Now, I must start by mentioning that this post has been prompted by a bad experience that happened to someone I've got to know through blogging. Although it didn't happen to me, it has niggled at me sufficiently that I wanted to write about it. I won't be mentioning any names, the purpose isn't to point the finger, it's more of a ramble about how some online retailers get customer service just right and some get it very wrong, without even realising it.
My nameless friend placed an order with a shop that stocks lots of very nice and relatively niche beauty brands. I asked her if she wouldn't mind telling me how she rated the experience, as it was a shop I was planning to order from in future. So, I was dismayed to hear that her order had arrived minus the main item she had been shopping for. She contacted the shop to find out what had happened and if the item would follow in due course. What happened next is where it all goes wrong.
The online shop emailed her back to say that their system involved two tiers of checks so it was unlikely that they had made a mistake and she would have to wait 48 hours for a stock inventory to confirm whether there had indeed been an error. Now, I don't know about you, but I believe the implication here is that my friend was lying about the missing item which is a frankly shocking way to deal with your customers. My friend was obviously not very happy about this and honestly, who would be? No apology, no 'we'll send it out immediately' and a lengthy wait at her expense to see what would happen. They have since come back to her after she emailed a photograph of the parcel contents and have said they will send out the missing item, but still there was no real apology, no admission of error or, heaven forbid, a discount code for a future purchase to apologise for accusing her of lying!
I think the shop made a really serious error in they way they handled this. Mistakes do happen, everyone understands that but how you deal with mistakes is what sets you apart. If you're a regular online shopper, you probably already have a mental tally of good and bad retailers based on previous experience and customer services is a very important aspect of it, not just their wares and prices. In many cases, there are no bricks and mortar shops to visit to speak to someone in person, so the trust and relationship has to be built in other ways. I am loyal to particular online shops because experience has taught me I can trust them to give me excellent service. I've seen them deal with the rough and the smooth on Twitter and respect that they don't ignore criticisms or complaints.
Good service is really important to me to the point where I would avoid a particular shop with a bad reputation, even if they did stock excellent products at reasonable prices. Which brings me on to my final point. When I buy from an online shop that I haven't used before, I will always search for reviews or ask for opinions on Twitter first. It is a bad retailer that doesn't realise that people communicate with each other in this way. Just because you don't have a physical shop, doesn't mean your customers aren't talking to one another. My friend's bad experience has put not just me off using them but other people that she talks to on Twitter and elsewhere. They have tarnished their reputation without even realising it and it will likely cost them more than the missing £26 cleanser...