Archive for the ‘customer support’ Category

Online customer support

With the growth of online shopping, which is even in Germany turning into a normal way of doing business, it’s becoming important for businesses to satisfy customer needs as they do (or at least should do) in the offline world. This applies of course to customer support.

Some companies in Germany, however, seem to think that doing business online is a blessing to its customers in itself and ignore online customer service. This is an opportunity for foreign companies that have been doing business online for much longer to provide better service to German consumers.

This also an opportunity for smart German companies that realize the importance of customer satisfaction, whether online or offline. The following two examples show opposite responses from online customer support by German companies. 

The first one is the English Book Service, which sells English language books. One time I was searching for a book on their Website, which was identified as “in stock”. Hence, I placed the order assuming that I will get it in the next few days, so I can take it with me on a weekend trip the following week.

Few days later, however, I got an email from the company that the book is on order and it will take few days before it’s shipped. This was an unpleasant surprise since I could have ordered the book somewhere else where it really was in stock. I still hoped though to receive it on time for my trip.

My hope didn’t materialize. Few more days later I emailed the customer service asking where my book is and got a response that it could be up to two weeks until the book can be shipped. There was no apology in the email for this screw-up and no options given to cancel the order or an offer of a voucher for future purchases as a sign of “we are sorry”.

I had to email the customer service again to demand cancellation of the order and a confirmation of that cancellation. I never received a confirmation that the order was cancelled. That was now almost half a year ago. The only way I know that the order must have been cancelled is that I was never charged for this book. 

Unfortunately, it’s still common in Germany that one has to demand better service, both online and offline, instead of good customer service being standard. That it is possible for German companies to provide great online service shows the following example.

My wife was shopping for cosmetics at the PARFUMCHANNEL and ordered several items online. Few days later they arrived but it turned out that company shipped one wrong item. My wife sent an email explaining the problem and requesting a replacement. 

Believe it or not, ten minutes after my wife sent that email the phone rang and a customer service representative from PARFUMCHANNEL was apologizing on the phone for the mistake and gave my wife options to solve this problem. They shipped the correct item the same day and included several samples as a token of apology. They also provided clear instructions on how to return the wrong item free of charge.

We were both amazed about this exceptional customer service that apparently is possible in Germany. How great would it be if other companies took an example from PARFUMCHANNEL?

Customer support hotlines

The poor service levels in Germany are not only limited to typical service offerings, but are also common when it comes to customer support associated with product sales and corresponding pre- and post-sales activities.  

Most customer support hotlines in Germany require customers to pay for the call. But why should a customer pay to call a company to find out information about a product or service the company is offering? And why should customers pay for calling a company to find out on how to use its product, or even worse, to have it fixed? Toll-free phone numbers for customer support are very uncommon in Germany, but they are standard in the US.

There are though some exceptions, which show that at least few companies in Germany realize the importance of customer satisfaction and don’t nickel and dime customers when customers want to do business with them.

Some of these companies, however, limit their free phone hotlines to only potential customers inquiring about the company’s offerings. Arcor, a phone and internet service provider, has for example a toll-free number for potential future customers, but charges existing customers who require support 24 cents per minute. norisbank, an online bank, is another example where potential customers can call for free to learn about its products, but existing customers need to pay for the calls. The costs vary depending on how far away from Nürnberg, the company’s headquarter, they live.

mamax, an online insurance company, provides a true free customer support and offers a toll- free number to new AND existing customers. One drawback here though is that mamax offers the phone support only during work days 8:00 – 18:30. How convenient would it be for working parents to call at 21:00 when the children are in bed to inquire for example about a life insurance policy? Wouldn’t that also help mamax to capture more business? This limitation of operating hours is actually very typical for German customer support, although it has been improving recently.

The best customer support hotline in Germany I know of is provided by Carglass, an auto glass repair chain. Carglass offers a free 24h hotline and the number is prominently displayed on the first page of its web site. So, a customer can call for free on a Sunday afternoon to arrange a car glass repair for the next day. Would you rather use Carglass or wait until Monday morning to call another repair shop and pay for the call?