A Few Words About Customer Service

by imageguy

I’d like to say a few words about customer service and what has happened to it in the land of online commerce. Today’s online climate (and I admit to being part of it out of necessity) with shopping online changing the economy, brick and mortar stores closing, shopping malls empty. Face to face commerce and customer service is becoming limited to a handful of big box stores and the rest is dominated by Amazon. I have a real hard time with Amazon (way beyond my disdain for Jeff Bezos). My paycheck, these days, depends a great deal on Amazon because that’s where the company sells the most. And we sell there the most, because more people buy there than they do anywhere else and that is why Bezos is so rich. And I have more issues with Amazon beyond this conversation about customer service, but perhaps I’ll come back to that later.

Online shoppers have been schooled by Amazon that no matter what their complaint, Amazon will refund their money. I remember the old adage of “the customer is always right”. I did my shopping in a Belk-Gallant department store, or a JC Penny, or a shoe store, or hardware store. These places had employees and people who knew their products and you could actually talk to them and they were helpful. So, there were few returns or unhappy customers because the customer left satisfied with what they needed. I understand the need for a retailer to bend to please a customer. Make them happy today and they will leave feeling like they got what they wanted. And they’ll be back. Yes. And I am a quality product kind of person and believe you should get what you pay for. No arguments. What many consumers have come to believe is that they can get what they pay for and get their money back for any reason. Keep the product or return it, whatever. It didn’t arrive before 2 PM the next day? Refund. Tracking says it arrived but I don’t see it. Refund. The color is a little off from the picture on my phone. Refund. I got the thing, but I want my money back. Refund. That’s real easy, when it’s not your money you’re refunding. Amazon is a huge consignment/fulfillment company that owns none of the product it sells, charges about 50% to handle the sale (with all the fees), only pays their vendors part of what they sell each month and with all the money they hold, they lend it back to struggling businesses. I don’t even need to get into the horrible customer service they provide to major sellers with technical staff that don’t know what they are advising, give you a different answer for the same problem over and over (none of which work). Well you get the picture. I’m no fan.

But as a result of the culture shift, companies offer less and less direct assistance with problems. Consumers have become much more self-entitled and demanding. Expectations are unrealistic and consumers have little tolerance for any error. Case in point. Our company ships the days shipments out at 2 PM Eastern time on business days (five days a week). A customer places an order at 4:04 PM on a Thursday, asking for overnight shipping. Our terms state that we make every attempt to fulfill orders within 24 hours, but, in some situations, it may take up to 72 hours. That’s for late Friday purchases. So, an order placed at 4:04 PM on a Thursday is processed and shipped on Friday morning. Shipped overnight, it arrives next business day, or on Monday. Customer wants their shipping charges refunded because it didn’t arrive on Friday. Is that reasonable or logical? I say no. Nowhere do we say “orders shipped same day”. But with companies like B&H in New York who have pick-ups late at night because of their huge volume, people have come to expect that if I order it now, I should be able to get it tomorrow. The crazy thing is, you used to be able to. You just had to go to the store.

We have customers who purchase a new product, take the old product they are replacing, and send it back for a refund. Or they simply rob parts they need and send back the rest. Sometimes they send back something that’s not even our product, just to take up space. No one would attempt that over the counter. Online shines a light on the lack of integrity and the extent of the opportunistic.

But on to other events. I recently launched a new website (https://www.folionline.com) built on the Squarespace platform. It’s a commerce site for the sale of my artwork. I chose Squarespace to build the site because my daughter had used it for a site for her non-profit. In order to offer products on a Squarespace Commerce site, you are currently limited to using Square (for point of sale transactions), PayPal (and Venmo) for PayPal payments, and credit cards must be processed through a company called Stripe. They are a big processing house that I had knowledge of. I already had accounts with Square and PayPal, so opened a Stripe account, and everything was set. I spent three months building the site. I took a week vacation just to finish it and launch it publicly. That Monday I got an email from Stripe saying my account had been disabled because my current company (the one I was launching the website for) or some other company I was affiliated with has my name on a WATCH list for Mastercard. Because I am on this list, they will not do business with me. Now I have a website ready to launch, and I can’t sell online.

I ask for help from Stripe (you can’t talk to a person) and was directed to a few pages of links on “here’s where to go and what to read about your problem”. Sort of, we can’t help you….go do the research.  I turned to Squarespace, who essentially said the same thing followed by …”go read your agreement.” Squarespace does not offer or accommodate other processors, so if they say no, you have paid for a year’s website hosting for nothing. Not to mention the time invested before you are blocked.

The gist of what is written about this online says, if you are on the MATCH list, the only way to get off is to have whoever put you on in the first place, take you off. Either that, or you are removed automatically after 5 years. So, you must investigate and determine who put you on this list. The only companies I deal with are PayPal, Square, and my bank. All of whom told me “it wasn’t us”. I asked the bank for assistance, hoping they could access this MATCH list from Mastercard. Turns out, to access the list, you must subscribe to a service from Mastercard that costs thousands of dollars a year, a service which my bank does not subscribe to, so no access to the list. No way to get information, no one to talk with, nowhere seemingly to turn.

I then turned to Mastercard and complained to them. It took about a week before I received an email from a woman at Mastercard, stationed in India, who asked for the name of the company (my new website) and my parent company name. Which I supplied immediately. The email, however, stated it will take two business days to get a reply. This is a Friday, so wait over the weekend and two business days. I get another request, what’s your address? Another two business days / weekend. I am writing saying, why can’t you ask everything you need to ask and let’s get this solved. It’s a relay of delays from here to India to Mastercard offices (wherever) back to India and to me.

Finally, now a month late launching the site, I filed a complaint with the NY State Attorney General. The response was almost immediate though I didn’t have a lot of hope at this point knowing how the wheels of government turn. I explained my issues in standard forms online. I received letters in the mail within two days. Then as the case was just about to escalate, I received an email from Stripe. It said, we’re sorry, our mistake. You’re not on the list, your account is active. Have nice day.

I let them know their apology fell far short of adequate. I wondered how many people go through a similar situation only to give up and say, there’s no way to do this. I’m black listed and can’t get off. Money, grief, weeks of wasted time, all because of poor customer service.

If you shop online, remember the little guy on the end who really wants to make you happy. But follow the motto of the By Water district of New Orleans, and Be Nice or Leave.

Stay safe. Be nice.

Imageguy  –––