Dealing With Customer Service On Line
The jumbled confusion of technology can lead us to assume we caused a problem when actually we are the victim.
By Karen Wright
I'm a pretty laid back, easy going sort of woman. I seldom get angry except where serious injustice and stupidity are concerned. Thus, when my computer behaves like a furious three year-old child, I just turn it off and come back later. I remember the sage advice of my first computer guru, "It's probably not the fault of the computer, Karen, it's probably the fault of the operator." Chances are it will re-mesh its gears (or whatever the heck it has) and come back on line doing exactly what it is supposed to do. Hardly anyone needs to get a book so fast that they can't wait a few hours for the computer to stop pouting and get back on the straight and narrow.
Sometimes, however, that doesn't work. If a customer needs a book in a big hurry, Murphy's Law says that's when my electronic business partner will decide to have liver failure or something will go wrong with one of the websites I use to purvey my books. That was the story a while back when I got a notice from one of my vendors, ABE Books, that I had a number of outstanding orders that were about to be cancelled because I hadn't acknowledged them, and that my fulfillment rate was way low. I had noticed that ABE hadn't sent me any orders for a while, but my Alibris orders were arriving in a timely manner, so I thought it was just a slow ABE week. I emailed them my assurance that I had not received the offending orders, and would they please check and see why I hadn't. I also went to ABE's website and found, yes, about fifteen back orders. I freaked! I can't afford to lose any orders. I quickly emailed each customer and explained that I didn't know why their orders had not gotten to me, but that I did have (or didn't have) the book. I filled all the orders I could and emailed back to my ABE Rep that I had found the back orders and queries on their web site, but that I had not received the emails from them announcing the orders in the first place, and why was that?
Five emails and four or five days later, one of their right-hand agents finally got back to me and assured me that they were, of course, not at fault and gave me a list of the ten or twelve things I must have done wrong. They even suggested that I find another server as it might be Yahoo's fault. That would be fun. I would have to change my email address everywhere, thousands of wheres! I looked these things over and there were no matches to the problem, nor did it seem as though I had been the culprit. They also suggested that I check their web page every day and not rely on emails from them. I noted that they had been e-mailing me my orders for years, and what was the problem? For cryin' out loud, what am I paying their extravagant fees for? Two days later, they emailed me again and said they had no idea, and it must be something I was doing wrong.
Dealing With Customer Service On Line
In the next few days, I went to my ABE account and found orders for about thirty books, half of which I didn't have in my inventory and hadn't had for months. What the heck?! My cool, calm facade was beginning to crack a bit. I wasn't yelling yet, but I was borderline. The next day, I purged my old inventory, sent along my new file (I turn it over at least thrice a week), and noticed that they had me down for almost three times as many books in stock as I actually had for sale. I emailed them again, told them that they had books in my inventory that hadn't been in my store for months and that had long ago and far away been deleted. Their left-hand agent said that I really should purge my inventory before I sent in a new file. Huh?
I went to their web site to upload and when I hit the purge button, it went to the page and said, 'A book purge has already been requested and will be processed with your next file upload.' This was the same note I got the week BEFORE when I requested a purge, so their system was not purging my books and when I sent them a new file it was just putting it on top of the old file so I had triplicates of every book and all the sold books were back online. I said @$#-&f-%-^*$#%. I was getting mad now. I always purge before loading a new inventory file. I've been sending these files for years.
So finally, after raising my voice on the phone and peppering them with emails, they said that if I didn't straighten my inventory out soon, they would have to drop me from their site. I said that as far as I was concerned, if this was what they called "customer service" they could take it and ... well, you know. After that threat, I actually got an email from a very polite representative saying that they had finally turned it over to their technical department. Finally!
Next day an automated message told me that they had not purged my books when I asked them to as I had reduced my inventory by more than 25% of the current online inventory and, if the book purge and replacement file was intentional, to please reply so they could process my request to reduce my book count. After letting out a piercing scream that sent my dog skittering under the desk, I emailed them back and said that if I said purge and replace four times in a row, I meant purge and replace, dammit.
The next morning I had three new orders, but they still were not coming to my email, I had to go in and check the website every morning, which I did anyway. I emailed again - don't even try to phone them! The answer came back three days later - amazing: It seems that their system had not picked up my purges or my new inventory files, but of course, since I am technologically challenged, I just assumed, as did they, that it was my fault. But, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, it wasn't! At this point, ABE and I have parted company.
The bad news is that the U.S. Post Office is raising its rates, yet again, in May. Here we go again! More later, we're off to Costa Rica and will have more news next month. Saludos.