06-29-2010 11:32 AM
My name is Patrick and I would like to tell you all about my recent dealings with B&N's "digital" customer service. [Keep reading. There is a happy ending!]
I had been participating in the B&N free eBook voucher deal even before I bought my Nook. I had a small problem on week 3 when the code did not work but digital customer service (DCS) took care of it promptly by providing me with a new code. My major problem occurred with the week 5 voucher.
I entered the voucher and it was excepted fine, but I was unable to access my library and later when I tried again I did not see the eBook in the list. I emailed customer service but after a 1 1/2 days with no response, I called. I was told that the system was down and that as soon as they got it back up all pending purchases would appear in my library. The lady confirmed that the eBook was in the system so I was all set. Later that day I received an email from another DCS rep repeating what was conveyed to me on the phone.
11 days later: The eBook was still not in my library. I also received no follow up communication from DCS concerning my issue (but I did receive 4-5 marketing emails). I replied to the DCS email which has a tracking number in the subject line and asked for a status update on my issue. After 2 days of no response, I called DCS.
I explained my situation to the lady and she put me on hold to check on things for me. She came back with unfortunate news; she stated that the eBook voucher promotion has ended and that I would have to "purchase" the book. She further stated that if I would have contacted them sooner, that she might have been able to do something for me.
OMG! (was all I could think for a moment)
Gathering my composure, I explained that "this was unacceptable." Since I had a confirmed order BEFORE the end of the promotion, they should make things right and finish applying the eBook to my account. She told me that was not possible.
I asked to speak to a supervisor. The gentleman gave me the same line; basically that they understood that the system outage occurred preventing the transfer of the eBook to my library but there was still "nothing they could do."
You've got to be kidding me!
I even tried to explain it to him from a business aspect by telling him the following...
The competitive forces in the eBook and eReader business is becoming fierce.
- Borders is just releasing their eReader, Kobo, for $149
- B&N counters by releasing a lower end Nook to compete at $149 and reduce their flagship reader to $199
- Amazon counters by lowering the price of the Kindle to $189
[obviously a price war is starting and the devices may end up being under $100 when its done. The profit is in the eBooks anyways]
Not to be left out of the game, Google has been working with Sony (whose top reader is also $199) and they may end up "upsetting the entire apple cart" when they release their "cloud bookstore" with is supposed to be DRM (digital rights management) agnostic.
[This means eBooks bought from Google "should" be able to be read from ANY reader; We will have to wait and see...]
What all of this means is that the cost of switching to a suitable substitute has lowered dramatically so the only thing that is really going to matter is "Delivering Great Customer Service!"
After explaining all of this to him and mentally thanking my Strategic Business professor for his excellent class, I was thinking that this should get things rolling.
Total BRICK WALL! I couldn't believe it.
He kept telling me that he "understood my frustration but there was nothing he could do about it."
So I asked to speak to someone who could. He said that I could speak to another "manager" but they would tell me the same thing and he put me on hold.
I tell myself that I am not giving up; I am not asking for anything more than what I should have received in the first place and I know in my heart that B&N is better than this...
At first, Doug gives me the same "party line" as the other two. I retell my business strategy class. He tells me that the problem is that there is no way for him to put the eBook into my library after the promotion has ended; basically a system limitation.
I tell him that if that is truly the case, then B&N has failed. If they designed a system that prevents customer service from satisfying a customer, especially when they are at fault, then they have failed miserably because this will happen again to other customers.
As an alternative, I suggest that they send me the physical book for free as a consolation. He tells me that he is unable to do that because he has no access to physical books in his system; that is controlled by another customer service department.
I pointed out to him the folly of that business model. B&N is purposely leveraging its stores to push the online business market. [Personally, I think it's an excellent idea] But in doing so they create a "hybrid customer"; one that buys in the stores, online (physical), and online (digital).
How can you effectively service your customers when you have separate customer service departments for a hybrid customer? Customer service is customer service and one department should be able to COMPLETELY service the customer.
I finally tell him that since he has a system limitation that is preventing him from effectively servicing the customer, then B&N has a bigger problem and suggest that he contact somebody who can do something about it.
[Doug, seeing the light, wakes up, smells the coffee, and dons his SuperHero Cape!]
Doug tells me that he will champion my issue and send it up to the engineers and promises that he will follow up with me. He tells me that he "can't make any promises" but he is going to do "everything he can" to make this right. I tell him that is acceptable and I agree not to bother them unless I haven't heard back from him after a week.
I get off the phone with him and try to feel confident about his promise, but the whole experience has left me uneasy.
I decide to reset my Nook back to factory defaults and return it to the store before it's too late. I figure if Doug comes through I will buy another one and if not, I will take my business elsewhere.
Less than 30 minutes later, right before I headed out the door, Doug calls me back and tells me "Your all set!"
I re-register the Nook and there is the eBook, waiting to be read. Success!
The purpose of this story is two-fold:
- B&N needs to read this post, maybe read Tony Hsieh's book, "Delivering Happiness", and realize that some improvement is needed in systems and in customer service training.
- More importantly to all my fellow customers: Customer service is not just the responsibility of B&N. It's our responsibility too. If you accept poor customer service, than that is what you will get. Demand the best from B&N and they will have no choice but to give the best!
And in the end we all win.
[And one more thing to B&N: Don't step on Doug's cape or tell him to take it off. It looks good on him and because of it, HE SAVED THE DAY!]
06-29-2010 12:53 PM - edited 06-29-2010 01:22 PM
May Muldune's post stand Doug in good stead. He is saying and Doug is doing things about potential synergies of systems that many of us have been trying to communicate to B&N for a long time.
I have never looked at B&N's financials, but I wonder if their profits aren't currently coming as much from their publishers as from their readers. Having lived in an industry where current profits did not track marketplace shifts, I have a sense of the inertia such can have on effecting needed changes.
Book referred to in the post above:
Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh
This press release is not giving a lot of insight into B&N financials (e.g., sources of sales), unfortunately, and I don't really have the time/inclination to dig further right now. But, the results links do suggest an industry in duress.
06-29-2010 04:30 PM
@muldune6910: Yea, yea.. Super-Hero Doug... blah, blah. My only question to you is: When will you be publishing your book?! Holy c^@&, if that wasn't one of the best (oft times hilarious) written posts ever, then I will gladly add salt and pepper to my Nook and enjoy a zero trans-fat diet.
You captured the entire conversation that I have many times with CS reps (regardless of business). Some win, some lose. The point is that we as customers keep the business afloat. You brilliantly illustrated how it should be done.
06-30-2010 01:01 PM
Today I finally got a response to my email that I sent 3 Days ago!
What is even more hilarious and disturbing at the same time, it looks as if they have NO CLUE what transpired between B&N and myself yesterday [see their response below].
We apologize for the difficulties you are experiencing with your free
eBook in your library.
We have reviewed your order and we show that the content has been
downloaded and received. The results shown in our system are listed
06/29/2010 10:31 AM Downloaded Content delivered DeviceInfo: bravo;
ClientAppType: bravo; ClientVersion: 1.4.0; MediaProfile: ePub;
If you are having trouble accessing this download, please contact us at
1-800-THE-BOOK (1-800-843-2665) Monday through Friday from 8AM to 11PM
EST, Saturdays and Sundays 9AM to 11PM and request Digital Support
Customer Service Representative - Digital Support
Barnes and Noble
I don't see how you can run a customer service department and not even have the functionality to show your reps that an issue has already been resolved by another person.
This is basic client services stuff!
I think the only thing that is allowing me to keep my Nook [which I do like] is that I read the other posts that tell you how to sideload content from Kobo, Sony and free sources.
If there was no way to get competitive content on the Nook, I fear I would have to return it due to the obvious and expansive customer service issues that B&N has online.
I propose a grassroots customer driven push to get better customer service out of B&N...
Whenever you call "digital customer service", ask to speak to Doug. If they ask why then tell them you heard he was the best at resolving customer issues. Even refer them to this post.
Let's see if any of his co-workers decide, by providing great customer service, that they want to be asked for by name too...
In fact, lets start our own review board on this site to rate our daily interactions with the DCS and let's name names. Maybe continual public constructive critique is what B&N needs to realize that they need to improve in this area if they want to hold on to us.
Whose with me?
06-30-2010 01:12 PM - edited 06-30-2010 01:19 PM
Thank you Implied Consent for your kind comments.
And don't eat your Nook!
I don't think that would be covered under warranty and I don't wish to be implicated as being responsible for you having to undergo surgery.
06-30-2010 02:03 PM
Personally, I think that is a great idea. Accountablilty is the area that is most deficient in today's working world.
Maybe even a kind of rating system, similar to the way we can rate ebooks.
07-01-2010 01:27 PM
I greatly appreciate your post from the perspective of the person on the other end. I work in a small town public/high school library and am often on the receiving end of upset customers. I've found that keeping things on an even keel helps to diffuse some of the upset-ness.
I think customer service in general has really gone down hill, especially since all we have any more are the mega-stores. When shops were small & locally owned, customer service was very good. But since we now have so few choices the mega-stores don't care about customer service because, let's face it, where else can we go?
I also have to say how much I appreciate your bringing in what you learned in the past. You never know when you'll have to pull something out from way-back-when.
07-02-2010 01:58 PM
I also found out that escalating things with CS seems to be the way to go.
In January, I got wrongly charged for a book. It was free until midnight, I ordered it 15 minutes before midnight, but it went through their system after midnight.
I called CS, they promised me a $10 giftcard. After a while, a $5 giftcard shows up. After a promise of another $5 giftcard that never showed up I eventually escalated things, apparently high enough... And two months after the original wrong charge I got the second $5 giftcard.
That whole incident left a bad taste, though, and I think that B&N really needs to improve their customer service.
07-04-2010 12:16 PM - edited 07-04-2010 12:19 PM
First a little explanation thanks to our friends at Wikipedia:
Secessio plebis (withdrawal of the commoners, or Secession of the Plebs) was an informal exercise of power by Rome's plebian citizens, similar to a general strike taken to the extreme. During a secessio plebis, the plebs would simply abandon the city en masse and leave the patrician order to themselves. Therefore a secessio meant that all shops and workshops would shut down and commercial transactions would largely cease.
I am putting out a call to all of us "commoners" that have put up with intolerable online customer service at Barnes and Noble to stop our collective commiserating and assume our rights as "free citizens of commerce" to voice our displeasure in an active way.
I challenge everyone who feels that they deserve Excellent Customer Service to join me in my Secessio plebis and to do the following:
- Reply to this message to share your voice your dissatisfaction with the B&N's customer service.
- To commit for the entire month of July, to not purchase anything from B&N. You can either delay your purchase until August or find a suitable substitute in the free market.
If enough of us do this, then B&N will be given a true wake up call and be given a choice: to improve customer service or lose customers.
The "commoners" of Rome successfully influenced change FIVE TIMES by instituting Secessio Plebis.
And today being our country's Independence Day, I feel it's fitting for us all to step up and stand out.
=========My Declaration Against B&N========
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all customers deserve excellent customer service. That they are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are..
- A Life and a voice as a customer that is valued and respected by the corporation that wishes to profit from us.
- A Liberty to show our satisfaction or dissatisfaction of that corporation through the power of our purchases.
- An Ability to pursue Happiness by demanding the best in ourselves and others.
I have already taken the first step; I have returned my Nook to the store that I bought it from. When they asked if there was a problem with the device I told them "no, I really enjoy the Nook".
Of course, they looked a bit perplexed and then ask "so why are you returning it?"
My response was simply "I can't allow myself to own something that is not supported with excellent customer service."
The manager of the store actually "understood me", apologized, and refunded my money without any trouble.
This is how it should be online and we can make it happen with our collective "purchase voice"
If the bean counters see enough of a dip in sales, maybe they will actually take note and find out why.
It's up to us; we can initiate change or we can wallow in our own misery. What is it going to be?
07-05-2010 03:44 PM
The only response to your call so far has been the beautiful medoly of crickets. As much as I have the desire for excellent customer service ... I look into the nook's beautiful e-ink and whisper "I wish I knew how to quit you."