A "Sour Taste" That Lasts

It was a lovely date night with my wife. We stepped into this restaurant recommended by friends, the food pictures look convincing, the location was ideal for where we were going to be, and to top it off, there's a Groupon deal that would've cut my expense by half.

But by the end of the visit, we left the place hungry and angry, because the staff was unorganized, and customer service was non-existent. We sat waiting for our food for more than an hour, and the owner kept looking at us with a disgusted face as the table waiting line got longer. Turns out, the owner didn't even know our food never came, instead she thought we were just taking up a table their next guest could sit. What triggered the anger in me was when she realized there were two angry customers, and all she was able to mustered up was "that's not right..." (I still struggle to figure out what she meant by that).

And this experience got me thinking about our own eCommerce customer service team and how we treat our customers. From the customer service desk point-of-view, angry customers seem unreasonable. "It's only a day late" ... "Well if they just read our disclaimer they would've known that's not possible" ... "Why did they yell at me? I didn't create the problem, it was the warehouse who shipped the wrong item...". These are just some of the sentiment I get whenever I sit with the customer service team. Obviously they will not say it to the customer, but having such sentiment isn't healthy for the team spirit, so what is the core issue here?

Bridging the Gap

Let's get one thing clear. I firmly believe customer satisfaction is the key to eCommerce business success. It only take 1 bad review to turn hundreds of potential customers away. Yet many times the underlying issue isn't what the customer service team did or didn't do. It was setting up the proper expectations and executing that expectation without fail. If expectations weren't set, I am leaving it up to the customer to set their own expectations based on their experience, and that is when expectation gaps are created. Think of the last time you ordered from Amazon.com, and you pretty much get the picture.


If the kitchen of the restaurant got swamped and need extra time, communicate it with the customer as soon as you know. If the warehouse can't stick to the required ship date for whatever reason, it's time to send an email out to customers who are affected. I firmly believe it takes far less time (and cost less) to communicate ahead of time than salvaging a damaged relationship with an angry customer.

But proactively calling customers to bring them "the bad news" often generate push-back from the team because of the fear of rejection. "What if the customer wants to cancel the order?" "What if they start yelling at me for bringing them the bad news?"

Tell Them Now vs. Telling Them Later When They Found Out

I think there are definite advantages of breaking the bad news sooner rather than later, even though you know it's not going to be a good conversation. I'll flush this out in the next post.

Time to "Sweeaten" the Sour Aftertaste

The "Task to Project" trap