Unraveling Obfuscation

ob fus cate – 1. to confuse, bewilder, or stupefy 2. to make obscure or unclear


Posted by Todd McKinney on January 23, 2009

Crap. Despite the best of intentions, this blog has underperformed. Don’t worry – I don’t blame you, I mostly blame myself. Interestingly, although it has ominous parallels to the trend lines of the stock market and the US economy, the downward spiral of this particular publication was NOT due to high leverage or ill-advised risky investments. Mostly it’s because I have other priorities. image

OK, enough groveling. What now. One of the things that recently occurred to me is that most of my best writing happens whenever I’m on the bad end of a corporate system that doesn’t seem to be working right. I don’t know why this is. I’m deeply engrossed in writing software and the whole startup ecosystem is a fascinating thing. I should be able to write about this stuff fairly well. For some reason, however, I seem to be most passionate when there is an “injustice” in the world and I’m on the receiving end. Whether it be Network Solutions and their abysmal policies, or whoever seems to be taking advantage of their customers, I seem to have a lot more to say when there’s something bad happening that nobody can do anything about.

Except we can. Partially inspired by Jeff Jarvis and the Dell saga, partially by the horrible treatment of MG Seigler at the hands of Comcast, and partially by the things that really bother me about the way that ridiculous business policies affect me personally – I think I finally have a theme for this blog. It’s going to largely be about changing the way companies interact with customers. Our tools and our systems have become overwhelmingly social. Lots of companies have had a hard time adjusting to the constant feedback loop. There’s a lot of raw material for this one, so hopefully the theme will have some legs.

Unfortunately, this probably means that I’ll come across as a grumpy complainer much more than I would like. Hopefully there will be some examples of good customer service that I can use to balance out your perception of my personality. Without further rambling, here’s the full text of an email that I recently sent to the people that sent me down this path (newegg):

I have to say that I am pretty disappointed in the facilities that you have for handling rebates. My expectations around rebates have been set by Fry’s, and I would highly recommend that you study their in-store system for how this “should” be handled.

While newegg seems to have a pretty good mechanism of advertising the benefits of rebates, there is almost no system at all to help with redemption of the rebates once a purchase has been made. In retrospect, having been through the process at newegg, I believe it verges on false advertising.

As I suggested, there is a lot to be learned from the way that Frys handles this issue, but I will summarize it here so you have a clear idea of what I see as an opportunity for you to implement some improvements to achieve a semblance of parity. The ideal system for newegg would be to print all necessary paperwork for filing for a rebate, attach the paperwork together in logical groups, print a summary sheet with destination addresses, products and amounts, and send all of that with the product shipment.

Given that the above process may be difficult to implement, you could start with doing a couple of things that seem fairly straightforward and that I was honestly shocked to find that you are not already doing:

1) When assembling an order, the rebate links are prominently featured with each product in the shopping cart. Upon completion of the order, there seems to be no way to find out what, if anything, had a rebate associated with it let alone the amount of the rebate and instructions. This is the part that I think is borderline dishonest. It should be fixed.

2) Everything on your site seems very time-sensitive and temporal. You really need to capture the state of the order, including all rebate info, in a form that allows a customer to access the information later. I had to google your rebate documents for each product on my order to find anything that even resembled the offer at the time of purchase. You should really be embarrassed that the mechanism you have built is THAT bad. Unless, of course, you did it on purpose to lower the response rate on rebates. If that is the case, then you should be investigated by the FTC.

As a final suggestion, you really should put an email address on your website. Having a web form and calling it “email” is insulting. I have included a forwarded copy of the invoice you sent me to enable you to extract all the stuff you seem to want to collect on the web form.

I do apologize for the somewhat harsh tone of parts of this message, but I do feel strongly about the issue and it has caused me a large amount of unnecessary effort to do something that should not be so difficult. I believe that this has seriously damaged my perception of your service and the overall value that newegg offers to me as a customer. You WERE well on the way to becoming my “preferred default” vendor, and now that is not such an easy call. I will be comparison shopping elsewhere and weighing the pain of dealing with this aspect of your business when deciding where to buy. This is also an opportunity for your organization to take feedback and do something positive with it. I sincerely hope you consider this issue in that light. I do not expect an answer to this email, but I will definitely be watching for evidence that you are fixing your processes.

BTW,  if you happened to stick with me this far, thanks – I know it was a bit long. I would love to hear about examples that you have experienced (good or bad) in the comments, or friendfeed, or wherever. Let me know.

photo credit: me’nthedogs


2 Responses to “Customer…Service?”

  1. John Burns said

    “my perception of your service and the overall value that [insert vendor here] offers to me as a customer.”

    Key factors that all companies would do well to heed at any time but especially in these days. This will make or break any vendor.

  2. Hey, good to hear from you John. Yep, when I was ranting about this it almost seemed a bit much, but the spirit of the thing is definitely a “help me help you” idea. The thing is, it’s not just a cost center and a potential negative. I really think it is wise of companies to realize the potential upside of doing a great job of customer service.

    The downside of that is that it almost has more impact if the company first screws up very visibly, and then fixes things very publicly. I think the collective “we” need to do a better job of pointing out where people are doing a good job already, instead of taking it for granted. For example, why didn’t I write a post about how great the process is at Fry’s? Hmm…

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