How to lose a customer

by admin on 23/07/2007

Over the last three weeks I had the most unpleasant experience ordering firewood. When we first moved to New Zealand we had no idea of the concept of a woodburner. In Germany woodburners are completely unknown, the only thing you’ll find if you’re lucky is an open fire place for pleasure (not for heating), or a coal oven in very old houses. So we moved into our house in Karori, the woodburner was already there and luckily the previous owners left some pieces of wood. But after a while we had to reorder and being the internet freaks that we are, we simply googled for a wood supplier. Out came “Action Firewood” also called “Action Recyclers”, in Lower Hutt (Wellington region), who even offered ordering via online form. We found that very handy, because it gave us the opportunity to order after hours and didn’t have to deal with phone calls during the day. So we placed our order and for the next couple of days nothing happened. After a while we called them, apparently they hadn’t checked emails and didn’t know about our order. So we confirmed our wants on the phone, agreed on a delivery date, I took a day off work to receive the delivery and nothing else happened. They simply didn’t show up on the agreed delivery date. So I wrote a complaint, got a relatively friendly response, they delivered a couple of days later and in the end they even wrote an email to check if we were satisfied with the wood. Ok, you might think, at least they had learned from it and did their best to be kind in the end.
Yeah, so we thought as well and that’s the reason why we ordered with them this year again. Big, big mistake! We placed our order on 7th July and again we didn’t hear anything from them. So after a couple of days Kai gave them a call and again they were a bit surprised, that we expected them to deliver wood to our house. They gave us the rough indication that they would deliver by the end of last week and I gave them another call to ask if they could do in on Thursday. They agreed and so Kai and I spent last Thursday at home to await our wood delivery. Not quite surprisingly it never arrived. Not on Thursday, not on Friday, not even on Saturday. So I wrote an email again (there’s simply no point in calling them on a Sunday) and attached the email conversation from last year. What happend today really earns an award for “Most-Unfriendly-and-Unqualified-Retailer” of the year. The phone at home rang around 4.45 pm. Usually no one is at home during this hours, because (like most people in New Zealand!) we work. But today I was back home early and just came through the door when the phone rang. At the other end of the line was a grumpy guy asking for Kai. I told him that Kai’s not at home and if I could help. He then started laughing and said “You are writing this email each year.” Excuse me, please??? Yeah, sure I’m writing this email each year, because each year I stay off work for a day and wait for wood on an agreed delivery date and nothing happens! I then told him that we placed the order three weeks ago, which he denied (ok, it was just 17 days ago, but that doesn’t make much difference when you ran out of wood in the middle of winter) and then he came with the lame excuse that they had a hard drive crash. Yeah, right. And our two phone calls, and the agreed delivery for Thursday? The guy on the phone told me that no one said to him that there was a date agreed, so that didn’t count for him. He then offered generously to cancel the order and I am happy that I don’t have to see any of them again and that they don’t get my money.

What can other small retailers learn from this?
1. If you offer online orders, make sure you check your inbox regularly! In the unlikely event of a hard drive crash, inform potential customers on your website that you currently cannot access orders!
2. Make sure that each employee knows how to forward information. It must either be impossible that someone agrees on a delivery date that someone else is not able to match, or people must know who is to be informed about commitments that are agreed on with the customer.
3. Train your Telephonists on how to deal with a customer in a friendly manner. It is important to calm the client down and to make him/her feel valued – in most cases they are about to spend a lot of money at your company (and worst case they usually deal with User/Customer Experience and you might end up being mentioned in their blog in a negative way). To laugh at someone who is about to spend 400 Dollars at your place is not acceptable!
4. Never offer cancellation as a first solution. This means for your customer that he/she has to find another supplier and gets even more angry. An angry customer is never helpful – in best case you’ll only lose one client, but it’s highly likely that they’ll tell all their friends and family about it, which means that you lose either other existing clients or potential future clients. However, there is more impact than just one lost delivery.

At least the Action Recyclers gave me a long story to blog about and a really remarkable User/Customer Experience. Although this is not much fun sitting in a cold house…

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kyls August 10, 2007 at 12:00 am

Great! Im glad someone told the story from the customers point of view, I was an employee at Action Firewood/Demolition/Recyclers for 6 months (too long) and witnessed the most obscene customer service and management in my entire working career, it may have taken you weeks to get your wood but it took me months to get my final pay. The company would have great potential if it was managed correclty to retain staff that were honest, reliable, hard-working and knew how to handle and control business flow. I hope no other customer or employee of this company has to experience what we have.

steveo1337 September 18, 2007 at 12:00 am

I read this post and was nodding my head going ‘yep…that’s Kiwis for ya’
which is not actually true but consider this….

This is a firewood company/building recyclers – they will be burly old men that like to get ‘pissed’ on a friday after work and watch the ‘rugga’… without knowing them I’d say they probably beat their wives when the allblacks lose.
I feel I must apologise, as a Kiwi, on behalf of these cretins but I won’t – They don’t deserve my apology…. However, let this be an important lesson for you Diane…

If you are buying something from someone where they don’t use a computer as part of their daily tasks (ie. labourers/courier drivers/fix-it people/forestry workers) then face to face or telephone contact is really the only way to communicate..
There are so many businesses in NZ that could benefit vastly from having something more than a typewriter, a rolodex and a calander.

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