This week I want to focus on situations where companies go above and beyond the call of duty in terms of customer service, and companies for whom customer service seems to be an afterthought and inconvenience.
I have to say that for me, the customer experience should be at the heart of any business, whichever industry they are in. After all, without customers, what sort of business can you build?
I've had recent experience with two small companies that have given vastly different customer experiences. The first is The Odd Mattress Company (www.oddmattress.co.uk/) and the second is Made.com (www.made.com).
The Odd Mattress Company, based in Preston, Lancashire, specialises in handmade bespoke mattresses and bases made to your requirements. They claim, "Long or short, broad or thin, we can supply anything. Whatever shape, however deep, we guarantee a good night's sleep."
My wife and I slept on one of their beds at a hotel. It was such a good night's sleep that we absolutely had to have one. I got the number from the staff at the hotel and called them to discuss my requirements. I spoke directly with the manager who was incredibly helpful without trying to sell me anything.
Once the bed had been ordered (with a delivery fee of £25) I called The Odd Mattress Company with concerns about the delivery. My wife was pregnant at the time and while she would be there to accept the delivery there was no way that she would be able to help them. This could not have been less of a problem for them and they said that they could be totally flexible on delivery and that they would set up the bed and make sure it was in the right place.
On the day of delivery, they were true to their word, showed up as expected, set up the bed and even took all of the packaging materials away with them. This was fantastic customer service from a company that really cared about my experience from order to use. The bed was great value too and I would have no hesitation ordering from them again. I've even recommended their beds to a number of friends. This word of mouth marketing is far and away the most powerful kind.
Made.com is based in Notting Hill, West London and claims to offer "original furniture design at affordable prices." This is done by having "No warehouses. No fancy showrooms. No middlemen."
Made.com has had a lot of interest from third parties and counts Lastminute.com entrepreneur Brent Hoberman as one of its key investors. With this sort of backing I would expect great things.
I love the Made.com website. It is a great showcase for their furniture and it really gives you a sense that they are producing stylish quality items. As all the products are made to order they will take a little longer to arrive than items you'd buy on the high street.
My business partner recently decided to buy a small table from Made.com and duly paid for the item along with a £40 delivery charge. He was told via email that he would be able to track his order at all stages from manufacture and delivery. This all seemed very slick and impressive.
When Made.com's products are ready to be delivered the customer receives another email with confirmation that the item is about to land in the UK, and that following a short customs turnaround Made.com's representatives will be in touch to arrange delivery. So far, so good.
Problems began to arise when trying to arrange a delivery time. You will all have experienced the frustration of wide delivery slots, but usually there's a way to make it work even if it means taking a couple of hours off work to be at home to receive the products. With Made.com however, arranging a delivery proved incredibly problematic.
When my business partner first rang to rearrange his delivery from the original slot, he was told it would only ever be possible for Made.com to deliver in an afternoon. He had been relying on finding a slot one morning, but the delivery company claimed that due to their computer system this would be impossible. Frustrating.
Disappointment was quickly compounded by terrible access to Made.com's customer services. A quick look at the their website unfortunately gave little in the way of contact information other than the ubiquitous "Contact Us" web form. It seems extraordinarily bad for a company selling products at such high prices not to have a telephone number for customers to use.
A bit of digging led to a live chat function, which was also unable to provide a telephone number, but after some cajoling was willing to get someone to call my business partner back. This could have been the moment to prove that Made.com had the customer at the heart of their business and that they would go beyond the call of duty to deliver the product when the customer wanted it.
Unfortunately, Made.com decided to go the other way. In the end due to the inflexibility of their systems and people, we had the item delivered to our office. This of course is entirely impractical for large items of furniture. Where do you put them when they arrive at your desk at work and how do you get them home? When they were asked for a refund on the delivery charge to compensate for the aggravation inherent in their process, Made.com's disinterested and unhelpful team refused.
This all begs the question; why continue to spend money marketing your business to potential new customers if you are happy to let an existing customer feel so disappointed? For the sake of a reimbursed delivery charge they would have retained a customer who would have gone on to shop again. Personally I'm disappointed as having signed up to Made.com's email newsletters, I had been meaning to use their site for Christmas shopping for some time. Based on the experience of a friend, this is something I wouldn't now do.
I'm all for web businesses, and as regular readers will be aware, I love small British companies. However, all companies need to balance their processes with the customer experience. Often when things go wrong, the way a company deals with a customer's problem can be the best way into their hearts. The Odd Mattress Company shows how well customer service can be done when it's personal and well managed. Made.com's shows quite the opposite.