Friday, 18 February 2011

Secret manufacturer: Why run scared of the web?

In an industry where customers buy from people and service should be king why is it we all feel so threatened by the internet?
Price may drive first-time online sales, but it is customer service that promotes loyalty and repeat custom. And more importantly word of mouth recommendations.
As a manufacturer we carefully select our reseller partners to ensure our end consumers get the best possible experience when they interact with and purchase our products. However, with the proliferation of internet retailers who are able to buy from our direct customers and then sell on, we have a whole area where customer experience is out of our control.
In order to test this I recently purchased a selection of items from an online retailer that we do not deal directly with. Having attempted to make the purchase in late November and reaching a point when the transaction failed I received an email the following day saying the product was available and I should call to order. I did so and within an hour the payment had been taken from my account. And then silence.
2 weeks later I called to follow up and request a delivery date. Nothing.
Another 2 weeks, another slightly more irate email, and I was informed that they had just received the items but given that it was so close to Christmas they assumed I wouldn’t need the goods until January.
I contacted them again to arrange delivery and explained I could not be at home during the week to take delivery and needed a Saturday delivery. I was told they didn’t have couriers that delivered Saturdays and I’d have to find a way of being home during the week or having someone wait in on my behalf.
It is now two months on and we still have not reached a conclusion and I am nearly £500 poorer with nothing to show for it.
Customer service must be considered as any interaction with the customer, whether that be through creating a comfortable in showroom experience through music, decor, displays or providing the right information, advice and crucially problem solving service post sale. An internet service provider, potentially 200 miles from a consumer’s home, simply cannot provide this.
In fact, from my experience, they cannot even fulfil the basic obligations of providing goods in return for payment.
The only way to tackle this situation is for us as an industry to educate customers in the service reasons for buying from a bricks and mortar outlet. The purchase of a new bathroom is a high value, potentially high risk purchase. Consumers need to be aware that their contract is first and foremost with the retailer, not manufacturer, and that the expert advice of a bathroom retailer with the ability to include the right product in the design, with the right functionality to suit the customer’s requirements can help to ensure a positive experience so they can enjoy their new bathroom, not regret ever having started the process.

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