Monday, 19 April 2010

How Not to do Customer Service

Anybody doing online business knows the importance of retaining and keeping their customers happy. How you do that depends on your specific business - but the starting point is always the same - Respond!
Respond - on time, with a clear actionable, and follow up.

This post is about how not to do customer service - and I am going to take a recent bad experience with one of India's top online stores - They sell books, among a lot of other things, and I have been buying from them since 2007.

I had ordered 4 books from them last month. 3 of them were shipped on time. When there was no news of the 4th one, I checked the Pending Orders page. It was not updated and stated that the book will be shipped by x - a date 4 days in the past. "Ok", I thought, "let's contact them".

I sent off a mail to their customer service ID - which I had been using earlier. An autoreply came back saying that they do not respond to queries anymore from that ID, and I have to fill out a form on their site. That would raise a support ticket.

Which I did. And the form's response promised that I would get a response within 24 hours.
Which did not happen. And their phone number is hidden in a small Contact Us link - I did not find it.
So I raised another ticket after waiting for a day.

Nothing happened.

At this point I had no visible working way of contacting them (apart from the phone number which I could not find. I attribute this to the fact that the most prominent "Help" link on their site is "Customer Support" - which points to the form mentioned above. That is what most people would click on).

So I went and posted my case on - a site where consumers can go and post their grievances. Apparently that worked - for within 4 hours I got a call from Indiaplaza about the non-availability of the book. There was no apology, though. They promised to deliver it after 7 days. Now, this was extremely surprising. It indicated that their support team checks online complaint sites for issues with Indiaplaza, but do not check their own support system!

Anyways, nothing happened after 7 days - so I went through the same ticketing system again. This time there was a delayed response (thank goodness!) stating that the book was not available. "Fine", I said, "Just refund my money". They agreed to do it within 5 days.

Nothing happened (Do you see a pattern here?) . So I raised another ticket...and so on.

Four things they could have done better

  1. The deployment of a well thought out customer support system, which is convenient to use and not just built out of considerations like it's easy to use for their support group or helps in cost cutting.
  2. Responding to my query on their ticketing system within the promised time.
  3. After not doing (2), followed by the incidents mentioned above, they could have taken extra care about this case. Once you piss off a customer, you have to do extra work to get him where he was before, and still more work to make him happy.
  4. Build a better online buying system where the status of the order is updated automatically.

The feeling that I have as a customer that I am being ignored, and especially after I have been billed, with prior experience not helping me to restore trust, is a damning indicator of what Indiaplaza lacks. They have just lost an old customer, and with the power of word of mouth these days, a lot of potential future customers as well.

Update: After raising another ticket, I finally got my refund. But I am not going back there :)


  1. So did u get your money back?

  2. Not yet - a ticket has been raised :)

  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Hrishikesh Barua. Hrishikesh Barua said: New post - [...]

  4. best of luck man....:D

  5. Hai I am a friend of Andy. I liked your post very much. I would like to add a lot of other indian services which we have to use but they suck bigtime.

    I had a very bad experience with CCAVENUE which is one of the top gateways handling Indian currency. There support even though responsive delay the processing of all requests. Finding a very good gateway to handle indian currecy is becoming very hard for me.. have to stick to CCAVENUE :(

    hope the situation improves quickly

  6. @Avinasha : Thanks. Yes, online stores are growing like weeds in India, especially bookstores. Most of their payment systems are in shambles with regards to error handling and usability, not to mention their customer support.

    The bookstores I have personally had a very good experience with are and

  7. I would like to mention Flipkart's customer service here - I purchased a book from them some time back, and for some reason the page got stuck and though the money was debited from my account, I did not get a "Payment Successful" page. Being a newbie to online purchasing, I panicked and sent a mail to their customer service team - and received a prompt reply within less than 4 hours, stating the payment was successful, and my book would be shipped asap. This simple response was enough to make me a trusted customer of Flipkart. If anyone from Indiaplaza is reading this, I would suggest you take this as an example.

  8. @Asha - Yes, This kind of "customer obsession" is what sets apart the new breed of stores like Flipkart from the traditional ones.

    The people who manage Indiaplaza, Indiatimes shopping etc should realize this and focus on these 2 aspects -

    1. Become customer obsessed (and not in the manner of flooding people with promotional mailers that cannot be unsubscribed from)

    2. Invest in building good online shopping software and not just kludge together some preconfigured solutions which works some of the time.

  9. You guys are lucky to have atleast raised a ticket on Indiaplaza, have been trying to raise a ticket for last half an hour but not able to do so, it asks for some code. Any ideas what it is?

  10. @Sanjay - The code is a captcha - it should appear just beside the input box. It will be different each time you visit that page. Maybe you're not able to see it because of a browser issue - try Firefox 3 / 3.6 or IE 7/8 or Chrome.