Becoming Professional: A Blog

Posts Tagged ‘customer service failure

Image of girl in awkward position covering her head with her hands.

by Alex Bellink on Flickr

While this blog series is part of my personal rant against poor customer service treatment, I think it is also a good case study on what not to do. You don’t see quite as many situations where the entire process and system needs an over-haul quite so badly as Barnes & Noble’s seems to. So why waste this opportunity to study some customer service #fail in action?

As a follow-up to yesterday’s Open Letter to Barnes & Noble, I’m posting their form letter response. We all know how terrible form letters are. You pour your heart and soul into a CV and covering letter and get back a “Thanks for your application. We’ll let you know if we pick you” note. It doesn’t have to be that way. I recently submitted an application to GyroHSR‘s Make My Day 2011 Graduate Recruitment program. I did get a form response, but a also got a phone call from a nice lady in HR. Personal contact – it’s really something! Form letters can be useful, but they are not a substitute for personal contact. It’s a holding pattern. You send them to say, “We got your letter. We really care, and we’re gonna read it in a jiff!”

It is not how you actually respond to a person, particularly not on a complaint line. Yes, it’s easier. Sure, it’s probably cheaper, but what’s one of the best ways of dealing with a complaint? It’s not to apologize. It’s to listen. And sending a form response says loud and clear that you haven’t heard a word I said.

Before you read the response, I will make one concession to this form letter. It asks for needed information for my complaint to move forward. However, I think that a non-form letter response could have been used just the same. So, without further ado, the Barnes & Noble response:

Dear Kate Davids,

Thank you for writing to us regarding your NOOK.  To protect your
privacy and security needs, we require more information from you.

To respond to your email, we must ask you to provide your registered
email address, your registered billing address and serial number of your

If you do not have your NOOK’s serial available, please provide the last
four digits of the credit card associated with your registered email

We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused.

See what I mean? If you read my Open Letter to Barnes & Noble, you’ll see there was plenty to respond to. But they haven’t responded to a single point or addressed the complaint at all, even to say “That sounds pretty rough. I need more information to get into your account, though, and see what’s going on.” I completely understand that the legal department would have their ears if they conceded the validity of a complaint before verifying it themselves, but nothing in my proposed statement would do that. And everything in that proposed statement would make me feel like I’m being heard.

There are a few options around the general time-suck that writing individual customer service complaint letters can be. For instance, a canned letter for a variety of situations, such as “Lost Item in the Mail,” might be able to pass as being individually written if it is tailored to the situation enough, but don’t bet on it. Canned letters, as we all know, are ridiculously easy to spot. As Myra Golden, a customer service and PR blogger, said, “Customer service professionals should always tailor the form letter to the customer’s specific situation.” While a form letter might be a starting point for different situations, in order for an interaction to feel genuine and the customer feel like he’s been heard, it should always be edited to fit each particular instance.

What do you think? How can the emotional wall of form responses be done away with?


Dear blog readers, for the last three months, I have been subjected to an on-going customer service failure from Barnes & Nobles. I want to share my woes with you in the hopes that this will get their attention. Below you will find the e-mail I just sent out to their catch-all management e-mail. Enjoy!

Subject: Yes, this is a complaint

Hello management people and Dan – the nice guy who saw my complaint on Twitter,

I am writing to you because, after 3 months of waiting for your customer service team to give me a replacement Nook because the one I had bought was faulty, I was promised an appeasement gift by Louis Lis (during the week of February the 20th) and Isabella, a floor supervisor (on March 2, 2011). I finally got my Nook back and called the hotline about the appeasement and was offered $10 and then $20 in store credit.

There are two reasons I would like more and something else:

1) Not only was my Nook held hostage, but I was repeatedly lied to and had to suffer what can only be described as some of the worst customer service in my life as I tried to get it back. I called once a week only to be told “Your Nook will be sent to you in two days. You should receive it in about four.” When the Nook did not arrive, I had to make the call again, the next week. Please understand, I live in London, a fact well-known to your customer service call center. Being stuck on hold between 7pm and 11pm at night is not pretty, and I had to do this repeatedly. I know that the poor front line grunt who was taking my call wasn’t lying to me on purpose, but it was still a lie and I hold the organization that misinformed that poor front line grunt responsible. I also had other people on the phone tell me that the most I could get was my Nook back, and that that would have to wait because the warehouse was out. That is not including the people who insinuated that the broken Nook was my fault. The item had a blank patch on the screen and was never in contact with any water. That was not my fault. I believe I am due a little more than 20 bucks for this treatment and theft. That barely covers a hardback business book off of your website.

2) I cannot use a gift certificate. I happen to be living abroad right now in London. That would be the reason why I bought the Nook in the first place. I wanted to have books with me while I travel. Now, I have a bunch of books I can’t take home that I have bought for classes. This is money I have lost, thanks to the theft of my Nook. I am a student and do not have a lot of money and this has truly put me out. Store credit, especially sent to my permanent address in Arizona in the form of a gift-certificate, is useless to me right now. It’s adding insult to injury.

So, here’s what I propose: Give me a better offer. You have no idea what a raving B&N fan I was until this fiasco. I was promoting the Nook far and wide to my 500+ Twitter Followers. I praised B&Ns customer service, too. Now I’m using this as a case study in bad manners. Turn me around. It is possible, if you give it a real try and not just shake your head and apologize.

As for the gift-certificate, if you give me credit on my online account, I can actually use it. But if you send me a gift certificate, as said above, you might as well stick it in the shredder. Just credit my account to amount more than a paltry 20 bucks. Don’t ask me to do anything else when this entire saga is your organization’s fault.

Also, try to think out of the box. I’m flexible.

So, moving forward, you’ll have to reply to this e-mail unless you like cross-Atlantic phone calls. I don’t, and I’ve made quite a few to your call-center (which is in the Philippines, actually, if I am not mistaken – at least part of it). I’m sick and tired of being put on hold and I really despise being told that managerial staff are too busy and in a meeting – “Could you please call back in an hour?” I will call and completely annoy you until I get some satisfaction. That was the only way I got my Nook back, after all. If I had waited for your side to do anything, you would have stolen it permanently.

However, I would rather avoid all that and handle this like adults. Please provide me a telephone number where I can reach you so we can discuss this and you can attempt to make me less angry.

Thank you for your consideration,


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Who Am I?

I am a Digital Native who is trying to puzzle out what exactly that means. I share my thoughts on social media, digital business models, and PR here on this blog.

I am currently getting my Masters in Digital Marketing from Hult International Business School, having gotten my B.S. in Marketing from Arizona State University. Everything is on track and I am making headway towards my dream: World Domination... or being a productive, helpful citizen and marketer. Whichever comes first.

Don't hesitate to get in touch. I Tweet daily at @KateDavids and also have a science fiction and fantasy blog ( and Twitter (@Masked_Geek).

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