What ‘Next’ for customer service?

In the age of technology, super-efficient logistics models and the ‘always on’ society that we live in, purchasing a sofa may seem a pretty simple task.

My mission was to purchase a low price sofa for a family member who lives about 100 miles from me. They needed it quite quickly, ideally within a week.

I started with the usual culprits…SCS, DFS, etc…who are promising delivery by Christmas. I then progressed to those that you expect to deliver quite quickly – Tesco, Argos, Sainsbury, all doing large ranges of furniture with some good deals…but still 3 weeks or more to deliver. Ikea was next…good availability but quality and comfort was suspect. Finally coming to the conclusion that I may have to pay a little more, I looked at John Lewis, Marks and Spencers…all long delivery times…and then Next.

At last, a website that offered delivery on sofas in certain fabrics within 5 days…great! But this is where it all started to go wrong…

I scanned through the sofa styles, cross referenced the fabrics and was ready to place the order on a sofa in a ‘5 day fabric’ that fitted the bill. All boxes completed on the order form regarding the sofa specification…8 weeks delivery quoted! I tried another sofa…12 weeks!

By this time it was 10.15pm but luckily their customer services team would be there until 11pm so I gave them a call. Apparently their systems do not your enable them to show 5 day delivery – only 2 weeks. But if it quotes over 2 weeks it’s likely to be out of stock. If it quotes 2 weeks, however, you can order it and then, if you need the sofa sooner, you phone the customer service team and they’ll arrange it manually…although it doesn’t say this on the website!

I thanked them and returned to the site to find an acceptable sofa quoting 2 weeks delivery.

20 minutes later I was ready to place the order again. This time I got a little further…sofa specification and part way through the address details. But as a new build home, the address didn’t show up in the search and it wouldn’t accept manual entry, so I decided as a last resort to call the Next customer services line again and order directly over the phone.

I said that I wanted the 5 day delivery. Unfortunately, she explained, the delivery would be 14 days. I told her about the issue they had with their system and that she would have to adjust it manually (strange to have to tell the supplier how their system works). The lady went to speak to her manager and returned to confirm that it would be fine. I went through the whole order process, product, delivery address, credit card….”is the credit card registered to the address where you want delivery?”, I was asked. “No” I responded. “Then we can’t accept your order”.

At this stage, after days of trying to do what I believed would be a relatively simple task, I was a little frustrated. I wanted to give Next money for a product and specific service they clearly offer on their website but they wouldn’t accept the order. “What now?” I asked. “You’ll have to go into a store and order it, as they will be able to take your credit card there and deliver to a different address”.

By this point anyone in their right mind would have given up…but it appeared to be the only way to get a sofa in five days. So I headed off to the Next store in Peterborough this morning, knowing that they had a specific ‘Homeware’ department. Great, the exact sofa was on display, correct fabric and a big sign advertising the ‘Express 5 Day Delivery’.

One lady was just completing her transaction and another had joined the queue behind me. I suggested she went first, knowing it may take longer to purchase a sofa as opposed to a cushion. Finally, I asked the sales assistant if I could order a sofa. She went to find someone else to help me.

A gentleman arrived and I said that I wanted to purchase a sofa, on the ‘Express 5 Day Delivery’ and have it delivered to an address other than that to which my credit card was registered. He wrote this down and disappeared again returning with another lady. All three of us worked through the design, fabric, leg colour, etc using two separate computer terminals and he told me that delivery would be in 48 days. I asked which fabric was available on the 5 day delivery. He confirmed a couple of options one of which was acceptable but on entering the details it came up with 2 weeks delivery.

I then recounted the previous evenings tale and suggested that it was manually adjusted. He decided to call Head Office, only to return to tell me “No, it’s definitely two weeks”.

At this point, my ‘toys left the pram!’ and I told them that they were advertising an offer they obviously couldn’t fulfill and I suggested that they find a way to deliver on the promise Next were making both online and in their instore communications. The gentleman, who I have to say was trying his best, suggested I may like to go for a coffee whilst he worked out what to do and he’d call me.

After about 30 minutes I received a call saying that he thought he’d sorted it out and if I wanted to return we could try again.

I did, and it all went through without a hitch. Though I did smart somewhat when at the end he asked me if I’d tried Next Online service as there was a special offer…I reminded him that I had definitely experienced their online service.

But what can we learn from this experience?

  • Never launch an offer if your systems are not capable of fulfilling it seamlessly
  • Never publicise an offer in store or online if you have not fully trained all staff likely to face the customer to a consistent level
  • Update the website if certain products are not in stock to remove the offer and the need to progress through the whole order process to find out
  • If you get something wrong, admit it and make it better. Particularly if this is the first experience of shopping with a company, you will lose the customer for life if you do nothing to make them want to give you a second chance.

So what now? I’ll find out whether the delivery arrives on time and in good condition, which I sincerely hope it does. And will I shop with them again? Would you?

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