If you know you can’t deliver, start communicating
“How can you advertise that you have essentials available to order for delivery, within two to five days, but then you cannot cope with the demand?”
Riette Basson is among several people to e-mail about Incredible Connection’s incredibly disappointing service in recent weeks.
“I ordered one of the cartridges that Incredible Connection (IC) did not have in stock from Takealot and it was delivered by them within that same week. Plus I was kept updated the whole time.”
When you’ve ordered a laptop, tablet or printer to enable you to work or school your child from home during a national lockdown, and you put your faith in a delivery promise — two to five days — which isn’t met, and then you can’t engage with the company about that, you’re bound to be upset.
Non-delivery followed by non-communication inevitably leads to death, or at least very serious injury, to consumer goodwill and trust.
These are trying times for all, with both consumers and the companies they choose to do business with scrambling to equip themselves to meet the government’s call to work from home as far as possible.
But here’s what I know for sure — however you are failing your customers when it comes to delivery, best you find a way to make sure they can communicate effectively with you, on whatever platform makes that possible: e-mail, phone, Twitter, Facebook, livechat — just do not ignore them when you’ve broken your promise to them.
That only works for service providers who have no competition.
I sent IC — part of the JD Group — Basson’s complaint, along with those of quite a few others.
Limpopo student Thangavhuelo Livhuwani had ordered a desperately needed cellphone from IC and more than a week later, when he’d had no delivery, he discovered he couldn’t connect with the company about that either.
“They don't answer their phones or e-mails but on Facebook they are still advertising those goods every day and they are continuing to take orders from people,” he said.
“Cannot believe you still advertise delivery,” Mordie Kruger wrote on IC’s Facebook page.
“We have waited more than 14 days now. No feedback, no explanation, no action. Only the standard excuse.”
Tshepang T’s HelloPeter post on May 4 read: “I paid for a laptop on April 3, and I still haven’t received any communication about it, a month later.”
Many others complained of not being able to track their orders, leaving them in the dark.
I asked the JD Group’s customer care manager Ankia van der Pluym to respond, and she obliged very comprehensively, so I shall have to summarise.
Covid-19 had affected IC’s operations in a number of ways which, given the circumstances, were “perfectly understandable”, she began.
There’d been an unprecedented surge in online orders with volumes far exceeding any previous benchmark, “and in a number of instances we have not met our normal high standard of 2-5 days’ fulfilment for regular/core items”.
There was no explanation for why that delivery promise was not adjusted when it became clear it was something of an over-promise.
“We appreciate that consumers are desperate and anxious for some of these items, and we apologise for instances where we have not met our promised deliveries; we have to do better.”
As for the reasons: The need to comply with stringent lockdown regulations meant the entire chain was moving slower than normal, she said.
Call centre and distribution companies’ operating hours are restricted and call centres have been shut down, with staff working from home, which is “less effective than the standard call centre operation, affecting waiting and response times”.
Demand for certain products such as webcams had surged by more than 200%, she said, putting strain on the supply chain.
“And due to our partners adopting contactless delivery as well as the severe restrictions on access in a number of gated communities and estates, we have been forced to leave parcels at designated drop-off points and in some instances this has led to situations where parcels have stood unclaimed for a number of days before consumers receive them.”
“Support” staff had been forced to work from home which is “less efficient” than a full complement in their normal office location, she said.
“This continues to affect our response time to queries.”
Van der Pluym said IC had delivered or “had in transit” 82,58% of all e-commerce orders for April and May.
“In terms of the specific cases you have raised, we have attempted to contact each of these consumers, chased down all their consignments and, where necessary, expedited them, along with any other consumer still awaiting their goods to go into transit.
“We accept that we have let some customers down and are doing everything we can within the environment within which we are forced to operate to expedite every single order and will not rest until we are 100% up to date.”
Van der Pluym ended with an “It’s not just us”.
“Even the most cursory of investigations into the social media feeds of all online retailers will reveal that we are not alone in this struggle and that everyone has experienced poor connectivity and significant delivery delays, which bears testament to just how difficult it is right now to trade under the severe restrictions of level-four lockdown.”
That is true. But IC, which claims to be “SA’s most-loved tech retailer”, is the one which happens to have been dominating my inbox and my Twitter feed of late.
Being able to trade during lockdown is a blessing; being able to deliver on your promises is the challenge.
If you can’t, tweak your promise and find effective ways to keep talking to your customers.
They’ll love you for that.