Valentine’s Day Customer Service Wilted for 1-800-Flowers

Feb 19, 2014 11:45 AM  By

Winter Storm Pax left most of eastern seaboard unable to leave their homes last week. And it also meant deliveries of such things as flowers for Valentine’s Day came to a standstill.

While most people would have forgiven delivery people for not being able to make deliveries on uncleared roadways, many 1-800-Flowers customers took to social media to express their displeasure with the brand.

[Click here to see how online florists responded to Valentine's Day delivery complaints]

According to CNN, three days after Valentine’s Day, 1-800-Flowers.com continued to apologize on both of the social media platforms.  On Twitter, the floral company sent nearly 1,000 apologies to customers about flowers and candy that just never arrived on Valentine’s Day.

Customers complained that the company’s phone lines were jammed throughout the weekend.  They sent out emails and filled out online forms only to receive automated replies, according to CNN.

According to Debra Ellis, founder of Wilson & Ellis Consulting,  an apology is pretty good. The issue, however, is with customer service.  Social media she said, is evolving more and more to be a customer service center and typically when things go wrong, you hear from customers, when things are going right you don’t hear as much from customers.

Ellis said even though their customer care center is open 24/7, people tried to call and couldn’t get through or didn’t get the response they wanted.  Customers turned to social media to complain about it.

Ellis said the issue is that they don’t have a process in place that is scalable.  You have to have a customer service in place that is scalable. An automated response that is very generic that says, “Okay, we’re aware of the problem and we’re dealing with it,”  doesn’t answer any question at all.

According to Ellis, if 1-800-Flowers had tailored their automated responses to each issue saying, “We can not respond at this point in time with your specific concern, we will respond within 24 hours.”  It would give 1-800Flowers time to deal with the issue in a timely manner.

Ellis said the cardinal rule is to resolve the customer’s issue the first time the customer contacts you.  1-800Flowers has a real problem, there is a very short shelf life on flowers. It would have been better for them to cancel the orders than deliver damaged goods.

Ellis said she would reevaluate every process and procedure and make sure it was scalable and have an action plan if something like this happens. Weather played a part in the issues of delivering the order on time for Valentine’s Day.

Ellis said 1-800Flowers should have reached out to their carriers to make sure they were able to make the delivery.  If not, 1-800Flowers should have sent out an email to its customers giving them the option to opt out of the orders.

“It’s going to have a long-reaching effect into Mother’s Day and birthdays because people really remember a bad service,” said Ellis.  “When a bad experience is escalated by multiple bad experiences it make an indelible imprint on loyalty.”

According to Ellis, ProFlowers appears to be communicating better than the other two, but it isn’t well enough to satisfy customers.  People she said, are having to contact the company multiple times and through multiple channels to resolve their issues.

Ellis said responding to comments without resolving issues frustrates customers.  FTD’s reminder of quality service is poorly timed:

“FTD delivers millions of flowers and gifts each year to our customers’ delight.  FTD truly cares about all of our customers and our dedicated staff will continue to work around the clock until every customer issue is resolved. We very much appreciate your patience and loyalty to FTD. If you’d like to check the status of an order, please message us with your order number and contact information. We will contact you as soon as possible.”

“The comment would be much better without the first sentence,” Ellis added.

“The real issue isn’t the weather or lack of delivery. It is the failure of the companies to communicate with customer and the quality of the experience,” said Ellis. “When weather or other external events create service issues, good communication makes the difference between customer satisfaction and an out of control mob.”

Customers also complained of deliveries not being made after they paid the Valentine’s Day delivery guarantee.  Many demanded that refunds or resent flowers, according to the ongoing Twitter feed.

Liz Kislik, president of Liz Kislik Associates LLC., said nature is very powerful, the storm was the storm.  If you have a holiday or event based business and if there are natural conditions beyond your control, you are in trouble.

Kislik said some customers want a refund, some want their packages re-delivered and sometimes you can deliver stuff early.

“Perishables is tough, if you have 10 unhappy customers they may be unhappy for different reasons,” said Kislik.

Sometimes a company will blackout shipping areas if they know the weather is going to be nuts, said Kislik.  She recommended putting something on the website, in a phone message or on social media.

“If you know you aren’t going to be able to ship, [customers] can get their flowers or chocolate somewhere else” said Kislik.

Kislik said if you are in the business of delivering flowers for Valentine’s Day, the human responsibility is that it is going to be there. Provide an update, notify, apologize.  Provide as much contact. Gifts can be sent out in advance. Write something on the packaging that says, “Do not open until Valentine’s Day.”

Kislik said an email may be sent saying the package was delivered with a special gift. “You need the kind of strategy and planning that looks at the adverse circumstances in the same way technology companies are looking at businesses continuity and disaster recovery,” said Kislik.

According to Kislik, how do you plan to outwit or cope with what the circumstances are and deliver the services as close as possible.  Kislik asked, what scaffolding do you need to have in place to deal with any negative impact as soon as possible.

FTD, ProFlowers and Teleflora also reacted to customer complaints regarding missed or damaged deliveries using Facebook and Twitter. BloomNation said they did not have any delivery issues on Valentine’s Day.