21 Dec 2015

21st December 2015 A plea for a happy chain.

Monday 21st 48F, 9C, breezy, overcast. Some sunshine is promised but such threats are rarely carried out. No walk. Only a short ride in very gusty conditions following endless delays for showers to pass. Only 7 miles. It is expected to gust to over 45mph tonight.

Am I alone in wanting an online purchase to follow the traditional ritual of buying something from a bricks and mortar shop? It is all but impossible to obtain some items from ordinary bike shops in Denmark. So I place my order online and wait for the postman. As soon as I place my order I expect a message confirming my order with thanks for my custom. Not in half and hour and most certainly not next day or the week after. Nothing less is remotely polite in my opinion. A bike shop would be sorely tried to stay in business if it did not thank customers for their purchase. No matter how small it might be.

It is normal human behaviour to exchange thanks for service and goods on both sides of the bargain. Many might think the checkout girl, or boy, is too humble to be worthy of thanks. Yet they exchange a period of their strictly limited lifespan to serve you. Walking away without any response, now matter how brief their service, demeans you as a human being. Self respect breeds respect for others. Good manners cost nothing but a second's thought. Less if you make it a default and sincere habit. The Danes have so many ways of saying thanks that very many of them can't be arsed to use even one of them at the checkout! You get the same problem in the UK when holding doors open for delusional demigods and goddesses. Did you just let the trash out? 

Once my online order is handled I then expect an email confirming dispatch. The sooner the better and the item had better be in stock, or instantly available from remote storage, or I consider it blatant fraud. It is taking money under false pretenses, in my book, not to tell the customer if instant gratification is not available. Instant cancellation of our order should be a default option until the customer accepts the dealer's lax timekeeping and crap ordering system in exchange for their honesty. The dealer has deprived the customer of their chance to shop elsewhere to obtain swifter service. This is an extremely serious matter in my opinion! In the high street an absence of stock is an irritation but means you can still go down the road and buy from another outlet.

Some online dealers do it perfectly. Their communications are flawless, rapid, to the point and always polite. Who cares if it is a computer generated form provided they took the trouble to get it right and then kept polishing out any flaws which cropped up with experience. Nothing less is expected but it is [most surprisingly] rarely the case. There are a certain few, online Danish bike parts dealers who one can almost guarantee will have the goods in your hands the very next morning. Others have an altogether more "relaxed" attitude to sales, customers and timely delivery.

Quoting a tracking number and then not dispatching. Or failing to provide one when tracking is promised is a mortal business sin as far as I am concerned. I want to be recognized, pampered and the door to be opened and held  for me if I make a larger purchase.

The arrival of a cheerful delivery man in our drive is a bonus. We get several different international freight companies delivering our orders as well as the Danish Post Office drivers. Of late they have all been remarkably polite and friendly. This brief but vital relationship concludes the final part of the formal bargain made with the online vendor with a warm glow. You might call it an impression in a wax seal.

I know the online box shifters can't guarantee their postman or delivery driver is having a good day. Though his or her employer had better understand the implications of stiff competition in the online marketplace. If the carrier isn't actively teaching their staff how to behave towards customers then they damned well ought to be! The delivery agent is the final stage in a customer's purchase and will fix how the customer feels about that particular item for as long it remains theirs. It will hopefully make them feel all warm and satisfied. Or, the complete opposite, and become ultra-critical of the slightest fault or blemish. Simply because they were poorly treated at the door or the gate!

This has serious implications for employing costly customer relationship staff and the expense of generating apologies and organizing and paying for returns and replacements. If a carrier is a well known time-waster and given to dumping parcels unattended in public view then surely the online dealer should select an alternative carrier? With the vast majority of couples both being out at work during the day isn't it high time that deliveries were better organized to match this fixed reality? Why is there no legal provision for package containers to be fixed outside houses?

Then there is the problem of online review websites which score dealers on their performance. Some businesses seem to completely ignore their critics as their performance rating nosedives. Others, who get it right, far more often than not, can cheerfully point every customer at the scoring site. Confident that they have done everything humanly possible to make their customer relationships as near to perfect as they can manage at a distance.

This post was instigated by the ordering of an expensive item from a large and well known bike company in the UK. It is now 6 days since their email confirming dispatch. The carrier's tracking website has yet to recognise the tracking number. Since it is already apologizing for this lack of recognition, before any number is entered, one can only assume that it will never recognise any tracking number. It does not even have the basic intelligence to tell me when I am entering complete gibberish into their waiting box!

The online dealer asks that I remain patient until their chosen carrier finally gets around to confirming they have the goods in hand. The problem is I haven't a clue who their carrier might be! They haven't told me in their catch-all email confirmation of dispatch! I have had goods delivered within 2 days of ordering from the UK when an online dealer really cared about service. Though three days is the normal delivery time based on two decades of experience.

Needless to say I shall not be ordering from this online dealer again. Nor from any dealer employing this particular carrier. Had the carrier, and online dealer,  done their part I would have been perfectly willing to accept delays at this very busy time of year. Perhaps the carrier is not involved at all? I have been given a tracking number but the dealer's own website says my order been sent un-tracked. Which seems very unlikely at this price point.

Can you see where all this confusion is leading? Somebody really didn't care enough to get it right. It's only a job. It'll be alright. The same went for their website. Two identical items at widely different prices without any way to tell them apart. I was going to email them but used their online chat service instead to save time before ordering. Why was it even necessary? Crap website devoid of the slightest product detail. So they need to employ a large team of unnecessary staff just to field questions which should never need to be asked. It really is that simple. Somebody is working well above their pay grade at Wiggle. I bet they don't know one end of a bicycle from the other. 

Being ignored by a tracking website is tantamount to being completely ignored in any physical shop. The online dealer and their chosen carrier have given me absolutely no freedom to take my custom elsewhere. Therein lies the difference between those who really care about service. And those for whom it is easy pickings taking money from any passing muppet daft enough to deal with them. Even if it is only once. Isn't that how spammers and Nigerian scammers grow rich? Or Danish car repair workshops for that matter.

Many of the latter type of business have vanished from Denmark under the difficult trading conditions. They were particularly ill-equipped to cope with a reduced potential clientele when times were hard. As Darwin said: It is not the survivors who carry on the stock. It is the absence of all those who did not survive. Which leaves the fitter examples to prosper under much reduced competition. 


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