We know the recent holiday season had seen record online purchasing, with the major delivery carriers struggling to maintain shipment scheduling normalcy.  At the same time, online retailers are faced with increasing competition, and gold-standard service from companies like Zappos and Amazon.  So, in some instances, their response to service glitches has been what might be described as over-response.  Here is a case in point.

To get my point across, I’ll keep in context with the holiday online purchasing theme (something we can all relate to & perhaps, are just getting over)! … A customer ordered two pairs of jeans online from a specialty retailer during the pre-Christmas promotional period.  The special promotion from this retailer called for free two day shipment to be delivered before Christmas, instead of the usually much longer time frame for receiving the purchase (after Christmas).

Two days after ordering, and not having received her purchase, she checked her confirmation email and discovered via the tracking number that the shipment was actually scheduled for regular ground delivery, not the expedited delivery that was promised.  A change had been requested by the retailer but denied by the shipper.  She immediately went to the Contact Us page on the retailer’s website; and it stated that, due to overwhelming demand on the site, customers should please email, rather than call, the department, and there would be quick response to her query.   She then emailed customer service.

Even though the retailer’s customer service department advised a 24 hour turnaround for a response, no information was received for days.  When an email from the retailer finally arrived in her inbox, the message stated that the retailer could not be held responsible for the customer’s choice of shipping.  Reading this, the customer was angry, of course, because the shipment method was a key part of the promotion; and she replied by threatening to bring the situation to the attention of the company’s president.

Later, the customer received a telephone call from a senior customer support manager, who told her that, in addition to being given a $200 gift certificate for future shopping, her original jeans purchase was now free, as a show of good faith and apology for the error; and she was given instructions as to how the gift certificate was to be redeemed. When the customer asked if there was a reason for what had happened,  it was explained that their online orders default automatically to ground shipping and it is the customer’s responsibility to choose 2nd day air if so desired.  When the customer pointed out that 2nd day air was the retailer’s promotion at the time, the representative admitted that it was a system’s error and would be corrected in the future.

Instead of feeling grateful and bonded to the online jeans retailer, the customer now feels overwhelmed and confused.  She’ll use the gift certificate, of course, but doesn’t know if this degree of customer recovery has made her feel more or less loyal to the retailer.  And, by the way, she finally received her order late last year, missing Christmas 2013 – but early for Christmas this year!

What do you think?  Was this appropriate customer recovery, designed to reverse a negative customer experience…or overkill?

When Does Customer Service Experience Recovery Become Overkill, Potentially Undermining Future Loyalty Behavior? by Michael Lowenstein

Michael Lowenstein provides strategic consulting, research design and in-depth, leading-edge analysis that helps clients deliver outstanding business results through deeper customer experience, communication, relationship, employee and brand equity insights. Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialised research & training from our Global Headquarters in Tampa, Florida, USA.