The other day we visited a cake shop. Not the sort of shop where you buy cakes but one where you buy anything and everything to decorate your cakes (you have to buy the ingredients for the cake itself elsewhere). It was a delight. It has been going for 30 years but when you step inside the door it could have been unchanged (except for the credit card reader) for half a century or more. It is not a large shop – about the size of the living room in many houses – and when you step inside there are items on display on the walls and in a cabinet in the middle of the floor while there is a counter opposite you and a doorway on your right to a room where a few people can be seen sitting at tables. Behind the counter is a doorway to more storage – cake bases and cake boxes are fetched from here. To the left is door looking like another storage cupboard but behind which are the stairs to the upstairs. On the counter there is a reception bell – the type where you hit the button on the top to summon an assistant and which small children delight in ringing.
What sets this shop apart is the staff who are all knowledgable cake makers and who are always ready to give advice. So you enter, a little uncertain about how you are going to approach this latest cake venture and you leave with a paper bag of cake bases and boxes, food colouring, decorating tools and whatever else you may need and confident that you know what you need to do. Not something you can get from Amazon or e-bay! Now from what I have said you may think that the internet has passed this business by and that it is a relic of a bygone age. Not a bit of it. There is a thriving online service run from the room you noticed just inside the door.
Of course to have a successful online store you need to have an efficient delivery service. This is something that has developed significantly over the past few years – the growth in white vans driven by the growth in internet shopping. One particularly helpful development (when it works) is the use of technology to keep you up to date with the progress of your parcel so that you can be available if it is too bulky for your letterbox or needs signing for. You might get a text saying that you will have a delivery on a certain day followed by text that morning saying that it will be delivered at between, say, 13.17 and 14.17. You may even be able track its progress and see where the delivery driver has got and how many stops he (or she) has to make before reaching you.
Usually this works well but occasionally it does not. Then it is down to the support team to sort things out and to keep the customer happy. We recently were waiting for a parcel coming from Germany. I tracked it across the continent, across the North Sea, to the depot in the UK and then we were given a time slot for the delivery. The time came and went so I logged on to the mail delivery company’s website to track its progress. According to the “Manage my delivery” section of their website, delivery had been attempted about half an hour earlier. However the location shown on their map was about 10 miles away from us so clearly their driver was nowhere near where he should have been. I attempted to telephone the company but only got an automated system so was unable to talk to anyone about it and had to resort to online messages. The parcel was in fact delivered the next day.
When I asked for an explanation all I got was “I do apologise but I am unable to answer your query immediately, as I have had to request information from the depot. Once they have replied I will be happy to contact yourself and advise further. Kind regards, Customer Care” Nothing more was heard. Despite repeated requests for an explanation of why their driver tried to deliver my parcel to an isolated house in the Chiltern Hills 10 miles away they repeated the statement that they needed to request information from the depot (several times). They may have been happy to advise further but never did so. I suspect much of their Delivery Tracking and Customer Care systems is automated and there is very little sign of intelligent life.
A bit of a comparison between old fashioned small business customer care and modern day corporate “Customer Care”.