Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I had a recent run-in with the computer supplier Dabs.com. They messed up an order for computer parts that I wanted for my son’s birthday present and I had a torrid time with their customer services in trying to sort it out.
I am only bothering to put this incident on record because of the unusual way in which it was resolved. I found Twitter to be a valuable tool in my dialogue with Dabs and wanted to share the experience in case it would be of benefit to others.
I discovered that the company had a Twitter account (@Dabsdotcom) which they use to promote offers and products and to engage in some dialogue with their customer base. This proved to be a useful point of contact because, while many of my emails were only answered slowly during a long month of trying to get Dabs to fix a problem it had created, tweets to @dabsdotcom with direct questions or comments elicited a much quicker response.
It was an interesting example of social media proving to be a useful ally in a struggle with a large corporation. Many of us have experienced the frustration of having to deal with seemingly anonymous and understaffed customer service departments — hanging endlessly on the phone only to end up talking to someone who has no authority to take initiative in solving the problem.
So what was the problem? The whole sorry story is laid out in a letter that I finally wrote to the Chief Executive Office at Dabs (I have only modified it to hide the identity of one particular customer service representative). See below the letter for the coda.
Dear Mr Thornhill
I want to express to you directly my deep dismay and frustration at the horrible 24-day experience I have just endured at the hands of dabs.com.
For my son’s birthday (8th June) I ordered a series of computer parts on 30th May.
I discovered while tracking my order on your website on 1st June that it had been cancelled — for no apparent reason and without any notification from dabs.
I emailed immediately requesting an explanation. I received a reply on 2nd June and was instructed to place the order again. Because of the delay I asked for free next-day delivery but when placing the order, this option was not offered to me.
On 5th June I checked the progress of my order again and discovered that the cancelled order had been reactivated — again without any notification being sent to me. Shortly afterwards I received duplicates of the two of the items on my order. For reasons that I still don’t understand one of your operatives had decided to re-place my order, even though I had been asked (by phone and email) to do this myself.
There proceeded a very protracted effort by me to get the items that Dabs had sent in error returned and to get my money back. This took an inordinate amount of effort.
An email I sent on 5th June was not answered until June 6th. Although the fault for the error lay entirely with Dabs I was not immediately offered any satisfactory options for return – only that I would have to wait at home for possibly an entire working day (9-6 pm Mon-Fri) so that the goods could be collected. Since I have a full-time job, this was clearly not acceptable.
Eventually, after having to explain the situation repeatedly by email (each time to a different person, it seemed, none of whom seemed to talk to one another), I spoke to your representative, Ms E. In a long conversation she insisted the only options were for me to wait a whole day for collection or for me to post the goods back myself (with only the promise of a maximum £7.95 refund – and no guarantee that this would cover the full cost of the postage).
As a resolution to a problem caused by Dabs, these were not acceptable options. If the fault had been mine, they would have been — I am prepared to accept the consequences of my actions in a way that Dabs appears ignorant of. Eventually, Ms E raised a 3rd option which was for me to return the items sent in error via a Collect Plus agent near my home. Why this was not offered at the outset of the problem (i.e. on Jun 6th) rather than on June 14th is a mystery to me.
I insisted on a £40 payment as compensation for time wasted and time and effort that I would expend repackaging and returning parcels to remedy your mistake. I was offered £20 as a ‘good will’ gesture’ – a derisory sum given the time and effort spent until that point just trying to get Dabs to take some action. I only agreed to it because I thought it would bring an end to a dreadful experience. That hope turned out to be unfounded – there was more than a week of further frustration ahead of me.
I tried to return the items that night, but discovered that I had been given the wrong instructions by Ms E. There followed more emails and further delay. Eventually I was able to return the items on June 15th.
Using the Collect plus tracking service I saw that the items were received at Dabs’ depot two days later on June 17th. Since both returned items had been unopened and were in their original cellophane wrappers, it should have been a simple matter to verify that they were intact and to initiate repayment.
However in response to an email I send on June 22nd Ms E appeared unaware of the fact that the items had been received 5 days previously. She asked me for the tracking code – information that I had sent to her on June 16th.
Further delays ensued, again for reasons that are mysterious to me. One of you managers phoned me to acknowledge the problem and see how she could help to resolve it (I didn’t record her name). However, it was plain to me that although her call came 4 hours after I had emailed an explanation of the situation to Ms E, she hadn’t taken the trouble to inform herself of the situation at Dabs. As a result she was unable to help!
Finally yesterday, after much insistence on my part, my money was refunded.
You manager tried to assure me that the treatment I have received is unusual. That may be so but I ask you, as the person ultimately responsible, even if unusual — how could your customer service operation be so poor? This sorry episode is due not just to one but to a whole catalogue of errors and delays – the cancellation, the duplication, the tardiness in responding to emails, the initial refusal to offer decent means of returning unsolicited goods, the wrong instructions, the failure to read information provided in emails.
And after all that — after I have spent probably 3 or 4 hours in writing emails, handling phone calls and returning goods you sent me in error (only after 2 journeys because of your errors), not to mention the miserable frustration I had to endure and the disappointment of having spoiled my son’s birthday, there is no offer of compensation beyond the £20 handling fee that I took for returning your goods. You messed up my working days over a period of 24 days and offer nothing to indicate any genuine remorse or sense of responsibility?
The only times I detected any sense of urgency on your part to resolve the situation was when I sought resolution of my problem by asking @dabsdotcom on Twitter. You seem at least to be sensitive to the publi
c perception of your company’s performance.
c perception of your company’s performance.
I offer you a chance to be big enough to make decent amends for the wrongs you have caused me.
I look forward to your reply.
Eventually, following another poke via Twitter, Mr Thornhill got in touch. He acknowledged the problem, explained that it had all been due to a major computer problem that had affected a small number of customers (myself included). He was good enough to apologise and offered compensation for the time I had wasted. I rejected his initial offer of £60 worth of vouchers to spend at Dabs.com — I wanted £120 cash, that being my estimate of the value of the time I had been distracted from my work to deal with the problem. He agreed to that without any further fuss.
From comments received on Twitter I am clearly not the only one who has been affected by poor customer service at Dabs. Mr Thornhill sought to assure me that my experience had been exceptional but, having been badly burned, it will be a while before I feel willing to put that assurance to the test (though, to be fair, I had used Dabs in the past and not encountered any difficulty).
However, I hope this experience has been an education for some in his customer service team. It certainly has been for me — I’ll be looking to social media to help me in future with problems of this nature.
Companies that seek a presence on Twitter, Facebook or wherever should be aware that these sites are for two-way communication. Used well, they provide a useful way for customers to obtain better service. Hopefully most companies might also see them as an effective means of responding to customer concerns.