A Comedy of Errors

Laura Rush

Updated · Apr 29, 2002

Chaos should not be a regular part of the e-commerce process. Indeed, merchants should try to streamline and perfect their order taking and shipping processes in the most effective and efficient ways possible, thereby preventing mistakes. Obviously, in an imperfect universe, blunders happen. Which is why customer service plays such a vital role in e-tail operations. Good customer service should be a part of the entire sales process: from order taking to delivery, right through to the follow-up. It only takes one bad experience to lose a customer permanently, and the inevitably ensuing word-of-mouth damage can be costly to a merchant's reputation.

The problem
I recently placed an order online from an organization to which I belong that has an e-commerce component of its overall Web presence. It should not have been a complicated order – I only purchased a few items. However, a bizarre case of mistaken identity compounded by poor customer service has made this organization the poster child for bad e-business.

Either by an uncanny coincidence or kismet, I was not the only customer that day named Laura Rush to place an order, and that was enough to create a dilemma. I realize it's not the most unique and distinct name in the world, but statistically speaking, I'd have to think that the odds of this happening were rather slim – we're not talking about an order placed at mega-e-tailer Amazon.com. (I'd hate to think what happens when John Smith decides to place an order.) It was this duality that seemed to mystify the merchants — a bout of confusion that ultimately resulted in what could only be described as a comedy of errors.

About seven days after the order was placed, a crumpled and badly worn box showed up on my doorstep, bearing a sticker that pleaded, “Please excuse our appearance as we are trying to save trees by recycling boxes.” I guess this box had been recycled more than its fair share, because when I opened it, several of the items I ordered were severely damaged. After I quickly retrieved my remaining order for a closer inspection, I noticed that I was now pulling out an XXL-sized denim shirt, an XXL-sized polo shirt, and several stuffed animals. I scratched my head, thinking, “Wait a second, I didn't order all this stuff.” I found the packing slips at the bottom of the box and quickly discovered the error: somewhere in the southwest there is another Laura Rush who is probably wondering where on earth her order is. I called the organization to tell them of the error, and after a 25-minute explanation that I did not actually exist simultaneously in New England and the southwest, they told me they would send me replacements for my damaged goods, and I could just keep the originals. (They were tossed in the trash, as they were useless.) What they told me next is what any respectable business should never do: They asked me if I would please ship the items to the other Laura Rush and write her a note explaining the error. Then, if I submitted a receipt for the mailing expenses, they would reimburse my credit card. Of course, I declined and the unwanted goods were sent back to the merchant courtesy of my wallet and the U.S. Postal Service. I'll be surprised to see any credit to my credit card.

The solution
Obviously poor customer service was of no concern to this outfit. I'm not quite sure there is even a CRM solution that covers blatant disregard for good business. However, what they could have done better was to provide a way to return the goods – both the damaged items so they could get a credit with their distributor or wholesaler, and those belonging to the other customer. They should also have a solid returns policy in place.

Not too long ago, United Parcel Service Inc. rolled out an electronic return label that capitalizes on the power of the Internet, letting businesses send e-mail shipping labels directly to customers who need to return merchandise. The service is available through UPS OnLine WorldShip software. Rival FedEx also offers return services, including FedEx NetReturn, which already allows users to e-mail an Express or Ground shipping label to a customer and choose between pickup or drop off. Either of these methods will ensure that your customers can get the goods back to you so that you can fix the shipping error.

Reprinted from ECommerce Guide.

  • Retail
  • Read next