Customer service. It’s something we don’t think about much – until we’re on the receiving end of really great or truly terrible customer service. I’ve seen the highs, lows and in-betweens of the customer service experience, not only as a customer, but also as an employee in the retail industry.
As a blogger and someone very active on social media, it’s tempting to trumpet every memorable customer service experience. Personally, I love shouting experiences of excellent customer service from the rooftops. If a company has gone above and beyond what they’re called to do, I want you to know. I want you to know so that when you need product X or service Y, you’ll remember them. I want you to give them your business, because I want you to have a great experience when you plunk down your hard-earned money. I want to reward businesses with more business when they care about their customers.
On the flip side, I’m wary of calling out a company for less than pleasant customer service interactions. Maybe it’s because I’ve been on the other end, when I’ve done everything in my power to make it right for a customer and it still isn’t good enough in their mind. Maybe it’s because I know that everyone can have a bad day at work, and not give you their best. I might mention it to a manager, I might not shop there again, but everyone else who does might have a wonderful experience. My griping about it online doesn’t serve any purpose. Mostly it’s because I’m tired of anyone who has a Twitter or Facebook account blasting a business for God and everybody to see because there were 23 cookies in their box instead of 24, or the pink isn’t just right, the font on the menu is tacky, or whatever it is that gets their already too-tight knickers in a knot. Not helpful, and not fair to a business that has no means of recourse other than firing back and looking like an asshole.
Thanks to the most frustrating, hair-pulling, horrendous customer service experience I encountered last week, I decided I couldn’t not write about it. I was appalled at how time and time again I did my best to do the right thing as a customer, only to have them ignore me – but not my bank account. I feel compelled to share so that you don’t make the same mistake of doing business with them as I did. But I firmly believe in customer service karma, so I’m going to end on a positive note and call out a few businesses that went above and beyond to help a girl out.
A little backstory first …
We’re trying something new with Elena and her allowance, and in the process we set her up with her own bank account and debit card. She had some money from Christmas and she wanted to buy a shirt online from Fresh Tops*. I don’t know if it’s a thing with other tween/teen girls, but Elena and her friends are obsessed with them. She’s on the site all the time and has asked for something from there for every gift-giving occasion in the last year. I’ve always said no because the stuff looks cheap and seems overpriced. But she had her own money and that’s what she wanted. In an effort to give her some experience in the valuable life skill known as impulse internet shopping, I let her purchase a sweatshirt on her own, using her debit card.
Minutes after she placed her order, she came sobbing down the stairs as if her best friend had died. She’d made a mistake, and ordered a large instead of a small. I told her to calm down, it’s no big deal. It’s simple, I said. All we have to do is call or email Fresh Tops right away and they can correct the order before it’s shipped. (HA! Insert dramatic foreshadowing here.) With no number for Fresh Tops to be found, I immediately emailed them to let them know exactly what happened. What followed was the beginning of me promptly trying to remedy what was, of course, my mistake, with a pattern of Fresh Tops waiting 2-3 days to respond and then either not answering my question or being completely unhelpful. Observe:
December 27: Order placed. We realize our error and immediately email Customer Service to see if they can correct it before it ships.
December 29: Fresh Tops responds: “If you want to exchange for a different size, please send it in for a return.” We immediately respond back that perhaps they misunderstood – we don’t actually have a shirt yet. Can they please switch it to a small or cancel our order?
December 31: Fresh Tops: “We’re sorry, your order has already shipped!” Whatever. When it gets here we’ll just return it. Fresh Tops kindly offers to send a shipping label so that Elena won’t be out postage.
January 4: Shirt arrives. It is ridiculously large on an 11-year-old, as expected. Giant snowstorm hits and we are trapped inside the house for several days.
January 11: We ship the shirt back. I put Mike and Elena in charge, who inadvertently ship the shirt back without the return form inside. Again, our mistake. The following day I email Fresh Tops to let them know the package is on its way, without return form inside. I send them all pertinent information needed for the return.
January 20: Email from Fresh Tops: “Elena, Just notifying you that we received your package and will refund you for the sweatshirt.” Awesome!
Two weeks go by, and I realized that Elena’s account has never been credited for the return. I emailed Fresh Tops yet again (Can they not get a phone up in that place? They’re charing $42 for the same sweatshirts you can buy on the street from a shady guy in the city for $10. Surely they can afford a phone.) and politely inquire about the status of our refund.
February 4: Fresh Tops: “We can check into your refund. Can you send us the order number again?” I send it immediately, again rehashing the entire issue from start to finish, even though I’ve been corresponding without the same person from Day 1.
February 6: Fresh Tops: “Can you provide us with a tracking number for the package you sent back?” WE CAN NOT. We got rid of it when you told us over two weeks ago that you received the shirt and would refund us our money. For the first time, I email me them back in a slightly less than pleasant tone. I’m about over Fresh Tops. This is me being irritated:
Up until this point I have been very understanding. Other than forgetting to include the return form with the sweatshirt, I have been in constant contact with Fresh Tops regarding this order, doing everything in my power to make it right on my end. We tried to prevent this whole situation of having the wrong size shirt sent in the first place by emailing Fresh Tops within minutes after our order was placed. I’ve never dealt with an online retailer who couldn’t rectify a situation with an order error in a satisfactory and timely manner. We are approaching the 6 week mark without any kind of resolution.
If this matter cannot be resolved with the refund we are owed in the next few days, I will have no choice but to dispute the charge on our credit card. At this point I can’t see myself ever ordering anything from Fresh Tops again.
February 7: Fresh Tops: “Unfortunately without a tracking number provided there is no way to track or confirm us receiving your return. Unless you’re able to provide us with a tracking number there will be nothing we can do at this point. Thanks again for shopping Fresh Tops!”
I think it was the perky exclamation point that did me in. I lost it. I sent an email back that may have included a few sentences in all caps. I really hate to correspond in all caps, but when you have my daughter’s money and she doesn’t even have a shitty “I Heart Niall” sweatshirt to show for it? YOU GET ALL CAPS, NELLA FROM FRESH TOPS!
I haven’t heard anything back. In the meantime, we’ve called our bank and disputed the charge. I’ve never done that in my entire life. Elena is completely terrified to ever order anything online again (okay, so maybe the situation isn’t entirely terrible).
It’s not a large corporation, where you’re dealing with a different customer service person each time, and where they would have no clue what to do with a package that arrived with the customer’s name on it but no return slip. They know what they’re doing and are perfectly content with not doing the right thing. Directioners, Beliebers, and lovers of cat t-shirts will go on ordering their high-priced, low quality shirts. Fresh Tops will continue to make money and not spend it on telephones or helpful employees. Let me contrast this with a few other online experiences I’ve had in the last couple of months, from companies of varying sizes, and I dare Fresh Tops to tell me again how they can’t possibly make it right.
Zappos: Last spring I ordered a pair of shoes for Eli. About a month later, I noticed the velcro was pulling away from the tab on the shoe. I contacted Zappos to see if they’ve had any issues with these shoes from other customers. I’m not fishing for a refund, I’m just wondering if we got a bum pair or if I should avoid this particular brand again. I got a response back within the hour. They’re apologetic. They told me they can’t send me a new pair, but they’ve already refunded my account. As a result? If I’m ordering shoes online, I’m ordering them from Zappos.
Fabness: I ordered a canvas with a family photo on it using a deal code. After I placed my order, I realize that I was charged too much. Upon further investigation, it turned out I entered the code incorrectly and it didn’t take off the discount. I email Fabness and they correct the code for me on the spot, refunding me the difference in less than a day.
Wintercraft: While traveling, I purchased an ice globe kit for the kids and I to do together. I put it away until after the holidays. I pulled it out to do it, only to open the package and realize it’s missing several key components. I realize that I most likely picked up the box for the display, as they had some of the pieces out for you to see. I’m not anywhere near the store where I can just swing by and pick up a different one. I realize this is mostly my fault for not checking the box, but as a last ditch effort to see if anything can be done, I email the manufacturer of the kit, Wintercraft. The following day they reply back, expressing their regret and asking for my address so they can send me the pieces I need. A few days later a box arrives, not only with the pieces I need, but a few extra supplies so we can make more.
I’ll call out businesses for awesome stuff like this all day long. But I firmly believe a company like Fresh Tops warrants the one time in my 8 years of blogging and on social media that I call out a business for completely and utterly failing in customer service. Perhaps if we celebrate more, and complain less when it doesn’t really matter, the really great business and the really terrible businesses will stand out amongst the chatter. And in the end, we can happily support the businesses that deserve to succeed.
Because I don’t want negative experiences to trump the good ones, I’d love for you to share in the comments your own story of brands and businesses that have impressed you with customer service. Let’s celebrate the businesses that do the right thing so they can succeed!
*Because I refuse to send anything extra their way, I’m not posting links to the company. Google them at your own risk.