Thursday, May 17, 2007


Grrrr.... I hate bad customer support. I just got off the phone after having one of those experiences. Fortunately, through the miracle of modern Internet technology, I get to work through my frustration by blogging about it. Okay, here's the setup...

Last Sunday was Mother's Day here in the USA. Like all dutiful dads with kids, I definitely needed to get some flowers for my wife and my mom. Being a busy guy, prone to forgetting these things and wanting to lock things in, and with a fast Internet connection, I went online a couple weeks ago and ordered two flower bouquets from a large national florist with a web presence.

On Friday, the flowers arrived. My mom and wife were thrilled. Unfortunately, I was not. My wife's bouquet looked bad. The flowers were already starting to turn and looked bleak. My wife got them into water and we went about our business.

By Monday afternoon, it looked horrible. The flowers had all lost most of the petals and were well on their way to being completely dead. Well, I didn't like that one bit. I called a different florist and had my wife delivered another bouquet, which looked great. I got double-bonus-points for being a thoughtful husband.

Okay, so at this point no problem. Hey, flowers die. They are organic living things. Flowers simply aren't an exact science. I looked on the shipping confirmation email I had received and it said "...your satisfaction is guaranteed," and was ostensibly sent by "Julie L. Kaufman, Director of Customer Service." (Or by a big CRM system masquerading as Julie. Who knows if Julie even saw the template text.) I figured I'd just call the customer support line for the florist from whom I had ordered them and get them to issue me a refund. No biggie, worst case Julie would take care of me, right?

I called customer service this morning. Fortunately, the support line wasn't busy and I didn't wait any time in the queue.

"Hi, sir, I'm Bernadette," she said. "How can I help you?"

"Hello," I said. "I just bought a bouquet for my wife for Mother's Day. Unfortunately, the flowers looked horrible when I received them on Friday and they were all dead by Monday afternoon. I'd like a refund, please."

After taking the information such as my name and the order number, the customer service rep informed me that I couldn't have a full refund.

"I can have the flowers redelivered and I can either give you a 50% credit to be used in the future or a 20% refund," she said.

"Well, I really don't want a redelivery," I replied. "I already ordered new flowers from somebody else and I don't need a replacement. Can't you just give me a complete refund?"

"Hang on, sir. Let me check." After 30 seconds, "No," she said, "that's not possible."

Grumble. "What's up with this?" I'm thinking to myself. "There's no way you can give me a 100% refund?"

"No, sir, that isn't possible. Either 50% credit or 20% refund."

"Give me the 20% refund," I said, thinking "...and I'm never ordering flowers from you guys again."

"Okay, sir, I'll have the flowers redelivered and you'll get a refund of 20% of the price. Oh, wait a minute. That bouquet you ordered is no longer available after Mother's Day. I'll have to find an equivalent bouquet." Grumble. "Rather than having you wait while I go through all that, I can let you go now and I'll take care of it."

That last part was at least a step in the right direction. At least she wasn't going to make me wait further while she picked out an equivalent bouquet. I didn't even want the flowers, just a refund, so I figured anything she picked out wouldn't be horrible. And my wife probably didn't want yet-another similar bouquet.

No sooner had I hung up the phone, when I followed a link in the confirmation email to the florist's web site and the "100% Satisfaction Guarantee" page. Right there it said:

Providing exceptional flowers and gifts, and superior customer service is important to all of us at 1-800-horrible-customer-service. We guarantee the freshness of our flowers for 7 days. If there's something we've done and you're not completely satisfied with your order, we'll redeliver, refund, credit or offer a comparable exchange if the original product is not available.

Grrrrrr! Now I'm really pretty angry. I definitely wasn't 100% satisfied, the flowers definitely weren't fresh, and they definitely didn't last 7 days. I had asked for a complete refund but was told that the best I could get was a redelivery and a 20% refund. Frankly, I had been lied to, and that's never a great way to treat a customer.

So I called back.

As you might expect, I got a different customer service agent.

"Hi, I'm Bob," he said. "How can I help you?"

"Bob, I just hung up the phone with someone in your customer service department named Bernadette no more than two minutes ago. I had called because I got a bad bouquet of flowers on Friday that were dead by Monday. Bernadette told me that I could only get a redelivery of my order and a 20% refund of the purchase price. I just went to your web site and it says that if I'm not 100% satisfied that you'll give me a refund. I'd like to cancel the redelivery that Bernadette set up for me and get a full refund."

"You said that somebody else already scheduled a redelivery?" he asked.

"Yes," I replied, "Bernadette said she was going to do that."

"Okay," he said, "I may or may not be able to cancel that. If it has already gone to the florist, it may be impossible to pull it back at this point. When did you say you called before?"

"No more than two minute ago," I said. I then gave Bob all my info again.

"Hmmm... here's a problem," Bob said. "Looks like she still has your record active. I can't make any changes to it until she's done. Can you call back in a bit?"

Huh??? You have got to be kidding. "Okay, Bob, so when are you saying that I should call back?"

"Try again 30 minutes from now."

"So you want me to call back sometime after she's out of the record but before it goes to the florist for shipping?" I asked.

"Yes, that's right."

"Bob, I know that you are fighting computer systems and you're just trying to help me, but let me speak to your supervisor," I said.

"Ummm... hang on a second." (Sounds like typing on the keyboard, probably an IM session to the supervisor.) "Sorry, I can't do that."

"What?!?! I can't talk to a supervisor? Okay, I got a note from Julie Kaufman when I ordered, your Customer Service Director. I want to speak with Julie."

"I'm sorry, but that isn't possible either."

At this point, I'm pretty steamed. I have tried to be reasonable. I'm getting stonewalled. (more typing sounds) Finally, Bob says, "Okay, if I can get a phone number from you, my supervisor says she'll call you back."

I give him my name and phone number, but I have heard this one before so I ask for the name and number of his supervisor. "I can't give out that information," he says.

"So how do I contact her if she fails to contact me?" I ask.

"Oh, I'm pretty sure she'll call you back," he says. That doesn't inspire confidence.

At this point I'm trying hard to keep my cool. All of a sudden he says, "Wait a minute, looks like the other rep saved your record and I can change it for you now. I'll cancel the redeliver and give you a 100% refund."

Breathing slowly and deliberately, I said, "Okay, Bob, thanks. Look, I know that you're just trying to do your job with the tools they give you, but please tell your supervisor that failing to take a call from a dissatisfied customer is extremely horrible customer service behavior. If I was running your organization, I'd force your supervisor back into remedial training and if it ever happened again I'd fire her."

"Uh, okay sir. Sorry about the trouble. I'll tell her." (click) Yea, right. I'm sure you will.

That, my friends is the anatomy of a horrible customer service experience.

Why do I write all this for you? Well, the first reason is that it's cathartic for me. The second reason is that we at Vyatta hate bad customer support. In my next posting, I'll discusses the principles Vyatta uses to deliver a good experience to you and I'll show that had the florist used those principles, I would have had a good experience with them nonetheless. Our subscribers give us rave reviews and I'll share some of their comments.