Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dear online retailer

How nice of you to start sending me e-mails this week, telling me that you want me back. In fact, it is very kind of you to remember me at all, since I haven't ordered from you in years. Since it has been a while, I thought I might clue you in on why I have been gone so long.

You see, you sell all sorts of things – and way back before iTunes got really big, you even used to sell downloadable music. Back then, I bought a lot of songs from you. But then one day, one of these songs I purchased was a corrupt file that wouldn't play. Downloaded it a couple of times, in fact, to be sure it wasn't me.

"No biggie," I thought. "I'll just e-mail customer service and let them know. They will appreciate hearing about the problem, and I will get my 99 cents back." What happened instead was one of the most ridiculous bureaucratic ordeals I have had with any consumer product.

First I received an e-mail, written in marginal English, telling me that you would "investigate" the problem, and would then inform me of the results of the investigation – and that after this process was complete, you would then decide whether I would receive my 99 cents back. *Weeks* go by. I cannot resist the curiosity of asking about the status of this. A good while later, I receive a response telling me that you are still investigating this, and that you cannot respond to my request for a refund until this investigation has been completed.

Some time after that, long after I first contacted you, good news! Your "investigation" was now complete, and you were now finally prepared to refund my 99 cents!

Meanwhile, as a former customer support executive – and now as a customer service author and speaker – I was curious about why this involved such a long, drawn-out process. After all, we were talking about a sum that was probably less than what it costs you to send one of these e-mails – unless, perhaps, your offshore customer contact staff were being paid in agricultural products and small farm animals. So I wrote a polite note to one of your senior executives. And, of course, never got so much as a harrumph from the corner office. 

So meanwhile, back to your recent e-mails wanting me back. First, I have a question for you: given what was involved in getting my 99 cents back, how much trust do you feel I should have in ordering, say, a $1500 laptop from you? Or a $200 digital camera? Get back to me on that one, OK? I don't mind waiting a few more weeks.


Mark Imgrund said...

Nice article (or are they called 'blog entries'?) Rich. I've had similar experiences, the worst of which had to do with government agencies. No incentive there!

Rich Gallagher said...

Thanks Mark! Ironically, some government agencies (notably Social Security) underwent a customer service initiative in the 1990s. Room for improvement everywhere!