Return to: GROK Dot Com 8/01/2001

The Technology Gap: Part I

For someone who's green, I'm sure seeing a lot of red. Because I do so much online ordering, I'm bound to run into the odd problem. Normally, I'm really laid back
about it (humans do make mistakes, after all), and as long as I feel I'm making progress and getting cooperation from the business in subsequent e-mail exchanges, I'm cool. But this one really rubbed me the wrong way.

I've just had an experience with a dot-com that has suggested some thoughts that fall under this general umbrella: know when to let your technology work for you and when to intercede and offer your customer the benefit of the human touch.

Here's the story: I decided to order a digital camera. I went to and did my research, then did a little price-shopping. Based on website look and feel, product cost, availability and shipping charges, I decided to give my business to, which happens to get a three-star rating in the Gomez Merchant Review and is prominently featured in CNET displays of product pricing. I figured that meant they probably did a good job.

Maybe they do, in general, get the whole sales equation right. But they blew it in my case. Pity, 'cause they did a decent job setting up the navigation, making it easy to find what I was looking for, presenting information well and leading me through the order process. I got the onscreen confirmation page (printed it out), got the immediately-generated e-mail confirmation and sat back to await delivery, thinking "Ain't this the life?"

I didn't have a spot of trouble until the day after I placed my order. That's when I learned my order was cancelled because my credit card had been declined:

Thank you for visiting Unfortunately, your credit card company has declined your intended purchase. would like to successfully process and ship your order. Please contact your credit card company for assistance.

If approved, please visit to reenter your order. <>. Where you always get more... 4LESS!

There was nothing wrong with my credit. And it was impossible I had botched the job when I placed the order (remember, I had the print-out!). Turns out, according to my credit card company, Computers4Sure manually mis-typed my expiration date when they processed the order, so it didn't agree with what was on record. But the email made the whole thing sound like it was my fault.

Here's where the human touch would have made all the difference. If someone there had simply proofed their data entry before it was submitted none of this would have happened at all! Or, those keen on the technological solution could have set things up so the system processed credit card information in real time (easy to do and lots of sites do it). Don't misunderstand me - I'm fine with manual entry of this stuff, as long as there are techniques in place that prevent mistakes like this from putting the burden for their mistake on my small green shoulders. Doesnít exactly make me feel warm and fuzzy about them.

And, dear reader, it got worse. I returned a reasonably nice e-mail in which I explained their problem. I asked if they would consider simply reprocessing the order. Nobody bothered replying. Nobody apologized. In fact, there was no acknowledgment I even existed! If they were trying to push me away they did a great job. And I donít have to tell you once you've pushed a customer away, you gotta move heaven and earth to set things right.

In my case, this is the sort of simple human touch that would have worked wonders:

Dear Grok.

Duh! It was our mistake and we sincerely apologize. We've set things right and are immediately reprocessing your original order.

As a gesture of apology we are not charging you for shipping.

Philomena Phairwhether

Customer Service Representative

But nobody at Computers4Sure was doing that.

Grok Caveats:

Cover your tail. Whenever there is a possibility for human error, make sure it wasn't yours before blaming your customer. Most folks don't look good with egg on their faces.

In a wonderful old movie called "The Go-Between", Edward Fox says something like "A woman is never at fault" Of course, sometimes customers are at fault, but don't start the exchange with that premise. It is guaranteed to backfire when you least want it to.

Even if it is the customerís fault, find a way to say it that doesnít push them away. Itís not hard to do if you try.

A problem-solving letter requires some personalization: "Dear Grok" will do nicely. Signed with a human name works for me too. If I need to respond, having to send my email to a department or a company hardly makes me feel secure that a real person is going to pay attention. And donít you just love having to repeat the whole story umpteen times because every letter gets handled by someone else.

Find a way to hold the order open pending resolution of the problem. Because I reeeeally wanted the item, I undertook the entire reordering process. But believe me, I wasn't happy about it. I felt I was being punished, and I didn't do anything wrong! And most customers wonít do what I did.

Listen to your customers - really HEAR them - then let them know you've heard them.

If all else failsÖpick up the freakiní phone!

We like to think technology is the well-spring of making this Brave New World run smoothly. But it's all for naught if you can't remember there's a human on the other end of the transaction who wants to be treated like a human. And there are times when nothing but the human touch will - or should - do.

P.S. Computers4Sure did acknowledge my second order - if not me - processed it accurately, and my product arrived fast. That's something, at least, sort of.

More Grok Caveats in

The Technology Gap: Part II

How do you prefer to be addressed:

Your email address

We Value Your Privacy!

Return to: GROK Dot Com 8/01/2001

© 2001 Future Now