29 April 2009

A letter to Waterstones

I'm not even going to start to apologise for my tardiness in updating the blog. We know that it would be empty and meaningless. We also know that I'll promptly not write anything new in another month, so it would be doubly-pointless.

Instead, I present, for your viewing delectation, an email that I just fired off to the popular bookstore Waterstones.

Whenever writing a letter of complaint, I like to spice it up a bit with some humour. After all, if you work in an office somewhere dealing with complaints all day, it's probably a really dull and thankless task. If, in the course of my rant, I can make someone smile, then it can be counted as 'a good thing' and thus my karma is re-balanced, making up for all the small children I trip up, and cats that i kick.


From: rablenkov@googlemail.com
To: service@waterstones.com
Date: Wed, Apr 29, 2009 at 6:31 PM
Title: Site Feedback

Good evening,

I'm sending my comments to this address because I'm unable to find a feedback option on your website. If this isn't the right address, I would be most appreciative if you could forward it the correct person.

Whilst whining about my dealings with Waterstones on the popular social-networking application 'Twitter' I was approached by a charming chap called Adam who, so he said, represents your company. He was very eager to help but, due to the 140-character limitations of each 'Tweet', I didn't attempt to vent my spleen at him because, frankly, it wouldn't have given me the satisfaction that I hope to gain from this lengthy e-rant.

My feedback relates to your website and, hopefully, will indicate why I am seriously considering taking my custom elsewhere in future.

Recently, I was given a couple of Waterstones gift cards as, well, gifts. I bought a couple of books in-store and was later a tad annoyed to find that I could have made a significant saving by purchasing them online. However, one lives and learns and it would be inappropriate for me to blame my failure to shop around on either you or your company.

Encouraged by the opportunity to save a few pounds, I ordered some items online. I received an email stating that the order had been received and then, a couple of days later, another email saying that the items were being despatched. Unfortunately, there was no further email to confirm that the books had arrived at my local branch, so I had to make a number of daily phone calls until they were available, then go and collect them.

Suggestion #1 - Send an email to the customer to tell them when their book is available for collection.

After a few more orders, I was relatively pleased with the service.

However, on 16th March I ordered a book called 'No Surrender: My Thirty Year War' by Hiroo Onoda, a man who refused to believe that the war was over and hid in some mountains for three decades until persuaded otherwise. Regardless of whether he was the most dedicated soldier in history, or simply "a bit of a nutter", I rather fancied reading his biographical account of eating ants and living in a tree.

Sadly, my 'customer experience', as I believe it is called these days, was less than satisfactory. The money was taken, my order was accepted, and I received an email confirming this. Then, to my surprise, I received another email a little while later informing me that the item was out of stock and a special order was being placed with the publisher. I was rather annoyed by this as I wasn't informed at the time of ordering that the item was unavailable. Indeed, if I had known I would have gone elsewhere, Amazon for instance, to make my purchase.

Suggestion #2 - Let customers know before the point of purchase that the items they've ordered aren't available. Amazon can do it, why can't Waterstones?

Being a man of great patience, I decided to sit and wait for my book to become available. After six weeks of waiting, I hadn't received a single email updating me on the status of the item. I shall repeat that to convey the full weight of the matter. Six weeks without a single email. Six weeks. Three fortnights. A month, and then another half a month. An eighth of a year. Obviously, I was doing other things in the meantime, like working, eating, watching DVDs and sleeping, so my days weren't entirely wasted, but six weeks is still a long time to be without in-depth information on the day-to-day habits of a man who chose to spend most of his time sitting in mud, polishing his rifle and scoffing raw snakes.

Suggestion #3 - Update customers, perhaps on a weekly basis, as to the status of their order. Even an estimated date of arrival would be something, but no contact at all is ludicrous.

I cancelled the order but had to wait an additional day for the money to be deposited in my e-wallet. I then ordered two more books; both volumes of the collected short stories of J.G. Ballard. Sadly, I experienced some difficulty in using the funds in my e-wallet because the instructions weren't particularly easy to make out at first glance. Additionally, the 'help' section of your website is not particularly, er, helpful. Eventually, however, I was able to make the purchase.

Along came the email confirming my purchase and then, a short while later, along came the email telling me that one of the items was out of stock and on special order. I don't profess to be a sophisticated man of eclectic tastes who regularly buys rare and out-of-print books, so I can only assume that I've just been unlucky in choosing items that the publishers don't have anymore. I shall have to bear that bad luck upon my shoulders and move on. It shall be my cross to bear.

Bizarrely, although one volume is unavailable, the other volume, which I assume is available, has been placed into some sort of literary limbo. For nine days now it has said "Goods have yet to be received from supplier". Are they holding onto one volume until the other is available to save on postage? Has the second volume gone missing, falling down the back of a cupboard somewhere and nestling in the dust? Maybe we'll never know. For now, my order exists in a strange state of quantum flux - neither available nor unavailable, the Schrodinger's Cat of publishing.

Suggestion #4 - If part of an order is unavailable, why not just send the part that IS available?

Now, I hope you don't think me some sort of blithering internet idiot, tapping away at his keyboard one finger at a time, tongue sticking out the side of his mouth, squinting myopically at the screen and hoping that the magic pixies in Santa's giant book factory are doing their work properly. I've carried out a variety of transactions on numerous different sites, HMV, Play.com, Amazon, and many, many others. But my experience with Waterstones online has not been particularly wonderful and certainly doesn't fill me with that nice, warm ready-brek glow of satisfaction that other retailers have managed to give me. The site, to put it frankly, is clumsy. It should be much more instinctive in its set-up, one screen leading you effortlessly to the next, help topics arranged in a pleasing and easy to navigate fashion for those poor lost travellers who find themselves stumbling around in abject confusion.

Instead, I have to trawl through an unpleasant user-interface and, whenever I encounter a problem, click my way to a sore finger and cluster-headache before, finally, chancing upon the information I need. So, my final suggestion, although an admittedly complex and potentially prohibitively expensive one, is:

Suggestion #5 - Redesign the website, from the bottom up. It really is pants.

I hope that these suggestions are useful. I really think they could vastly improve the fabled 'customer experience' of which I spoke earlier.

I certainly look forward to hearing back from a real human being with a personality, hopes, dreams, and a logic-based reasoning process, as opposed to the standard "Thank you for your comments and your continued custom. Your opinion is important to us." If I do receive a response in the latter vein, then I may have to assault the keyboard of my laptop until the 'E' breaks, and you wouldn't want that on your conscience, would you?

Oh, before I go, there are a couple more suggestions which just occurred to me but didn't fit easily into the body of this rambling, long-winded email. I have tacked them on at the end as an addendum. Consider them as 'special bonus suggestions', a bit like Easter eggs on a DVD.

Lots of love,

Dan Leonard

Bonus Suggestion #1 - Have a feedback box, where customers can moan at you without resorting to email or, God forbid, a letter.

Bonus Suggestion #2 - Allow customers to check the balance of their gift card online. Do I really have to go in-store to do this? It's 2009, for the love of all things holy.


Rachel said...

what a bunch of cunts. end.

Dan said...

Yes. Yes they are.

And their website is still one of the worst I've had the misfortune to visit.

Anonymous said...

Hey i'm a student of pent valley and am currently doing a unit on customer complaintes and was wonderind if you would mind me using yours as an example.

Dan said...

I'd be delighted for you to use my muddled, grammatically inaccurate letter. :o)

Feel free, and good luck with your studies.

Anonymous said...

thank you very much Dan for both your help and the luck i'm gonna need it!
an as for the gramma i wouldn't worry mines just as bad possibly worse lol