patient and cordial with RusTek, his preference would have been to never communicate with anyone.  He knew what he wanted, had a credit card ready and just wanted to press the “place order” button.  Period.
  3. Customer Services Agents aren’t to blame (most of the time).  Every so often you come across a customer service agent that should find another profession, but that’s an exception. For the most part, they are hard working, empathetic and knowledgeable employees.  Their problem is the systems they have to work with and the bizarre processes that those systems impose on them.  That’s where their management comes in.  They need to show the leadership required to take the waste out of these bad processes.
  4. There are more Jacks around than we care to admit.  RusTek has no clue how mad Jack was.  They have no idea how many people now know about their broken systems. (pass this post around and even more will :-)) They underestimate how important internet access…and all that comes with it – transparency, truth, availability, speed etc…has become to Jack.  And more and more Jacks are being groomed everyday. One million ipads are being sold every month.  SAP bought Sybase for $6B in recognition of the importance of the mobile internet.
  5. There is no reason to have disconnected systems.  At least in the SAP world, solving this problem is no longer a complicated technical project.  All it takes is a commitment to great customer service and a call to b2b2dot0 🙂

Do you agree with my takeaways?  Are there others that you can think of?

And as for Jack’s coffee?  It was awesome!  We now have a grinder (electric) at our lake house. 🙂

Sam