Dan's Take

An IT Upgrade Gone Terribly Wrong

This company's shoddy work lost a customer forever. It didn't have to happen.

I recently purchased an upgrade to a bed I've had for several years. I wanted to install a headboard, and the installation required that I go back to the manufacturer and purchase a "headboard kit." Although one could reasonably ask why would an expensive adjustable bed required a separate kit so that the owner could add a standard headboard, I just looked up the right product on the company's Web site and ordered it online. What followed next is a case study in what not to do when upgrading important, customer-facing IT systems.

Typically, this bedding company's systems send out a confirmation email listing the order number, detailed information concerning the product purchased, and either the shipping date or the shipment tracking number. This time, there was no shipment date or tracking number included.

I called the company's 800 number and waited 20 minutes for a customer service representative. Every 30 or so seconds, I was subjected to either a "your call is important to us" message or an advertisement for one of the company's products. So I hung up and tried their live chat system. The wait time was even longer, although I wasn't subjected to "your call is important to us" messages or advertisements for other products. I gave up once again.

I called early the next morning and once again was put on an extended hold. After 10 minutes, I was connected to a customer service representative. She was polite and friendly, but couldn't tell me when the product I ordered would be shipped. It appears that the company upgraded their customer service systems and the upgrade was going very badly. She assured me that since the system indicated that the product was ready to be shipped, it should be on its way to me by the middle of the week.

Week One
At the end of the week, I still hadn't gotten a message telling me that the product had shipped. So I tried their online live chat system again. After waiting for a representative for 15 minutes, I disconnected from their system and called their 800 number. Once again, I was subjected to "your call is important to us" messages every couple of minutes and ads for other products for an extended period of time.

Since I was working on an ebook, I put the call on speaker phone and went to work. Twenty minutes later I found myself speaking to another friendly representative. Once again, I was told about the problems with the customer service system, the fact that the system indicated that the product was available in the warehouse and that I should receive a notice by the end of the following week.

Week Two
At the end of the second week, I still hadn't gotten a message telling me that the product had shipped. So, once again I tried their online live chat system. After waiting for a representative for 10 minutes, I disconnected from their live chat system and called their 800 number. As before, I was subjected to "your call is important to us" messages every couple of minutes and ads for other products. This time, it only took 15 minutes for a real person to answer my call. Once again, I was told about the problems with the customer service system, the fact that the system indicated that the product was available in the warehouse and that I should receive a notice by the end of the following week.

Week Three
Living in a world in which online orders are often shipped the same day, I felt irritated and thought that I would try a different approach to get through to the company. This time, I called the well-known bedding company and asked to speak with the media relations department. I thought learning more about the failed update and why there was no "Plan B" might prove interesting.

I was shocked to learn that this well-known company didn't have a media relations group. The friendly representative, however, was nice enough to look up my order. Once again the representative pointed out that their customer service system wasn't working properly and that since the product was in the warehouse, it would very likely be shipped before the end of the week.

Week Four
As a rule, I really don't like yelling via Twitter to get a company's attention. I don't think it appropriate to air my concerns or complaints to all of my Twitter connections just to get a company's attention.

It's sad, however, that many suppliers are moving in that direction anyway. I guess they believe that they can appear to be providing responsive service, even when they've gotten rid of most of their customer service staff. Since I was now entering the fourth week and the product still was in limbo, I tried using Twitter to reach their customer service people. A couple of days later, I got the same response that I had heard before -- wait.

This time, I told the company's Twitter support that if they couldn't ship the product in a couple of days, I wanted them to cancel the purchase. That did the trick; I got a shipment notification the next day.

Dan's Take: Don't Let a Failed Update Destroy Your Company's Reputation
While I like the company's products, this experience means that I will never recommend their products again. The company now is filed under "untrustworthy" in my mental index.

The takeaway is that updates to important systems shouldn't get in the way of company sales or order fulfillment, like this update has done. There should be a way to go back to the old system while the problems are worked out behind the scenes.

This company's reputation has been destroyed, and it will be very difficult for them to change their customers' minds. Better planning and better execution would have prevented this.

About the Author

Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. He has been a business unit manager at a hardware company and head of corporate marketing and strategy at a software company.

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