Practical Ecommerce

Never Forget The Customer

Ecommerce is a service industry. We should never forget that customers come first. We should always consider what a customer actually wants from us. With Ecommerce we build a site, we build admin systems and procedures, and we try to make everything efficient so we can send out the goods as fast as possible with the lowest costs. In all this we must never forget the customer. In our highly technical environment it can be easy to miss obvious real world problems.

I have a few examples, although not all Ecommerce, they do highlight where big organisations that should know better, have dropped the ball.

In the UK all employers have to collect and pay the tax for all their employees. Up until the end of this tax year the employer has to send an annual return, electronically, to HMRC. From the start of the new tax year employers have to send an electronic return before every payment. This is a massive change. The tax year ends on Friday April 5th. I pay my employees on Saturdays, so according to the rules I have to complete and submit my end of year return for 2012/2013 before I can update the software for the new year and send my first return for the new scheme. I have to submit this before I pay them on Saturday 6th April. So in theory I have a whole week to balance the years figures, submit them electronically, install the new software, get it working, submit the first pay submission to the new interface. With 52 weeks in a year, guess which week HMRC close their gateway for administration and maintenance. No submissions can be made before 6am on the 6th. They do not even offer a secondary service to capture submissions for latter processing so that an employer can move on to test the new system and ensure that they can fix any teething problems and ensure that they can legally pay their employees. I, and every other employer who pays on a Saturday, will have just a few hours to try out a new system that we have no chance to test before going live. Absolutely no thought of the real world has gone into this. I have every expectation that the gateway will collapse due to the volume of desperate employers.

Like any sane employer I use a major payroll software provider, who hopefully will have all this sorted. Mine is called Sage. Today I started. Sage helpfully provided a 80 page document on how to do year end and prepare for the new year. Halfway through it something went wrong, so I phoned their support line. Naturally at this time of year they are busy, so I had a 20 minute wait before I got to talk to the first line support. That said I expected it, and they clearly expected it, so I was given a choice of music to listen to and an accurate countdown of how long I had to wait. So far good customer service. The front line support was excellent. Knowledgeable and quickly determined what my problem was and told me they knew how I could solve it. Then the service slipped. It seems I had the wrong level of support. They were not allowed to give me the answer over the phone. Not a problem I was told, just upgrade your account and pay for the additional service. Of course the technical support cannot do this, it has to be a different department. So I had to be passed on to the sales department to upgrade, and then I would be passed back. OK, irritating but not unreasonable. The sales department was very efficient, the upgrade cost was a very low $15 for a years worth of unlimited support calls, no need to pay up front. I was surprised and happy again. Then they destroyed my mood. They did pass me back to technical support, but to the BACK of the queue. So I had to wait another 20 minutes to get my answer. Why? If there was no need to pay up front, why could the technical support guy not be able to upgrade the account and then answer the question? Yet again the organisation forgot the real world, and the customer’s perspective. I was forced to wait twice as long as I should because their system was not flexible enough.

My third example is Ecommerce. One of my competitors decided to dump some of their stock on Ebay at well below cost. So I bought it all, one transaction, one payment, one invoice. Instead of being sensible and boxing them all up and sending me one box, they sent them all individually. Each put in a simple plastic bag with no protection and then individually posted. Unsurprisingly many got damaged. So they had to be returned. The fun then began. They wanted me to apply for a return authorisation for each item, they wanted me to print a different return label for each item, they wanted me to return them all individually. Unlike them, I was not prepared to spend a fortune sending dozens of individual parcels to one address where a single parcel would do. So I sent them all back in one box, with their individual returns authorisations enclosed. Of course the inevitable happened, they just refunded me for one item. It took days to get a full refund. Their system was geared up to process individual items, fast and efficient. Their returns system was likewise geared up to handle individual items. Both completely ignoring the real world possibility of someone ordering multiple units in one transaction. Now I will never buy from them again. I am however happy that one of my competitors is so useless.

All of these organisations should have spent a bit more time when designing their systems and considered real world scenarios. All should monitor their systems to see what goes wrong and be flexible enough to improve their systems to meet the real world challenges. I am confident however that they do not.

Whilst no system is perfect. No matter how hard you try to be customer friendly, it is essential to monitor your own performance from the customer’s perspective, and see what can be improved. If you don’t do this then a competitor could slowly get their act together and surpass you.


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