Monday, July 14, 2008

This Time, a Chocolate Retailer Demonstrates Why You Cannot Botch Service in the Age of Social Media

Time after time after time after time this point is being made: In the age of social media--with consumers sharing information about brands and experiences freely and widely--there is no room for poor customer service.

Brands may not be able to please all of the people all of the time, but neither can brands accept employee or process failures that result in blatantly poor customer service. Each time a service meltdown occurs, the brand runs the risk of a single consumer spreading their anger and frustration to dozens, hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of people.

The latest Social Media failure comes from Belgian Chocolates Online, owned by CandyWorld, USA. A customer completed an order with the site and was promised next-day shipping, but the e-tailer took nine days to ship the customer's order. Strike one: This is enough to cause a consumer complaint but doesn't rise to the level of a social media concern.

The candy received by the customer was within weeks of expiring. Having ordered nine pounds of chocolate, it seems unlikely the customer intended to (or would be able to) consume this much chocolate so quickly. Strike two: Not a stellar customer service situation, but still not the kind of thing that is likely to explode into a social PR nightmare.

The unhappy customer, of course, sent an email to customer service but didn't hear back. So he sent another and didn't hear back. So he sent a third. Strike three: This situation has now clearly crossed a line between forgivable (or at least understandable) execution errors and unacceptable customer service.

But to really up the ante and make this circumstance the sort of social media disaster that will travel from blog to blog and person to person online, Belgian Chocolate Online added insult to injury. Here is the response their customer finally received:

We are not ignoring any emails. We are helping customers placing their orders or who really need customer’s service. We can’t help you in an expiration date problem that you do not like and which isn’t a problem.

The chocolates you bought are still not expired and we do not see why to replace or to refund. The expiration date is not the date for consumption, but a date to sell. We do NOT sell any chocolates with an expired date.

It's not merely that the retailer's contention is factually incorrect ("The expiration date is not the date for consumption"). Or that their policies should concern customers (the implication that they'll ship a time-sensitive product to you up to the date it expires). The thing that makes this particular situation a PR disaster is the tone; they couldn't have told the customer to go screw himself any more clearly had they said, "Go screw yourself."

That would be strikes four, five, and six. The e-tailer's customer service failure is now racing across the Internet. A situation easily solved with an apology and a couple pounds of free chocolate could now cost Belgian Chocolate Online quite a lot in terms of lost sales, PR response, customer retention efforts, and damage to the brand's reputation.

As noted on this blog, brands can no longer afford poor customer service. We're not talking about the kinds of minor missteps that happen every day when dealing with thousands of customers (although these should always be minimized), but the particular variety of compounded mistakes that occur when organizational processes fail.

In this case, add up how many mistakes needed to occur to reach this point:
  • Failed to meet expectations in terms of stated response time
  • Poor policies or procedures for checking expiration dates on time-sensitive food products
  • Failure to respond to customer service inquiries. (Understaffed? Flood of customer complaints swamping their ability to respond? Poor service management tools? All of the above?)
  • Erroneous response (No training? Incorrect training? Deliberate misinformation?)
  • Rude response (Poor hiring? Poor management? Poor training? Lack of managerial oversight?)

Social media is only going to increase consumers' ability to share problems or to access the complaints of others. Brands need not fear this, since the opposite is also true--consumers have never had a greater ability to share or access praise for a brand. Done poorly, customer service is an Achille's heal that will weaken the strongest of brands; done right, customer service can become the most powerful tool in a brand's arsenal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Had a similar experience-- paid for three-day shipping, never shipped. Wife complained, got into a heated exchange and final response from the MANAGER of Belgian Chocolate Online was (and I quote): "F... Y.." Full story is on Zoli's Blog which you can find via Candyworld USA on Google.