Sunday, December 10, 2006

Customer Service Nightmare: What Am I Buying?

TiVo LogoIn several business coaching classes and books, I have heard and read that, to be successful in business, you must understand exactly what it is that you are selling. This is to be distinguished from your product. For example, a limousine service isn't selling transportation to an event. It is selling convenience, luxury, and a trouble-free evening out on the town.

I recently dealt with a company of which some of you may have heard: TiVo. Lisa and I had decided to purchase a TiVo box for my parents for Christmas. We were heading up to their place the second weekend in December to celebrate the holidays with them. I placed my order online on the Friday after Thanksgiving (two weeks prior to our departure). My credit card was charged and I received an acknowledgement of my order via email.

Then I heard nothing. No notice of shipment. No information that it would be late. Nothing.

Finally, on Wednesday evening, I thought I would just quickly check online to see what the status of the order was. Guess what? I couldn't check. There was no way to check the status of the order. OK, first rule. If you can order something online, you should be able to check its status online, too. So, I resigned myself to calling TiVo directly.

Those of you who remember my difficulties dealing with Sears will recognize that the procedures at TiVo were born of the same litter. I called the sales number. After wending my way through some less-than-self-explanatory voicemail options, I was able to speak with a human being. Next rule. If you require me to enter a phone number/order number/credit card number/address, etc as a part of the voicemail process, *don't* ask me again when the human gets on the line.

Apparently, this gentleman was not really interested in speaking with me, because immediately after I explained the situation (that I wanted to know the status of my order) he told me he couldn't help me and that I had to call Customer Service. He then gave me the number and wished me a nice day. Next rule. If you aren't the person to whom I should be speaking, give me their number, but also transfer me to them. Don't make me go through voicemail hell again.

So I called up Customer Service. Again I went through voicemail and had to enter phone numbers/addresses/etc. Then I was to be transferred to "an agent". I then proceeded to wait for forty-five minutes for someone to answer the phone before I hung up. Next rule. If you are going to make someone wait, at least tell them how many people are in front of them on a periodic basis -- unless you are trying to make them lose all hope.

So I called back Sales (since there at least I had someone to talk with). This time I took a different path through voicemail and, lo and behold (after entering my phone number/address/etc), I was speaking with Customer Service! I don't know how I got there, but I did. Now this person seemed bemused that I would want to know the status of my order and really couldn't help me with that so escalated me to his supervisor, a delightful young woman by the name of Nikita. She finally had the clearance to discover that the unit I had ordered was on back order, but that it should go out on Friday. I had ordered it with 4 to 6 day delivery (those are business days) and I expressed my concern that it wouldn't arrive in time. Would it be possible to change my shipping method? At this point I was willing to actually pay the difference just to make sure it got there on time.

"I'm sorry, sir. There is no way for us to change that once it is in the system. Not even my supervisor can change that. But, don't worry, I'm sure that it will there on time." Next rule. Don't patronize me. Give me a solution.

To reassure you, the unit did arrive on time (Tuesday morning, to be exact). As a gift, it was well-received. TiVo might even see this as a success. From my viewpoint, they failed in their job. As an online retailer, their job is more than just delivering the goods. It also has to be delivering confidence and reassurance that the goods will be there when they say they will and good communication (and *real* solutions) when they won't.

Next time? I'll go to Best Buy.

So, do you have any holiday Customer Service nightmares?

21 days.

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