What a fridge has taught me about customer support


There comes a time when you realize your old fridge has to go. Praise be to the online merchants! When I decided I needed a new fridge, all the options in the world were a click away. Big freezers, tiny table fridges, no-frost, great energy ratings — you name it.

After a lot of comparing, I found the one. It was just the right size, fell within my budget, had all the features I wanted, and even came with free delivery, including removal and recycling of the shipping materials. So I placed my order — by the way, not at the time through that merchant. As a giant device like a new fridge is delivered by a shipper and not our regular parcel service, they asked me to choose a four hour window for delivery on a specific day.

When that day came, I made sure the old fridge was empty and defrosted in time. That required me to put all the food in a big box on the balcony, but it was cold enough outside for the food not to spoil right away. Then I waited.

And waited. And waited.

Nobody ever rang the doorbell, and no fridge ever arrived. Life went on. Unfortunately, the sun came out and forced me to move that big food box to the shadows, but it was still ok. Then the delivery time frame ended, and I started worrying. Was my doorbell broken? No, I checked it. Did they put the fridge on the street? No, I went down those three floors and checked that as well. Finally, 15 minutes after the specified delivery period had ended, I went online to contact the merchant. As I don‘t like phone calls, I chose their chat.

When the chat window popped up, I wrote that I was waiting for my fridge which should already have been delivered. A customer service agent answered right away, asking me for further details about my order and verifying my phone number. Once he had that information, he told me that he would forward my information to the shipper so the fridge could be delivered.

I stopped short — those details already should have been provided once I had placed my order. Otherwise, how was the fridge supposed to find me? The agent apologized and told me that there had been an error. That the shipper would call me. I wanted to know when that was supposed to happen while glancing out of the window where the food box was already in bright sunlight again… so much for south side balconies. When the agent told me that the shipper would “soon” call me, I wasn‘t satisfied. So he then told me that I would receive the call today. Which also didn‘t satisfy me.

Finally, I was informed that they would call in an hour. From the tone of the replies, it felt like that agent was under a lot of stress, so to speed things up, I asked for the phone number of the shipper so I could call them directly.

“Sorry,” the reply in the chat box popped up, “I don‘t have a phone number of the shipper. But I have forwarded yours. If you don‘t have any further questions, please close this chat by using the link in the right upper corner.”

Despite further attempts to get any reliable information, the agent just kept on apologizing and giving me various statements on when to expect a call. I gave up. But not completely.

Enter mortal enemy: the phone. After making some decisions by pressing “1” or “2” or “#,” then surviving some music on hold, I was asked for some details about my order. The agent went through my details mechanically, then told me that my fridge was supposed to arrive today.

“Yes, but that was almost two hours ago,” I replied. He sighed, then paused. “Oh, right, I see that now.” I sighed. “So, when WILL it arrive?” He asked me to hold the line so that he could check. I survived another three loops of the music I already heard earlier. When he picked up the line, he apologized for the delay and told me that there has been an error and that he would forward my phone number to the shipper so they could call me.

“Your colleague already did that when I used your support chat. I just need to know when they will call me and if the fridge will still arrive today.” He apologized once more and told me that he could not access those details. When I asked for the phone number of the shipper, he said that there was none and that he could not do anything else for me besides forwarding my complaint. I gave up. But not completely.

On to Facebook! I already knew my story, so that was written down quickly. Unfortunately, it was still too late. The Social Media Team let me know that they could not access any order details and that, even if they could, they would not be able to reach anybody that late in the day. But they let me know they would keep their fingers crossed for a delivery on the next day. I gave up. For real this time. I plugged in the old fridge to save the food from spoiling, then resigned myself to waiting.

The next day I got a call. It was the dispatch center of the merchant. They told me that I bought a fridge and that they wanted to deliver it. “Right, the fridge that should have been delivered yesterday,” I said. The agent apologized and let me know that he could not access that information, but that I should now choose a delivery time for my new fridge.

Once I had done that, I asked him for the phone number of the shipper, just in case. “I don‘t have that number” was his reply. “But what if the fridge isn‘t delivered AGAIN?” “Well, then you can call the customer support.” I felt a bit dead inside. This time, I did not unplug the old fridge because I was riding on a steep learning curve. Instead, I waited and cleaned some drawers.

Finally, the doorbell rang and a guy snarled “Have your fridge.” Praise be to the elevator, those fridges are heavy! When it opened on my floor, two gentlemen and a fridge tumbled out. “Do you want to have it in the apartment?” they asked. A pretty good idea, yes, please. Once they had arrived in the kitchen, they wanted my signature. In turn, I wanted to know what should happen to the packaging and the old fridge. “We don‘t know” was their reply, so a lively discussion ensued.

After a bit of back and forth, they agreed to take the old fridge because it was smaller than the new one but refused to take the wrapping. Obviously, both parties weren‘t happy with that deal, but neither of us had time to keep on arguing.

This could be the end of my story. The fridge was there, and it‘s awesome. But the journey of my fridge has been as bumpy as my customer experience. There are a lot of lessons we can learn from this episode, and they can easily be adapted for anything from buying goods online to making use of online services.

1. Only make promises you can keep!

It‘s great to give a delivery time frame, but it‘s incredibly annoying if you don‘t make it on time. So don‘t sell guessing as a fact. If you don‘t know when something is going to happen, don‘t promise it‘s going to happen. If you know that it will be happening within the next day, tell your customer exactly that, even if they aren‘t happy with that answer. You cannot speed things up by making false promises.

2. Inform your customers!

Shit happens. Deliveries get delayed, trucks break down, employees get sick. Inform your customers if anything is happening that screws up their order. Don‘t wait for them to get in touch with you once things already have gone pear-shaped. It‘s your business. You need to stay on top of communication. You may even come up with an alternative solution before your customer knows something has gone wrong.

3. Have your partners in the same boat!

Your customers place their order with you, not with your shipper or the postal service. Again, stay on top of communication. You need to offer all the relevant information to your partners so they can do the best job possible. If they screw up, you need to have ways for them to tell your customer directly or at least to report back to you so you can deliver the news. Even if it‘s not your fault: for the customer, you‘re the party that’s in charge. You can choose to be pro-active, rather than just responsible.