Customer Service Revisited: The Holiday Rush
By Stephen M. Lawton
the past few weeks, statisticians have had a field day trying to
determine if the dot-coms did a better job of responding to customers
during the 2000 holidays than they did in 1999. According to some industry
pundits, this was the make-or-break year for retailers if they
blew it in 2000, shoppers would be less likely to look online in 2001
for their gifts. To paraphrase that old cliché, burn me once [in
1999], shame on you; burn me twice [in 2000], you've lost me forever as
This year I, too, was among those
who spent more money and time online buying holiday gifts. And as I expected,
I had some very good and very bad experiences. It seems that some companies
still don't get it about customer service. Sure, they have a "Track
Your Order" button and a 24-hour toll-free phone number for customer
service. That's good, sort of. But that's not enough. The problems arise
when customer service won't serve.
This point was driven home when I
tried to buy a book from etoys.com. I already knew the book was being
shipped late from the publisher; etoys' site said it would ship in six
to eight weeks. Nonetheless, I placed an order in mid-November. In late
December, the book was showing up on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com
as being in and shippable in 24 hours.
Great, I thought. Etoys should be
shipping soon. But alas, it was not to be.
Even when the book hit the local bookstores,
it still was listed as not available, with a four- to five-week waiting
period from etoys. Needless to say, I canceled my order and bought the
book locally. (Etoys' problems could have resulted from its current financial
difficulty, which resulted in layoffs and shuttering of its U.K. operations.
The company wouldn't say.)
Even barnesandnoble.com had problems
shipping me two books that it listed as being in stock when, in fact,
they were not.
However, after a couple of e-mails
back and forth, the company decided to split my shipment, sending me four
books that were in stock and waiting on the final two.
As an apology for misstating the books'
availability, the company waived shipping charges. That's the way to do
things right keep the customer satisfied.
Not every e-commerce site had problems,
of course. Land's End, for example, performed just as well this year as
last, which is to say, splendidly. The order was taken, packages were
shipped quickly and returns were a snap. Amazon.com also got its shipments
out quickly and correctly. It's a pity the company has yet to turn a profit
I hope it does soon and doesn't become yet another dot-gone.
Now, if only I could get my computer,
when I go to the Costco.com site, to give me those food samples that brick-and-mortar