Storehouse: Crme de la CRM

One of the key elements of CRM (pronounced “crim”) is knowledge about each customer as an individual: to know what his history is, what his value to you is, and to have that knowledge available no matter how the customer interacts with your company.

It seemed logical, then, to assume that three of today’s best-known retailers, with reputations for great service, would have their CRM acts together.

L.L. Bean has a wonderful — and well-deserved — reputation for customer service. But when I go to their Web site, I find these Q&As under “Order Information”:

Q. Can I view a list of my past orders online?

A. At this time, we cannot provide this information online. If you have a question about a previous order, please contact us.

Q. Can I check the status of my backorder online?

A. We’re sorry, at this time we are unable to provide this information online. Please contact us by phone or e-mail for the status of your backorder.

Hmm … how exactly does one contact them? Say, look at this! One of the choices under “Contact Us” is live chat with a customer service rep. Since we’re going for 21st-century convenience, I want my answers instantly. Bring on the live help!

L.L. Bean chat transcript

Jeff: I see on your site that you don’t currently have a way for customers to check on their past order history, or on the status of backorders, online. Do you expect to have those capabilities anytime soon?

Paula: I am not sure if we expect to have that capability. Let me check for you. [A minute passes.]

Paula: We are not really sure at this time. However, we are always happy to provide you with this information over the phone. [Pause] Is there anything else I can help you with?

[That’s when my Web browser crashed. Poor Paula; I knew she was sitting there, thinking I’d abandoned her… .]

Paula: Welcome to L.L. Bean. How can I help you?

Jeff: Hi, I was chatting with Paula a few minutes ago, but my Internet Explorer kept crashing — sorry. I do have another question. [Oops, I jumped the gun, sending my message before I’d gotten her greeting.]

Paula: Hello Mr. Morris, it’s Paula.

Jeff: Well, assuming I don’t crash again, I was wondering if you could tell me if the record of any orders I place through the catalog — by phone or mail — is somehow hooked up with the record of any orders I place online?

Paula: Yes, they are both linked together. Our system will show whether or not the order was an Internet order or a phone order.

Jeff: Aha! So, if I call, you can pull up a complete record of my orders, whether by mail, phone, fax, or online?

Paula: Yes, we can do that for you.

Jeff: That’s wonderful. OK, one more question and I’ll let you go: If I come into one of your retail stores or outlets, and pay by credit card, is a record of that sale also added to my order history?

Paula: Yes, but we only see the total charged, not the actual items purchased.

Jeff: Well, thank you very much. You’ve been very helpful!

Paula: You are very welcome, thank you for contacting us. Good-bye.

Well, that’s not too bad. They can pull up all my records, even if only over the phone. But their phone reps are so good and friendly, I think they secretly want everyone to call; they know where their strengths are.

Next up, Lands’ End. Of course, Lands’ End is strictly a catalog and Web retailer; no stores. I click the “Lands’ End Live” button.

Lands’ End chat transcript

Jody H: Welcome to Lands’ End Live! How may I help you? [Pause] May I help you?

Jeff: [Uh-oh, I waited too long to answer.] I just have a question. Sorry, I’m typing as fast as I can.

Jody H: No problem — take your time!

Jeff: Just wondering, do you currently have a way for customers to check on their past order history, or on the status of backorders, online?

Jody H: No, we do not. I can check for you if you’d like me to.

Jeff: I see. Could you tell me if the record of any orders I place through the catalog — by phone or mail — is somehow hooked up with the record of any orders I place online?

Jody H: All your orders are in our system — both online orders and catalog orders.

Jeff: I see. So, if I call, or even in a chat session, you can pull up a complete record of my orders, whether by mail, phone, fax, or online?

Jody H: We are able to pull up all your orders through 1995. If you want us to dig further we go through customer service. The best way to handle it would be by calling us. It would be too lengthy to handle through a chat.

Jeff: Okay, that’s fine. I was just curious if it was possible. Thank you, you’ve been very helpful!

Now it’s time for Nordstrom, the department store chain with the glowing reputation for service. Under Customer Service, I click on Order Status and find the Live Help button. I bypass the zillion ways to avoid live chat and go for the chat button. It lets me think I’m getting right through — and then refuses to work. I send an e-mail to the Web comments box, explaining my plight. Yet a couple of hours later, for the heck of it, I decide to try again, and get right in.

Nordstrom chat transcript

Jeff: I see a place to “check order status” on your site. Will that allow me to check only on online orders, or on phone or fax catalog orders as well?

Nordstrom: We’ve received your message — a personal shopper will be with you shortly.

Dale has arrived to help you!

Dale: Thank you for shopping with How can I assist you?

Jeff: [I send the question again.]

Dale: Our site only has the capability to track and display online orders. [Pause.] Was there anything else I can help with?

Jeff: What if I shop in one of your stores — is there any way for someone in a store to call up my online or catalog order history?

Dale: No, I’m sorry, we’re two different companies under the Nordstrom name, but we do not share data about customer purchases.

Jeff: So, you mean is not actually the same company as Nordstrom, the store? [This seems to have caused some confusion. I wait a long time for an answer.]

Dale: No, we’re run by the same people, but we’re actually a separate company. About 95% of the items we sell in the catalogs and online are exclusive to We offer very few store items online. That will be changing in the future, we’re moving toward becoming one and the same.

Jeff: I see. I didn’t know that. Well, thank you very much for your help.

Dale: You’re very welcome!

Now, looking back at the exchange, I realize just how bad it is; although Dale has told me that online and catalog stores are run together, she has also told me that even within the two parts of the company that are supposedly closely related, there’s no way to cross-check orders.

Well, shoot. Paula, Jody H., and Dale were just so helpful and nice … who cares whether all my darn orders can be called up on one screen? Who cares whether I can access my order history online? Who cares if the people in the store don’t know what the people on the Web are doing?

Jeff Morris is a freelance writer based in South Salem, NY. He can be reached at

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