How to NOT do customer service

I continue to read about companies large and small who are struggling in this rough economy. Even some of the titans of the American economy like Sears are struggling (See this article by Tiffany Hsu in the LA Times about Sears being dropped from the S&P 500). I know our economy is down, but many companies are actually thriving so what sets them apart?

So when I recently had an issue with a purchase from Sears.com, I was shocked at the level of service (or lack thereof) that I received. I thought to myself, “no wonder Sears is struggling”. I used to view Sear as my go-to place for all sorts of items, but now I have decided to never shop there again. I wonder how many other people have decided that and then I wonder if that is truly the reason that they are struggling. Let me chronicle a couple of key points of what not to do and then also give you some of my thoughts on what to do.

1) I made a purchase through their website. It was via another merchant but the payment was made to Sears.com. I made the purchase because I trusted Sears to stand up for the purchase since they appeared to be endorsing the merchant. When I first contacted them about my issue (never receiving a product) I got some canned response that the order was with another merchant and that I should contact them.
  • MISTAKE: If you endorse it, it affects your brand. Choose wisely who you want to partner with and I expect Sears to make it right. I sent them my money so why would I not expect that outcome.
  • RIGHT RESPONSE: This is a common mistake in customer service all the way around. Instead of stepping up and being the hero and solving the problem, we all too often want to point blame at someone else. Stop making excuses and start making solutions! For example with our business, we ship FedEx and once the package leaves our building it is out of our control to some extent. But we choose to partner with FedEx so really any issues that happen with the shipment are a reflection on us. We try to grab the situation by the horns, contact FedEx ourselves and follow through on the issue. Yes we do ask for customer patience sometimes, but we always follow the situation through to final resolution.

2) After they passed the buck I tried contacting the other merchant directly with no response. I went back to Sears, and again got the same canned response. After a couple of more emails I thought Sears would finally contact the merchant directly and get back to me in five days.  Six days later, still nothing so I sent another email. Again, the same canned response which was almost laughable. Now they are responding to my email about the fact that it had been over five days with an email that said we will get back with you in another five days!
  • MISTAKE: They didn’t actually read my email; rather, they just sent a canned response. The representative clearly didn’t give a damn about me or my business. They are just there to collect a check and send emails they think they are supposed to send.
  • RIGHT RESPONSE: We are so lucky to have a wonderful staff of caring individuals in our customer service department.  They read each email to assist our customers, without any canned responses.  More often than not, they call the customer to follow up and maybe even an email after that conversation. Let your customer know that you do care about their business. They are the reason your company exists and the reason the Customer Service person has a job. You will not always get everything right and mistakes will happen, but address the mistakes head on with solutions.  This action will make you and the customer happy.

3) Still at this point, no response has been made other than the same email from at least three different people.  Not one of them has offered to actually do anything or pass it to someone who can resolve the issue. I finally went to Twitter with my concern and got some response, but after looking through their Twitter timeline it seems all they do is say sorry, and apologize for the wrong doings of their customer service department. Better yet, they asked me to DM my information to them and said someone would be in contact with me shortly and two days later still nothing.
  • MISTAKE: Twitter and Facebook and other social media outlets are a great place to help your customer service department. It lets you know what is happening and allows you to truly interact in a busy world. But to make it just a clean-up site, does you no good and really defeats the purpose. If all you do on Twitter is say sorry then you might as well not even be there, because you really want to have more positive interaction and brags.
  • RIGHT RESPONSE: If your Twitter feed is all apologies then you really need to get back to the first level and fix things. More than a few in a row and you truly have customer service problems. Your Facebook and Twitter should be a place for fans to interact and talk about how great you are while you occasionally go above and beyond to help a paying customer. We empower our employees to make decisions to do whatever is possible to assist the customer while at the same time looking out for the company. If you don’t have that, then your days in business are probably numbered.

All in all it has been a very frustrating experience and I am just flabbergasted that a company as big and well known as Sears has such a horrible customer service department. There is no follow through and plenty of broken promises. How do you help your customers? Do you truly care about their business, or just want to take their money and move on like Sears has tried to do with me?

October 29, 2014

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