More and more often, poor customer service seems to be the norm.
I purchased a new washer and dryer two days ago on costco.ca. Everything went through and payment was processed. Then out of nowhere I receive an email last night saying that the order was cancelled. Reason: out of stock.
This is the second time this identical situation has happened this month.
It also happened with Home Depot when attempting to buy a snowblower. I placed the order, they processed payment, and two days later I get an email saying the order is cancelled.
I had to call in to find out what the reason was, but same thing again, item was out of stock.
The situation was annoying with Home Depot, but they actually surprised me. Without me asking for anything, they offered to send me a $100 gift card. I was pleasantly surprised.
They're the only store that sold this particular model of snowblower so I still had to wait for it to come back in stock (and deal with a snowy driveway), but the $100 gesture was something I appreciated. Better yet, I didn't have to ask for it. They took the initiative.
Costco's response to the same situation, however, was literally just an email saying the order was cancelled.
They behave as though this is just part of the process – if it inconveniences you – well, that's unfortunate.
You'd think that they could call or email and see if there's an alternate product that I'd like rather than me having to place another order or them potentially losing the sale.
But evidently, they don't even care about the sale. They'd rather just refund the order and let the customer deal with it themselves. Hopefully, the customer returns - is the mentality it seems.
The reason I usually lean towards buying larger ticket items like this from Costco is because of their reputation for good customer service. But they seem to be going backwards in a lot of ways. It's not the first time I've had a poor experience from them lately.
I had another terrible experience in their tire centre last spring. But I won't get into that. I'll write that one off as just a grumpy employee having a bad day.
The situation of this online purchase is clearly a result of the design of their system. It's not one employee, it's the sum of many decisions.
And it's not just Costco.
It seems to be every large business in every industry.
Have you tried calling a bank in the last two or three years? What a nightmare.
Cell phone providers too. Bell Mobility use to proactively offer great loyalty deals for customers. I remember getting brand new iPhones for half price for my wife and me. I wouldn't even have to ask.
But I went to upgrade our phones a year ago and Bell basically said, "Yea, we don't do those loyalty deals anymore. We'll also need to charge you $50 more per month if you renew."
So, I hopped online to Apple and financed my phones direct through them. I still use Bell for my cellphone service but since I didn't need to sign a contract for my phone, I was able to change to a cheaper month-to-month plan.
So I pay less overall than I did before, plus I'm free to leave Bell anytime if the service becomes problematic.
The part that should be the most concerning for these companies is that I would've happily re-signed a contract with Bell. I had been really happy with their service. But they basically said that they don't care about my business. So they're making less money from me now. And there's no guarantee I might not just pull my business tomorrow.
These are all examples of why I think there is such an opportunity for small businesses right now. The more I see things like this, the more I'm motivated to start a business purely with the foundation of exceptional service.
These big stores cannot seem to make the connection between online service + good customer service. They haven't transitioned from in-person box stores with customer service to online stores with customer support.
They can't or don't want to.
Either way, surely it's going to cost them.
Going online does not mean that you can nix customer service. The opposite is true. By going online, you need to provide even better customer service (support).
Going online means you need to be more proactive, more transparent, and more communicative.
If you don't provide that good service and your customer has a problem, the customer can just hop over to another site that hasn't caused them that grief.
But even more importantly, because good customer service is so rare these days, you can earn customers for life by going above and beyond.
Problems can even become opportunities. Just like the situation that I had with Home Depot. It was a frustrating situation but I'm actually even more inclined to shop there again because they treated me well when a problem came up. They showed an element of caring.
I think that's what it all comes down to. Caring.
In a digital world, where everything is optimized for automation and for removing manual human elements, care and kindness are two attributes that are becoming increasingly rare.
And just like so many other things in this world, the rarer something is the more valuable it becomes.