Have you ever felt the joy of snagging the perfect, hard-to-come-by gift for someone and you just know they’ll think you’re super-awesome for coming through with the gift? I mean, feeling like you’re the hero, because you’ve figured out how to do the nearly impossible? Especially when it’s a win-win-win for everyone involved?
And then have to make that crushing phone call to let them know that no, you were wrong, they won’t be able to get that gift.
I have a true story I’d like to tell you that made me think through some of my business processes. All identifying details have been changed, but the flavor of the story is unchanged.
Now, Clark is a big fan of Jelly of the Month clubs. He’s been searching and searching for a subscription that included dill pickle jelly, and last month he found exactly the right one. He told me he was going to ask Ellen to get that subscription for him for Christmas.
But before Ellen could sign him up, Jelly of the Month ran out of the dill pickle jelly, the exact one Clark wanted.
Clark emailed Jelly of the Month and they let him know that maybe there would be more dill pickle jelly, but they don’t have a date, and they’re not even really 100% sure they’re going to make it again.
I offered to help Ellen reach out by phone to Jelly of the Month, talk to them and see what I could find out. I knew they had a retail location and a factory store in another state. I struck out at the factory store, but had fantastic luck at the retail store. I talked with Russ and he found one case of dill pickle jelly left and I paid him right then and there over the phone.
I was SO happy to help out Ellen and SO happy that Clark was going to get what he wanted for Christmas, that I told them what I’d accomplished. I got the email with my order number, and the $300 charge went through on my card, so I knew we were in business. I was the hero, Ellen was happy and wrote me a check, and Clark was excited for Christmas again.
A few days later, Clark asked me when the Jelly of the Month should first arrive. I showed him my receipt email, which said it would ship from the warehouse in 1 – 3 days, that they were extra busy now during the holidays.
Then on Friday. I got a weirdly chipper email from the Jelly of the Month club letting me know that the dill pickle jelly I had paid for had “unfortunately sold out before your order was finished processing.” Excuse me? They had processed my card a week ago. Those jellies were mine.
The company did ask me if I wanted a different flavor or a refund, again in a strangely upbeat way, showing no inkling of how disappointed I might be.
I calmly described my disappointment as asked them to look one more time, as this was Clark’s big Christmas wish. The reply email said they would refund me and send me a $25 gift card.
It’s a couple of days later now, and my card hasn’t yet been refunded.
So clearly, Clark’s not getting his dill pickle jelly. I can accept that. If it’s not available, it’s not available. But the customer service around the whole experience was strange.
The bad news came in an email with happy emojis and exclamation marks – it made me feel like they had no understanding of or cares about my disappointment. The $25 gift card might have been a nice gesture, but since they still haven’t refunded my money, it’s off-putting. Especially considering the fact they don’t know if they’re even going to make any more dill pickle jelly.
I’m not angry with this company (at least not yet – I will be if the refund doesn’t show up). But, I’m unlikely to order from them again. Just a few small changes though, and I could have been a fan for life, even without getting the dill pickle jelly.
Here are some easy things that the company could have done to keep me as a future customer:
- Call on the phone to apologize, bonus points if Russ had called, since we’d had a great conversation when he took my original order.
- Set a more understanding tone on the email they send – it felt like a happy “Thanks for your order!” email template that someone stuck one bad news sentence in.
- Refund my money promptly.
- Offer to contact me if/when the company knows if the dill pickle jelly will be produced again.
Here are a few things the company could do differently in general to have avoided this:
- Wait to charge my card until the order is processed. Improve their inventory system so that unavailable items can’t be sold.
- Improve the order processing system so that once someone has purchased an item, it’s no longer available, even if it hasn’t shipped out yet.
- When something is a limited edition or a one-time only production, let customers know.
Overall, I know this is a pretty silly example. But I also wanted to illustrate how easy it is to alienate customers if you don’t pay attention. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this. I can tell you that I’m really looking at my own processes & customer service emails. I want my clients to feel understood.
And, I know that one $300 purchase is barely a blip on this company’s radar. But how many others had a similar experience? How many influencers have been disappointed?