Five Common Customer Service Failures

This is the first in a two-part series on 10 common customer service failures. This month, we’ll look at the top five customer service failures. Next month, we’ll examine the second half of the list.

Companies with the highest levels of customer satisfaction always carry their goal of customer service perfection into the distribution center. It is too easy to think of the distribution center as an operation completely separated from the customer. And companies that do this do so at their own peril.

1) Failure to fix a problem quickly
There is nothing more frustrating than having to wait for weeks to have a problem fixed. I had the experience of receiving a damaged product, and then being required to return it before the company would ship me a replacement. This added weeks to the original delivery time, and I still remember it now 3 years later.

2) Doing too much with one package
With the pressure to provide free shipping, many operations try to put as much as they can in a single box. I recently ordered several books, and found them thrown in a box with no cushioning, and the lightweight box and tape didn’t hold up well on the trip. The corners of my new books were bent and the box was nearly burst open when I received it. Make sure that you don’t overdo it, and don’t mix incompatible items such as heavy and fragile products, without proper protection. You may have to bite the bullet and pay for an extra package, or put a package within a package to provide better protection in transit. Talk to your carrier about its policy for discounts for multiple boxes to a single address on a single day.

3) Inadequate item packaging
Some items may be loose or poorly protected in the packaging received from your supplier. The lack of good vendor packaging may result in product damage during shipment, or simply give a bad impression of your brand. Either ask for changes from your supplier, or perform a value-added function to improve the packaging of these items yourself. For example, you might spend the time to fold, bag, and label a shirt to demonstrate to the customer the inherent value of the product.

4) Expired, sensitive, or obsolete product
There is no better way to anger a customer than to send them a product that is expired, almost expired, one that has diminished in quality, or one that is no longer the most recent version. Care should be taken both in inventory control, and in verification of items prior to shipping to prevent old or obsolete product from being accidentally shipped. If you have items that are sensitive to heat/cold, consider ways to protect them better in storage, or eliminate them from your offerings.

5) Failure to communicate with customer
Nowadays your competition may send four or more e-mails telling the customer the status of the order. Companies that don’t communicate what is happening with a customer’s order aren’t playing any longer on a level playing field. In particular, you should be able to update the customer on a tracking number, and on any exceptions or problems that occur on the order.

Sam Flanders is president of Durham, NH-based consultancy Warehouse Mangement Consultants. For more information, visit