Feel the pain – Customer Service Insight

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Some of you guys might know that I have been working in the ecommerce space for the last few months. I work as a product manager in one of the top travel sites in India. One thing that has struck home hard is the importance of effective customer service. Every day, there are a handful of customer experiences that would escalate up to me.

  • Some of these would be customers who have made errors by themselves.
  • Some of them would be UX ambiguities because of which the customers made mistakes.
  • Some of them would be truly bugs in the system.

But at the end of the day, there is one key tenet, that my team and I try to follow. If it has been analyzed as either of the last two buckets – which means, we were responsible, in some way or the other – be it directly or indirectly, we process the customer first, with the least pain as feasible.

We then, go and root cause, and analyze the bug or improve the UX to make it less ambiguous. The customer should never be left hanging. The customer would never have to write back to us (or call us) unnecessarily again and again. Well, some of these happen, but we try really hard to avoid these situations.

Why am I writing this post, out of the blue, now? I had a really painful customer service experience a couple of weeks ago. This was with one of the self drive cab rent companies (yeah, the one with the burgundy cars). Let me tell you the story, and you figure out yourself.

Saturday afternoon: We have this idea to rent an XUV for a ride. I have never driven one, and my six year old also was super excited about this. So we decide to rent one the following day (Sunday) evening. However, instead of booking for Sunday evening, I mistakenly booked for Saturday evening (same day) – entirely my mistake. The pick up was from SonyWorld Signal, Koramangala.

Few minutes later, after I get all the SMS and email confirmations, I realize my mistake. From experience, I know that, calling customer service up is the best way to make amendments.

I call up customer service. The gentleman on the line was very helpful. He said he would definitely be able to move it to the next day. However, he ‘regretfully’ told me that, an XUV was not available in the Koramangala lot, but is available in the Garuda Mall lot. I was ok with it, since it is barely 2-3km from my home. And I thought, that was the end of it.

Sunday afternoon – a few hours before the rental time. I get an SMS stating that my XUV was ready at the garuda mall lot, and is waiting for me. I was, ofcourse, super excited.

We drove down to the Garuda mall basement. The attendant over there saw my SMS, which even had the vehicle number, and ‘regretfully’ said that, the booking does not show in his ‘app’. He added for good measure, that the vehicle number mentioned did not even belong to his lot.

This was when it struck me to open up the app and check the booking history. And lo, behold, the booking history said – Koramangala lot.

I called up customer support again and explained to the gentleman on the line that I got an SMS for a different lot, and the app says a different one, and the attendant says he cannot give me a car. He says that he needs to escalate it to a different team and he will call back.

By this time, 20 minutes had rolled past. The wife and kid were uncomfortably seated on 2 moulded plastic chairs in the humid basement of the Garuda mall, with me pacing like a lion which had been fed nothing!

5 minutes past, another gentleman calls me from customer service, and ofcourse, I had to relate the entire story to him. And now comes the exact moment, when ‘he gets my goat’! He tells me, to screenshot the sms and email to him.

I got furious by this time (and ofcourse, I am reminded of all the emails I get from our customer service team about how irate a customer is!), and ask him very politely however, how anyone standing in the middle of a road (or in the middle of a basement ramp, in my case) would be able to screenshot and send something. And what if the customer does not know how to screenshot in an android phone (which I had only learned just recently!).

The person on the other line listened patiently, but had no response. And then he says, a car has been despatched from electronic city lot to here, and should reach me in 5 minutes, and that there were no others cars in the lot.

  1. Unless you are air-lifting the vehicle, there is no way in this city, where you can get a car from Electronic City to Garuda Mall, in 5 minutes. Be practical.
  2. I saw 2 XUVs standing right ahead of me.

I resolutely held on, and asked him to give the phone to his manager. I asked him why he could not transfer one of the XUVs in front of me to my reservation, and change the electronic city XUV to someone else. Here, I was trying to solve a problem for them. Pch.

45 minutes later, I get an XUV, and we ride out, thinking, we will never use this service again. That is the power of ‘bad customer service’.

With that story out of the way, I have reinforced to my team, and to our CRM team, that in no way, should we, as a company, ever put the customer on hold, if there is even a slightest problem from our end. We should resolve the issue at the customer end, move him on, and then later debug, fix, or whatever.

You lost me, Faasos

Faasos was one restaurant chain which I really wanted to succeed (with me!). I do not really care for it to succeed for everybody. These things are very individual. I loved their wraps the first time I tried them a year or two ago. They were in a much smaller scale. Their phone ordering was good. Their packaging was pretty damned good. Neat small rectangular cardboard boxes the size of the wraps, so that they stay in shape. Then they brought online ordering. They brought an app. Their messaging was funky.

They had it all going for them (for me!)  except for the key ingredient that I deeply care for – service. The first thing you notice when you order online, which seemed to be a flawless workflow was that, after you confirm your order, a message appears in the last screen that, the 20 minute guarantee does not hold good for online orders. Well, that is cheating in my regards, if you tell me that, after I have submitted the order.

Ok. Most phone orders that I place, do not have any guarantees, except for Dominos. So if it is not 20 minutes, I thought it would be 30-40 minutes. I was willing to wait.

I ordered, and got an SMS confirmation stating which store my order had gone to. It was amusing because there is a store (Koramangala Sonyworld) which is way nearer than the store that it was allocated to (Koramangala JNC). I didnt think too much about it because the further store was still slightly less than 2km.

40 minutes pass. I get hungry. I tweet out to @faasos asking for status. I get a “We are looking into asap” response message.

I decide to go back to the webpage. There is a nice track order section in the webpage, which asks for my order number. Hmm. Now where do I get that. The confirmation SMS did not have that. So I cannot track now either.

It is now an hour and I am getting hungrier. So I decide to call the store. The store goes into a dull “All customers are busy. Please hold the line” message for 4 minutes. I cut and call again. I hold 6 minutes. Same treatment.

I go back to the webpage to see if there is any other alternate contact number. Nothing zilch. Meanwhile, I have started tweeting my discontent. No response at all.

It is hour and 20 minutes and I give @Faasos 10 minutes time on twitter after which I would send back the order.

10 minutes later, I pick up my wallet and phone and leave the house to go somewhere and eat. I meet the delivery guy sauntering in near the gate of my complex. He claims that he rushed here in 5 minutes. I send him back. I tell him, I have nothing against him, but this is something to voice my displeasure at the company. I also show him the SMS that I received an hour and half ago, so that he can go and show it to his bosses.

The surprising thing is, a year ago, I had exactly the same thing happened to me. Secretly, I was wishing they had improved. I guess not. And now, I have lost faith completely.

 

Wow’ing the customer

(Image courtesy: tristangage)

I had the good fortune of being wow’ed with customer service and quality yesterday.

Yesterday, I had agreed to meet with a prospective new-hire for breakfast. He had some questions, I had some info to give him before he joined us. We wanted to meet some place, where we could sit and chat over breakfast and a good coffee.

We had initially decided on Cafe Coffee Day. The website had said 7AM and we wanted to meet at 830AM. So it was perfect. Both of us reached the venue. Wham ! We were hit with a brick wall, and I had never seen this wall before. Apparently they open at 7AM, but do not serve anything until 9AM. In the words of the one employee who was cleaning up the place, “you could sit and chat until then”. Hmm. Ok. That did not seem quite right. This specific shop was a “Lounge” category shop, and he  suggested us to try another coffee day, ” a regular one” – about half a km away. And there we went. Same rule ! Whoa. And it was already 9AM, and still the staff had not come. Yes, you heard that right.

By this time, I was a tad bit irritated. I knew there was a Costa Coffee a block away, and we decided to try our luck there.

There was just one person who was manning the shop – a bright and cheerful lady. The shop was brightly lit. A welcoming aroma of coffee. A cheery “Good morning” from the lady. We asked for the choice of vegetarian sandwiches available. She made a good recommendation. We ordered our sandwiches and coffee, and went and sat at a table facing the road.

In just a few minutes, the nice and hot sandwiches made their appearance. And the awesome cappucinos along with them. Beautiful chocolate and cinnamon sprinkles on top. Heaven. On the initial sighting of the cappucino along with the food, I was a little apprehensive though. Coffee shops tend not to give hot coffee in India, but are only mildly hot (bordering on not hot at all) for immediate drinking ease. But the lady had beautiful heated up the coffee just right.

In a single word – “Wow”. Well three more words- “New found respect”.

What did Costa do, that Coffee Day did not ?

  • Opened their stores on time.
  • Realize the full potential of the market. There are folks who would want to come in for breakfast and a coffee.
  • Cheerful customer service.
  • Luring the customer in.

And yep, Costa did it right. Good going guys. You guys just got a regular customer.

Little things make a #fail

It can take years to build a reputation, but a little thing can break everything. The wife and me ordered salads from Papa Johns (Koramangala, Bangalore, INDIA). They have two different types of salads – the traditional veg salad and the slightly more fancier island fresh salad (with pineapples and a little bit of paneer cubes). We had ordered 0delivery. The food arrived on time. Excellent packaging. Cheerful delivery person. We dived in. The shocker — the cucumber was bitter. And by bitter, I mean, ultra-bitter, so bitter that the humble bitter-gourd would be put to shame !!

Every other ingredient was perfect. But just the fact that cucumber (the description said luscious de-cored cucumbers) was so bitter put us off sad. Even so, because, it is so easy to have been avoided. A small taste of the cucumber (one small bit) could have eliminated this mishap (Usually if a small bit is bad, the entire cucumber is bad).

What is worse is, it brought back my two bad memories with Papa Johns – one where the store tried conning us (thinking we were the usual gullible Indian customer – this was about 5 years back) that a tomato based pizza was Spinach Alfredo ; and one where the waiter had argued that the watery garlic sauce was the same sauce served all over the word (the manager later apologized for this, and admitted that the sauce in India was different from the creamy yellow sauce in the US).

I had really forgotten the two older incidents, and started enjoying Papa Johns in India. But this small mistake kindled all those memories. Maybe its just me, that makes this such a big deal. But I really think, if you are paying premium, you deserve premium.

Papa Johns – are you reading this??