I love eBay.
It has connected me with many types of businesses.
And it’s a well-managed marketplace.
I typically only buy from sellers who have a positive feedback rating of 99% or higher. So I was surprised the other day when I had a truly bad experience with a seller who had tens of thousands of transactions and a near-100% Positive Feedback rating.
For privacy’s sake, I’ll change the details: I bought an iPod cover about a month ago for the impossibly low price of 99 cents. This sells at retail for $25, so I considered the item an amazing deal.
The seller promised:
- Shipping within two days of payment
- Expedited shipping for $9.50
What a great deal! I bought the item on a Monday and figured, with shipment on Wednesday I’d have it by Friday.
The seller went to great lengths in their listing and follow-up e-mails to stress how dedicated they are to quick shipping, near-immediate responses to inquiries, and receiving positive feedback.
First, I didn’t receive shipping confirmation until five days after I paid for the item.
Second, the confirmation e-mail said the item would be shipped that same day, but it didn’t ship until two days after that.
Finally, it was sent by regular US mail, not an “expedited” service, which I assumed to mean something like Priority Mail.
I guess when he said “two day turn-around” he didn’t mean two consecutive days.
I wrote to the seller, and they explained that they left for a brief but unexpected family trip two weeks earlier. The seller – who ships more than 200 items daily — left his high-volume business to a friend who promised to send everything out.
It was like Gilligan bungling the Skipper’s orders on Gilligan’s Island.
This is not a rant about eBay, it’s a cautionary tale for any business leader, because most of you reading this are at the top of your organizations, and may not know what kinds of promises aren’t being kept to your customers served by folks a few levels below the executive suite.
Here are five things to help you keep your promises to customers:
1. Don’t wait for an emergency to have a back-up plan. If the sudden illness or unavailability of key people would stop orders from being processed, have a plan in advance for coverage. One company I know of requires a full written process for fulfilling orders, with cross-training (even out of the fulfillment area) to ensure there would be no delays in filling orders.
2. Don’t promise so much it strains your company. Internet phone company Vonage so famously over-promised on services that they couldn’t handle all of the new orders and customer complaints from a system that barely worked at low volumes much less high ones. They were actually banned from marketing their services for a period of time until they were able to increase their capacity to deliver on service promises.
3. Exceed expectations whenever you can. You will consistently delight your customers when you deliver more than you promise. Faster turnaround, additional bonuses or gifts they didn’t anticipate, and, above all, appreciation for every order.
4. Peerless customer service on the backend. Don’t learn from your own mistakes; learn from everyone else’s … like the airline, cell phone and computer industries. Great examples of customer support are out there but still too uncommon. Establish the value of providing outstanding customer service, and challenge your leaders and staff to create ways of doing it. Nordstrom, the Ritz-Carlton, LL Bean and others are successful because they invest time and money in customer service. It shows when you do, and it shows when you don’t.
5. Offer multiple ways to reach you, and include those methods in each reply to inquiries. Don’t offer just one way for people to contact your company, and don’t bury the options. I think it’s hilarious that my cell phone provider requires website visitors to hunt for their telephone support line. Offer your telephone number, e-mail, a web form and your street address up front. And use technology to let people know what they can expect in response. For example, on your voicemail, provide an e-mail address where people can send a note if they choose. On your e-mail auto responder, provide a telephone number if that would be a quicker way of reaching you. Either way, let EVERYONE know when they’ll hear back. For example: “Thanks for your e-mail! We reply to all customer inquiries at 12 pm and 5 pm Eastern Time every business day.”
I suppose it’s less about what you promise, and more about what you deliver.