Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How to lose a customer gave a demonstration this week of how to lose a customer.

I have done business with them for 10 years. One of the customer service representatives noted that there were 36 previous orders. This does not make me their best customer; it does make me a steady customer. Looking back, in 1998 I placed one order, the next year none, the next year three, but the year after that only one again. I believe that I placed other orders, but due to variations in the spelling of my name, they aren’t on here. However, to arrive at a total of 36 toward the end I was ordering steadily.

Essentially, Amazon built up a customer relationship, and then in one four day period, destroyed it.

To go back a little ways, the school my grandson attended had a magazine drive. Like any good grandmother, I bought magazines. Some I dropped after a year, some, I continued the next year. Last year, he no longer attended that school, so I renewed some of the subscriptions at Still no problem.

This year, I attempted to renew some of those, a couple of others that I subscribed to because they had special low introductory rates, and a couple of others that would expire later in the year. At Thirteen in all.

The problem: Amazon charged my credit card THIRTEEN times. After the first four, the credit card clearing house refused any additional charges. I am not faulting the credit card company. They acted to protect me. They had no idea what had happened: was my credit card stolen and being used fraudulently, was Amazon sending a whole series of orders under the same number when they should have been sent under different numbers. The clearing house had no way of knowing.

The worst was yet come. The clearing house blocked all transactions on my credit card.

I sent an email to Amazon. The response I got was to contact the magazines after I had “...successfully paid for your magazine subscription order....” (sic) Needless to say, this was no help. Parenthetically, I have almost never gotten any assistance from emailing a company. They seem to have a lot of stock email responses equivalent to “the cockroach letter” triggered by key phrases. I can’t ever remember actually getting any assistance from an email, but there is the possibility that once upon a time, I did. So I won’t say never.

Then I called Amazon.

And was forced to listen to them explain that I would get faster service if I sent them an email and that most questions could be answered by their help section. My feeling is that most people give up after getting one of those non-response emails or trying to find an answer on their help section. This way the company can go on its merry way and maybe lose some business, but hoping that people will forget that they had a problem and continue to do business with them. No pain for them. But no gain either.

The first so-called “customer service” representative did nothing but bleat “I’m sorry” and “I apologize.” She also claimed to have fixed the problem, but I knew all she had done was resubmit the order; I asked to speak to her supervisor. The only thing she did made things worse.

Note to companies: If a customer asked to speak to a supervisor, put one on the line. Do not put customers on hold until the system times out. Do not tell customers that there are no supervisors. Do not hang up. These strategies only make a dissatisfied customer more dissatisfied. The first representative did the first of these strategies. Later, several other representatives used others.

Some representatives said that if we got disconnected they would call back. They didn’t.

Note to companies: If you say you’ll call, call back.

Meanwhile I am getting emails from Amazon telling me that my credit card had been rejected and to please give them a different credit card number. I suppose that they wanted to mess up two accounts rather than just one.

I finally took the step of canceling the remaining parts of the order that had not processed. I did this because Amazon was making no effort to resolve the situation. The only possibility I could see was that if they tried to bill my credit card again it would be an endless round of the same problem.

Some of the representatives tried to tell me that I should have known that they would charge my credit card THIRTEEN times because in some obscure part of their directions it says that they won’t charge the credit card until delivery. I replied that I had in the past ordered an item that was temporarily out-of-stock and my credit card had not been charged until they were able to ship it. I had no way of knowing that this meant they would charge my credit card THIRTEEN times for this order.

Ironically, two of the magazines that did go through were the only two I could find the subscription renewal cards for.

As of Sunday, every time I didn’t get any assistance from calling them, I cancelled one of the magazines that had gone through. As of now, I am only keeping one of the subscriptions. Before anyone did anything to actually clear up the problem, i.e., faxing an explanation to the credit card company, I had to threaten to cancel the last remaining subscription and a previous unfilled order.

Sending an explanation to the credit card company was the first and most important thing I asked Amazon to do.

What did I expect? Well, first I expected them to send an explanation to the credit card company. Second, I expected them to repackage the order over several days so that it would go through. Had they done these two steps immediately, instead of bleating that they were sorry and stonewalling and hanging up, they would still have a steady customer.

Note to businesses: First, fix the problem; then say you’re sorry.

The latest is that on the fourth day of this ordeal, I received an email that I was getting a refund of $2.83 on an order that was almost a year old. I called to find out what was going on. I had not ordered anything that was $2.83. I was told that the price of something on the old order had dropped and they were adjusting it. The order was so old, I was pretty sure this wasn’t true. Then I was told that I had missed an issue and the magazine was refunding the price of that issue. I know what magazines do when an issue is returned. The magazine puts a hold on the subscription and waits for the subscriber to contact them. They do not issue a refund.

Amazon had the unmitigated gall to lie, rather than admit the truth – that they had messed up again. I called the magazine and found that their claims were not true.

Note to businesses: If you are going to lie, don’t lie about something that can be checked.

The final blow was an email follow-up to the original non-responsive email that was –non-responsive. Darn those customers, always getting in the way, expecting customers service.

I am not saying that I won’t order from Amazon again. If I exhaust all other possibilities, I may. BUT I’ll look everywhere else first, instead of going to them first.

My guess is that businesses think that if they lose a dissatisfied customer that will pick up other business’s dissatisfied customers. That dog will only hunt for a short while. Then it gives up and lies panting in the grass looking like it is saying “what?”

Take Sprint, for example. Their customer service was awful. I know because I’ve been a customer of theirs for eight years. That is also about to change. They have been losing ground in sales and also have been rank very low in customer service. Finally one of the highly paid executives noticed this and thought “well, gee, maybe we should improve customer service.”

The last time I had to call them and mentioned in passing that as soon as my current contract expires I am going to change providers, they informed me that they are trying to improve customer service. Too late. At this point, they would have to provide extraordinarily outstanding customer service for me to even consider staying with them. Which, I may add, they didn’t during that last call.

Businesses sometimes have the attitude that customers leave the first time something goes wrong. Most people will give a business another chance but will leave if the problem isn’t fixed.

Here is how to lose a customer:

First, make a mistake. If you never do that, you’ll never have a problem.

But since that is unlikely, the second thing to do is to claim you can’t do anything about it, refuse to try, and bleat that you’re sorry.

Next, refuse to put the customer through to a supervisor. Supervisors have more experience and often know ways to solve problems that the representatives do not. That is why they are supervisors. Correctly handled, everyone gains, the representative gains from learning, the customer gains from having the problem solved and the company still has a customer.

Finally, hang up on the customer.

Repeat endlessly.

Soon, you too will be losing business.

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