Never Forget The Client

Ecommerce is a service business. We should never forget that clients come first. We should always consider what a client really wants from us. With Ecommerce we build a website, we construct admin systems and processes, and we try to create everything efficient so we can send out the goods as quickly as possible with the lowest costs. In all this we should never forget the client. In our highly technical environment it can be easy to miss obvious real world issues.

I have a few examples, but not all Ecommerce, they do highlight where large organisations which should know better, have dropped the ball.

In the UK all companies have to collect and pay the tax for each of their employees. Up until the end of the tax year the employer must send an annual return, electronically, to HMRC. From the beginning of the new tax year companies must send an electronic return prior to each payment. This is a gigantic change. The tax year ends on Friday April 5th. I pay my workers on Saturdays, so according to the principles I need to complete and submit my end of year return for 2012/2013 before I can upgrade the software for the new year and send my initial return to the new scheme. I must submit this until I pay them on Saturday 6th April. In theory I have an entire week to balance the years figures, submit them install the new software, get it working, submit the initial pay entry to the new interface. With 52 weeks in a year, guess which week HMRC shut their gateway for maintenance and administration. No submissions could be made before 6am on the 6th. They don’t even provide a secondary service to catch submissions for latter processing so that an employer is able to move on to test the new system and make sure they can resolve any teething issues and ensure they can legally pay their workers. I, and every other company who pays on a Saturday, will have only a few hours to test out a brand new system that we don’t have any opportunity to check before going live. Absolutely no thought of the actual world has become this. I have every expectation that the gateway will collapse because of the volume of desperate companies.

Like any sane employer I use a significant payroll software supplier, who will have this sorted. Mine is named Sage. Today I started. Sage helpfully supplied a 80 page document on how to do year end and get ready for the new year. Halfway through something went wrong, so I called their support line. Obviously at this time of year they’re busy, so I had a 20 minute wait until I got to speak to the very first line support. That said I expected it, and they obviously hoped it, so I had been given a choice of music to listen to and an accurate countdown of how long I needed to wait. So far good customer support. The front line service was superb. Knowledgeable and immediately determined what my problem was and told me they knew how I could resolve it. Then the ceremony slipped. It appears I had the wrong amount of support. They weren’t allowed to give me the answer over the telephone. Not a problem I had been told, just update your account and pay for the extra support. Obviously the technical support can’t do so, it needs to be a different section. So I needed to be passed on to the revenue department to update, then I’d be passed back. OK, bothersome but not unreasonable. The sales department was quite efficient, the update cost was a really low $15 to get a years worth of unlimited support calls, you don’t have to pay up front. I was amazed and happy . Then they ruined my mood. They did move me back to technical support, but to the rear of the queue. So I had to wait another 20 minutes to receive my answer. Why? If there was no requirement to pay up front, why would the technical support man be unable to update the account and then answer the question? Yet again the organisation forgot the actual world, and the client’s perspective. I was made to wait twice as long as I should because their system wasn’t flexible enough.

My third example is Ecommerce. One of my competitors chose to ditch some of their inventory on Ebay at well below cost. So I purchased it all, 1 transaction, one payment, one invoice. Rather than being sensible and boxing up them and sending me one box, they shipped them all separately. Each put in a simple plastic bag with no protection and individually posted. Unsurprisingly many got ruined. So they had to be returned. The fun then started. They wanted me to apply for a return authorisation for every product, they wanted me to publish a different return tag for each product, they desired me to return all of them individually. Unlike them, I wasn’t prepared to spend a lot of money sending heaps of individual parcels to a speech where one parcel would do. So I sent them back in 1 box, with their unique returns authorisations enclosed. Of course the inevitable happened, they just refunded me for a single item. It took days to receive a complete refund. Their system was geared up to process individual items, fast and efficient. Their yields system was aimed up to take care of individual items. Both completely disregarding the real world possibility of someone ordering multiple components in 1 transaction. Now I won’t ever purchase from them again. I am however happy that one of my opponents is so unworthy.

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All these organisations should have invested a little more time when designing their systems and considered real world situations. All should monitor their systems to find out what goes wrong and be flexible enough to enhance their systems to fulfill the real world challenges. I am confident however that they don’t.

Whilst no system is ideal. However hard you try to be customer friendly, it’s necessary to monitor your own performance from the client’s perspective, and determine what could be improved. If you do not do so then a competitor could gradually get their act together and surpass you.