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There are two schools of thought on how important customer service is to the fledgling online eyeglasses industry. Some people in the forums are adamant that expecting any customer service on products with prices such as these is wrongheaded.

Kmart rode the "sell cheap, screw 'em if they complain" strategy right into Chapter 11. They've emerged as an even more depressing shadow of their massively depressing prior self.

I'm a firm believer that customer service isn't optional -- for any business.

You can look at it two ways, economically speaking; it's expensive, and it's an investment. If you're selling a selling a a truly custom product like prescription eyeglasses, your direct customer service costs are going to be higher than the costs associated with selling a "one-size-fits-all" widget.

What do I expect?
I expect the following:

  1. The order process should be simple - Reduce the number of steps necessary. Don't try to upsell me on an eyeglasses case. There is no way that enough people bite on this to muddy every one of the orders. If you've got 5 steps, make it 3. If you've got 10, you're in the wrong business (and drop me a line for some consulting).
  2. Clean up the spelling and grammar - I know you sell good products. I've gotten quality from all of you, but the literate guy who is discovering all of this tonight for the first time is going to be concerned about your professionalism. This isn't rocket surgery. At the very least, dump your content into Word and look for squiggly lines -- it's a great first step.
  3. The payment process should be secure - Show me how secure it is. I want to know that the information I'm giving you isn't being stored improperly.
  4. Email! - One upon order, with details, a printable receipt, and a link to view the status of my order. Another one upon shipping with my shipping information. Provide a tracking number.
  5. Modern, effective contact options - You may think that this "Liveperson" stuff is state of the art. Two words for you, "it sucks." It's never "online" when you need it to be and frankly there is no benefit of this over timely email responses or a quick phone call. I've tried to leave a message on three different sites and gotten a response only once. Note: A "Fax" is not an acceptable primary contact method.
Systematic or Ad Hoc?
If you're a boutique selling a few pairs of high-priced eyeglasses a day, you can get by with a competent human to provide customer service. I don't cover places such as this.

If you're selling 50 pairs of glasses a day, much less 10,000 pairs a month, you better have some systems in place or you're going to drown. These systems are mandatory (and should be as automated as possible):
  • systems to facilitate a higher percentage of error-free orders (simplify!)
  • systems to notify customers of status changes
  • systems to notify shipping information
  • systems to facilitate repairs, replacements and refunds
One would think that a company online, reaping the benefits of increased efficiency and lower people and space costs would see the intelligence behind automated logistics. But many are still trying to get by on the seat of their pants. An email telling me that my order has been placed is nice, but unless there is a method for me to follow up on the process, it's value is very limited.

If I have to call or email customer service to find out this information, and particularly if these are the only options, you're going to lose money on me (here's where it gets interesting), but only for that order. If I get kick-ass, accurate and timely customer service, I'm likely to purchase again. I'm also likely to tell everyone who will listen what a wonderful experience I had with you.

But what if I NEED to call?
Give me the option -- even if it's not toll-free. Post a number, tell me what languages I can use and if it's important enough to me, or your email system fails (as is the excuse explanation du jour) I may just call. But when I do, don't blow smoke and tell me "they shipped yesterday" or "they're going out today" unless they really are. You want to make me really angry? Lie to me -- while I'm paying you for a good or service.

I've gotten much email on phone conversations had with customer service people at the retailers listed over the left. It seems that nearly every site (with a phone number) has at least one decent customer service person and at least one closer to horrible. Do yourself a favor, fire the bad ones. This afternoon, if possible. They're customer poison.

Wake up out there. Time to start thinking about the big picture.

If you can't see it, you might want to get your prescription checked.



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4 comments:

At July 21, 2008 at 4:13 PM Brandon said...

I enquired of Goggles4U:

How do I search for temple length = 145 or 150?

They replied

Dear Customer,

Thank you for contacting us.  

Frames are not available with your required tample length. We suggest you to search frame by front length. Temple size is according to the size of frame.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any additional questions.


Needless to say, I have no plans to follow up with them.

Though I am curious what a tample is.

 
At July 23, 2008 at 8:46 AM Anonymous said...

It would be nice, too, if an eyeglass site would offer all this information up front, and even nicer if you could search, sort, or filter with it:

Lens width
Lens height
Total width
Temple length
Bridge size
Full rim/half rim/rimless
Materials used (plastic, metal, titanium, bendable, etc.)

 
At July 25, 2008 at 12:31 PM justelise said...

Thank you for writing this post. It's time that all online eyeglass retailers wake up. It shouldn't take five emails and two phone calls to get an answer to a single question. Just because the eyeglasses are $8 does NOT mean I should be spoken down to when I call for a shipping update, or that I should not get email letting me know that the order was placed, or that it has shipped. Zenni is notorious for not wanting to talk to customers, and it's sad, because if they had decent customer support and a usable interface, they would have more business than they could handle.

If you're selling glasses in the U.S. and you can barely manage to speak or write in English, hire someone who can talk to your customers. I know you're in China, but this is not an acceptable response to a question about a frame:

Hi dear,
Thank you for your message.
Most Plastic frames do not have spring hinges.
They do not need spring hine in plstic frame.
I hope this information could help you.

We wish you a Happy New Year and a successful & prosperous Year 2008.

Yours,
Fiona

Optical4less.com Customer Service Manager


This coupled with the plethora of language issues I encountered on their site has caused me to shop elsewhere for glasses. I just can't trust my money or goods with someone who I can't adequately communicate with. It's arguable that if the frames had been described correctly, I would not have had this question, and I would've never received this email, and would have done business with them. Unfortunately, it's too late for that.

Every shop should have a mechanism that allows you to search for front width and temple length at a minimum. I shouldn't have to flip through 20 pages of frames to find one that would fit me the way I want it to. It's 2008, and having a good search mechanism should be standard.

 
At August 14, 2008 at 6:00 PM MOm said...

I have bought glasses from Zenni twice now (4 pairs the first time and 3 this time) and have been very satisfied with their customer service. Each time I've called (four or five times - not only am I a worrier, I'm easily confused...), I've spoken to a polite and knowledgeable Anglophone, who is more than helpful with my problem or question. I will admit that the site is bewildering and it's time consuming to find just the right glasses with just the right fit, but that's what Firefox and multiple tabs are for!

 

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