Sunday, July 29, 2007

Who To Blame? - A story about lousy customer service

I recently had a horrible experience trying to get my hands on the last Harry Potter book (yes, I'm hooked and proud) and it opened my eyes to some of the complexities of modern commerce, customer service, and the problems this can raise when things don't go right.


Several months ago I was making a multi-book order on Amazon (one of which was The Culture Code by Clotaire Rapaille -- a book I highly recommend, but that's another post altogether) and I decided to pre-order the 7th Harry Potter. As all the hype built over the early summer I was confident I would have my copy thanks to a well-publicized special service Amazon had for the release -- day-of delivery to any major center in Canada even though the release date was Saturday, July 21st (no postal services in Canada on Saturdays).


Unfortunately, I had other more important things to do on that day then sit at home waiting for the mailman. I had assumed that the book would be left in my mailbox or, worst case scenario, a slip directing me to my local post office (one block away) would mean I could pick the book up Monday morning on the way to work.

The slip was indeed there and first thing Monday morning (on the way to work) I went to the post office to pick it up. The guy at the counter scanned the slip and told me the package wasn't at his post office - it turns out that scrawled onto the slip in nearly illegible writing was an address of another post office in Anjou. For those of you not familiar with Montreal, that's far - a 40 minute drive by car for me.


That night I called the Anjou office to ask if they would transfer the package to a post-office closer to me or try to re-deliver it. They said they could not because it was a special package and Amazon wouldn't let them (finger pointing the first).

My next step, obviously, was to call Amazon. They said that since the package had been delivered it was out of their hands and that I had to deal directly with Canada Post (finger pointing the second)...of course they "Appreciated my Business" and "hoped they had helped to resolve my issue today".

To make things just a little more interesting Amazon further confused matters by giving me the address of a different post office where their records showed the book had been delivered. I double checked on the canadapost website and, sure enough, the address where the book was apparantly waiting was not at all in Anjou but rather just a few minutes from my house. Naively hopeful I rode out one night after work only to have them tell me that no, in fact, they did not have it and that I really truly needed to go out to the Anjou location. The chicken scratch of one postman, apparantly, trumps the canadapost website and tracking system.

Finally I called Canada Post directly. They had obviously fielded more then a few similar calls because the woman I talked to had a speech prepared: It wasn't the fault of Amazon nor Canada Post but in fact Amazon's Canadian partner in this endeavour -- Chapters. It was they, apparently, who had mandated that the package not be allowed to leave this one particular post-office in order to guarantee that their customers who missed the Saturday delivery could pick it up on Sunday (it turns out that this Anjou post office is one of the few in the city that operates on the weekend). The third and final finger pointing in this love-triangle of confusion.


Finally, having abandoned all other options I had no choice but to drive out to Anjou and back to pick up my book that Canada Post was so considerate to imprison for me.

The logic behind the operation seemed sound -- if someone is going to go through the hassle of pre-ordering a book it means they want to read it day of (or at least weekend of) and therefore restrictions needed to be imposed to ensure the packages stayed available at the most accesible (in terms of hours of operation) post office possible. What they neglected to factor in was the relative remoteness of this post office and the fact that once the initial launch weekend had passed, customers like myself cared much less about reading the book on the first day and much more about actually getting their hands on the book they had purchased. Time became less of an issue and was quickly trumped by convenience and, quite simply, customer expectations about how a package delivery experience should operate.


The interesting lesson for me in this experience is that it isn't enough to try and think like one's customer if said mindset is restricted to a very limited window of time. Amazon/Chapters tried to think like their pre-order customers, knowing that early access was important, but failed to factor in how quickly a pre-order customer becomes a frustrated customer when the initial window closes.

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Blogger alimokrane said...

Sounds like you could turn this story into a movie ;) How About "Ben Mattes and The Lost Harry Potter Book" :P
Awful experience though. Hope you're enjoying the book now :)

5:40 AM  

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