Monday, August 05, 2013

A matter of sincerity?

In early July P ordered a set of nested tables from a popular online furniture store. The delivery date was set as July 26th and the matter was forgotten.

A week later, P was asked to make an immediate business trip overseas while I had to shuttle in an out of Bangalore for a few days. We soon realized that neither would be at home on 26th so we promptly wrote to the customer care asking for a change in delivery address and contact number (to mine). Despite multiple follow ups, there was no response. Finally knowing the store was quite active on social media channels we resorted to writing on their face book page. We got a response within seconds of posting the message that surely the mistake was on our end and their response might have landed in the junk folder. The speed at which we received the response made us wonder whether the customer service agent responding to the message had taken time out to look up our mail at all, nevertheless we patiently checked our junk messages feeling no sense of achievement on finding it empty. It took us more than a few seconds (well, obviously) to respond. A few minutes later we got a response saying our mail had landed in their junk folder and hence slipped their attention! Thankfully they put an end all the junkiness and acknowledged the changes we had asked for.
Once again the matter was forgotten.

It was 31st when I happened to glance at the calendar only to realize that 26th had come and gone but there had been no delivery. I checked my phone logs to see if I had missed any call. To cover all grounds I checked with P if he had received any email. When both checks turned out negative I called up customer care.

The lady who picked up my call requested for 30 minutes to gather information regarding the status. I was a bit taken aback by the request since she had already accessed my order details with the confirmation number I had provided; shouldn't the status have been updated there? I decided to give her the benefit of doubt and asked her to call back on my number. 

An hour passed by but my phone stayed silent. I picked up the phone and called again, thankfully the same executive picked up. She recognized my voice at once and said she had been trying to reach me on the original number on the order (that belonged to P). I tried explaining to her that we had asked for a change in number and I had repeated it to her on our previous call. After making a few attempts I gave up. By now I wanted to just get done with resolving the problem. She continued that the delivery team had tried reaching us over phone but our number was switched off. No guesses now for which number they had tried! Patiently I tried reminding her (again) that the number was updated along with the address and the latter had been updated. Why would they leave the number out? If the number issue was ignored for a moment, they could have contacted us on the email address? - I queried?

That was the trigger for her. She started of saying she would be honest with me and went on to tell the coordination issues they were facing with the delivery team. How the delivery team did not always check the order detail updates nor update the order status for customer service team’s reference.

I tried telling her that she need not expose their internal problems to the customer, rather just acknowledge the issue (miscommunication) and work on resolving it. Making the customer privy to internal issues will not always paint a good image abut the brand I said. She kept insisting that she wanted to be honest with me and continued narrating their problem.

Finally I managed to get my issue resolved and the delivery was done the next day.

Was she right in being honest about the internal inefficiencies that caused the delay? Should she have dealt with the situation differently keeping in mind that she was representing her store and that responsibility made her accountable for their brand value as well?

Is honesty always the best policy?


  1. Speaking in pure commercial terms, loyalty towards a brand/organisation is directly proportional to your role, stake in it (in terms of commerce, ones reputation and more) and the value given to you by the organisation. A customer service officer is usually treated with very low value by organisations, hence her treatment to solve her own problem (of being sandwiched between the customer and the department that is actually responsible for the problem) is in all probability not due to any honesty or loyalty issue.

  2. Absolutely not. She was prbably as frustrated as the company's sales people and obviously not trained properly for the job. Sincerity and Honesty are two different terms, but unfortunately none can be applied to her in this case..Honesty was however on the part of the facebook manager in acknowledging that your mail went to their junk mail folder after his brazen initial response though

  3. I generally say honesty is the best policy but there is something to be said about half truths too. Which is how customer care problems are dealt with. Also, this also looked like a venting session for her more than anything else and or more like "pass the buck"
    Anyway, I am glad the problem got resolved. You could have named the store on the blog :)

  4. Ruchi, Thats an interesting perspective but I think I would agree with Anurag and Vipula here. However big or small an organization, any and every employee needs to be trained on how to communicate with customers and maintain your brand. In that, customer services is a team that constantly interacts with the customer thus making it all the more crucial to train them well in this subject. Being a startup of employees in double digits its easy to do this and frankly extremely important if you wish to establish yourself in the market.

    @Vipula- it is a fairly popular start up esp. on FB and for many reasons (one of which is the sincerity one that Anurag pointed out above) I decided to refrain from naming them :)

  5. Nice one...seems to be the plight of all who order online.., save for one brand - which has been consistently good. Honesty or sincerity apart - her mambo jambo most certainly comes thro' to the customer as sheer helplessness and inefficiency. Does it allay the customer's fears and make him/her feel better? Does it help move things faster? Certainly not - if anything, he is busy banging his head for ordering there. I believe , it is a mistake to look at honesty and sincerity in absolute terms - what needs to be done in a given situation and standing by it is the only honesty one should and needs to observe. In the recent Durga Shakthi case, one person brought out an interesting term, he said Durga Shakthi needs to be lauded not just for her honesty, but for being "effectively honest". Anyway wearing your heart on your sleeve, certainly doesnt amount to being honest.


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