I had a frustrating small business experience this week that I thought might be a great opportunity for discussion here--or at the very least a reminder to us all to pay a little closer to attention to our customers during this busy season. I'd love to hear back from the group if you have opinions about how this scenario played out.

The Setup

While attempting to purchase gift certificates online through a small business website, I ran into a bit of trouble. I noted that this small business had a contact page, though. So I sent an email to request clarification.

Basically, the gift certificates they offered were for workshops or classes. In order to complete the purchase online, I had to select a specific workshop time from a drop-down menu, effectively registering my recipients for one of the offered classes. Now, if I was actually going to the classes myself, this would probably be the perfect online shopping experience.

The Problem

But I didn't know the recipient's schedule, and I didn't want to make assumptions about when they would be available to attend. So I sent an email through the contact page asking if there were another way to purchase gift certificates for my recipients without being forced to select the day and time they had to show up. I wanted to give them the certificates, then have them call or sign up online when it was convenient for them to attend one of the workshops.

Two days later I received an email from the owner of the business essentially saying, "Yes we do offer gift cards. The link is here. Let me know if you have any questions."

The Facepalm

I thought: Wait a minute, I already knew about the link. (Duh!)  And of course I have questions! Why didn't you answer them?

I was frustrated. Did she even read my email, or did some robot service pick up the words "gift certificate" and spit out an auto-response? Did she just skim the email, not realizing I had more complicated problems that required her input? Either way, my inquiry didn't feel like much of a priority

My Response

Even if I had to select a specific workshop for my gift recipients, I might've done some investigative work to find the best time for them. But I was already turned off and ultimately decided on another gift, dropping the workshop gift certificate idea entirely.

Your Turn

  1. As a customer, would you have called or written the owner again to get clarification?
  2. Do you feel as a small business owner that you are held to higher customer service standards than bigger, more impersonal companies?

Photo Credit: pirshulet 

Views: 296

Comment by JudyAnn Lorenz on December 30, 2011 at 10:12am

I've had a flood of good customer service lately, so tried to respond patiently when I purchased a 'disappointing' e-book online.  First it required a different install that wasn't easy, unless you could get it on a Kindle (not Kindle app for pc) or iPad.  I complained because it was clunky and I know that while many of their potential customers are tech savvy, if they WERE, they wouldn't want or need this ebook.  They responded politely enough and promised to send me a copy of their print journal.  What I received was a billing for a year's subscription at nearly $300.  I faxed a note that said "No thank you and btw, this is a copy of our correspondence".  It is holiday week, so I don't expect to hear from anyone -- they didn't answer the phone.

Comment by Emily Suess on December 30, 2011 at 10:22am

Your story makes me cringe a little, JudyAnn. And as small business owners ourselves, we might be more likely to empathize when interactions don't go perfectly. We all have our struggles. Imagine what more hurried and impatient "average consumers" might be thinking. Hope that the situation gets settled for you soon, and have a great New Year.


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