Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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Constructive Critique of pv.Body's failures

Published: 23 Nov 2012

This is more tangible than my typical posts. Customer service has been on my mind a lot.

Tony Hsieh (that shoe guy) made a name for himself with amazing business acumen. I associate him with something different, though. He revitalized a dying customer service culture. Whenever I hear his name I think of the legendary stories of amazing customer support and it makes me smile. My favorite story is when he asked people to call up the Zappos.com 1-800 line to get pizza recommendations. They succeeded.

Fantastic customer service is not entirely altruistic, it helps companies at astronomical rates. For myself, I believe this is simply the right way.

This is why when I’m really shocked when I encounter bad customer service. Perhaps more so than others, unless they’re also trying to create awesome products. Bad customer service happens, this time I got to see someone else experience it.

My wife saw a promo for pv.Body. It’s a “We send you clothes every month” subscription services. What got her was the offer: a $25 Lululemon gift card. She did her research and very excitedly signed up (she loves Lulu and clothes). This was abnormal for her; she doesn’t like shopping online, only recently even using Amazon. After a few anxious days, her package arrived and it was like early Christmas.

Except the top didn’t work for her. “No problem”, she said, “I can exchange this! It says so on the site, I researched!”. At this point she had no frustration and was expecting a good experience. She was, and has been, completely let down.

The timeline:

2 weeks ago she emailed their Customer Service team. No response.

1 week ago she emailed their Customer Service team again. There was no response.

Then she reached out to them on Facebook. There she got a response, which was to email them again.

So, she emailed them (again). No response.

And then she emailed them again. No response.

A pattern, and she isn’t alone. There are several posts on the pv.Body Facebook page from similarly abandoned people. We talked about it and I even made some excuses for them. I thought maybe the Lululemon gift certificate overwhelmed their staff and they couldn’t keep up. Growth is hard.

That changed today, though. My excuses were invalid. They sent her a promotional email to subscribe. She already subscribed, and only suspended her subscription recently due to this frustration. They haven’t even sent her the gift card yet.

This is the type of customer service that was common in the old way of business. Not in the new model, certainly not tied to a trendy, subscription based clothing business model. I believe in being constructive, though. This is a learning experience.

How to fix it

Now I get to play What if. If I ran the zoo, er, pv.Body (coincidentally if you’re from pv.Body or another company struggling, email me and I can actually help). How can I fix this mess?

First, stop the complaints! Their Facebook page is filled with a lot of similar, “Haven’t heard anything, what’s going on?” How? Implement an SLA. Maximum 48 hours for a ticket to be open. Then 24 hours. Hire temporary staff if this isn’t achievable. Increase automation as much as possible. They already use ZenDesk, which not only has great reporting but also macros and a ton of other tools. Use the tools! Setup macros! Empower your customer service team to do the right things.

Second, quit losing subscribers. This is different than stopping complaints. When people complain, a negative referral is being created. Negative experiences travel fast. I’m sure my wife already told her friends, but not to punish pv.Body but because she is frustrated. She needs to vent. How? Don’t send frustrated customers inappropriate promotional materials! Find out who you are emailing, increased targeting. This is really important.

Find all customers who emailed support and suspended their accounts, email them. Don’t email them spam, though. Instead, send them an apology. My wife was excited for this and now she regrets her decision. Send them a free shirt or something, it’s cheaper than a lot of those promotions. Maybe you don’t even need to send them something.

Third, make customer calls. Use the data being aggregated and collected to figure out a schedule on which customers to call. I guarantee if you call customers to check on them to make sure they are happy with what they received, the referral sales will skyrocket. A lot more than giving away a $20 bottle.

Finally, and most intensive, increase automation everywhere. This has a tangible net effect of empowering the customer service team. The customer service representatives represent the business. This means the customer service team must absolutely be empowered to, in the moment, handle and resolve any reasonable request without escalation or approval. If the customer service team is not trusted with this responsibility, fire them and start over. If you cannot trust your companies representatives you will fail to achieve sustainable growth.

Will it happen?

Probably not, unfortunately. I can’t imagine a company that has already established such bumbling ineptitude in dealing with customers can change. I hope they do, though. For now, I have to console my wife. She still hasn’t received her Lululemon gift card.

In closing and in contrast

I’ve been dealing with Lowe’s for the last 2 years. They installed 2 french doors and they’ve been leaking the entire time. Water just comes right in; I’m glad I live in the desert. It’s been maddening but Lowe’s has been (mostly) communicative. Keeping customers informed when things go bad is the first step. If you aren’t doing that, things need to change. That’s an easy shift that doesn’t require any significant investment.