Gotta tell you about my customer experience with HiFi Corp that turned out to be a great business lesson.
My mom turned 80 last year. My sister and I pooled our finances and bought her a top loader washing machine and a flat screen TV. I hopped on my computer, surfed the net, made the purchase from HiFiCorp, a division of the JD Group. Paid the money, confirmed the order and pickup availability. Next morning I was on a plane to Cape Town. I went to their N1 City store directly from the airport and collected the goods. So my mom got a surprise delivery the day before her 80th birthday.
I stayed in Cape Town that entire weekend to celebrate my mom’s 80th with her.. despite the fact that my mom lives in a mobile data deadzone and I could not even Whatsapp my wife from there. I pissed off a few people at work in the process because they could not reach me. But it was worth it. Your mom don’t turn 80 every week. On the Tuesday afternoon I was back on a plane to Durban.
Things went well for a few weeks. Now my mom is a double amputee, so she tends to take assistance from anybody and everybody that offers it. Somewhere during the course of getting assistance, someone slipped up and did something wrong with the washing machine. So because it’s under warranty, the onus is on the retailer to collect, assess and repair. If the fault is a result of customer neglect – you pay. That simple. Not so with Hifi Corp.
I’m not going to dwell on the frustrating few months I have had trying to get HiFi Corp to handle their business and collect the washing machine and fix it.
I will just expound on the busines lessons I’ve learnt as an entrepreneur and you too can learn about doing business better.
- Do not make a technology platform available if you cannot close the loop on every aspect of your business. I had a great time making the purchase online. But I could not do anything else that was as surefire as the sales process online. The support page does not have a number to call. They have most probably never heard of live chat as a means to streamline customer service logistics. Even the contact page doesn’t have a number. It isn’t until you click through to the Facebook page that you get the Customer Care number. And then all they do is direct you to the store where you purchased or collected from. Wouldn’t it be easier if they told you that on the website? Because they do have a list of stores on here. Technology is not a nice-to-have. It is a serious and expensive business resource to have. Maximise or die.
- If someone took the time to buy from you online, prioritise them the collection point. By the time I got to N1 City they already had my money. They already knew what I was collecting. They already knew I was coming and what time I’d be there. Shouldn’t someone have been commissioned to have my order ready on a trolley, ready to ship out the minute I arrived? No. I waited an hour and 10 minutes. And this is after the 20 minutes I spent buying the TV license. I gotta say the security guard at the N1 City store can keep you amused for as long as you have time to stand and watch him. But that’s besides the point. If people are going to spend money with your business before they get their goods, give them a little bit extra TLC. Make them feel like they matter because they chose to spend their heard earned money with you and not your competitor.
- Offer expedited delivery (at an extra cost) for online purchases if you also have a brick and mortar presence that customers can walk into. If I did not opt to collect from the store that morning, my purchase would only have been delivered on the Tuesday following my mom’s birthday. I was never asked if I would like same day or 24 hour delivery, even at an extra cost. And I called customer care 3 times prior to making the purchase to be 100% sure. If someone’s going to give you money before they get their goods, try and conclude the transaction with delivery in the fastest possible time.
- Have a rule in place on all your helplines. The phone should not ring more than 2 times before a call is answered. Just this morning I called the Mitchell’s Plain store and the phone rang what seemed like forever before someone answered. There is a reason IVRs exist. Ensure your staff answers their phones promptly because theirtradiness is a reflection on your business. They can find another job elsewhere. That reputational damage sticks like superglue.
- Invest in technology where it is needed. If the HiFiCorp stores had an IVR and voicemail back office that allows one to leave messages or navigate departments, the phone don’t ever have to ring forever, and I would not have had to call back three times to speak to Eugenia at the Mitchells Plain store. Invest in the necessary ICT infrastructure. Cutting corners can result in cutting a whole lot more than just corners.
- Streamline your policies and procedures. I asked for a washing machine to be collected for repairs. I was asked to send through the POP and clear identification. I did that. After doing that, I was asked for something I could in no way respond to because the appliance was not with me. Secondly, I will NEVER ask my mom – at her age – to go and move appliances to confirm something that’s just another hoop I’m expected to jump through before I get assistance. If you sold something, take unconditional responsibility for its upkeep. No questions.
- Establish clear communication policies. From early January to about the last week in Feb, I have been in contact with Inaam Salie and Chantique Sylvester at the HiFi Corp resolution centre via email. Same modus operandi. They respond very friendly and ask you a question. You politely respond and answer that question. Next. Silence. Which is why I ended up voice calling them. Make your staff understand that if they started something they must finish it. The customer is not the customer. The customer could be their mother.
- Empower your social media team. Prior to making the purchase, I was in contact with someone named Zee via the HiFi Corp Facebook page. This person was terrific at answering my questions, however when I asked for a confirmation of TV license this person did not have access to some system. I ended up paying the full fee for a TV license (in the interest of getting it done), despite the fact that my mom has been a pensioner for over 19 years at that point. And it was abundantly clear from her ID doc which I had to produce to get the license. If someone is going to answer questions on behalf of your business on social media platforms, give them complete access to all the answers.
- Stop apologizing ad nauseum. Working in digital marketing, one of the first things I teach when I do teach social media marketing is to NEVER APOLOGISE. Firstly apologizing makes you appear guilty when that is not always the case. Some people nag just because the like to. And the customer is not always right. (..he is always the customer though). So the best thing you can do is acknowledge the “complainer” as your customer and then explain what had happened and why. If an apology is necessary – go for it. But the first thing you hear from the HiFi Corp social media team is “Our apologies”. It gets nauseating after the 6th or 7th time. Only apologise where necessary and warranted. Apologising for apology’s sake will not automatically change the perception that’s already created by the issue at hand. In fact it can aggravate it immensely.
- Tell the whole story in your marketing. Don’t just tell the rosy bits and leave out the thorny ones. If you cannot offer proper customer care online, blurt it from the rooftop that customer service will only be rendered telephonically. If you cannot deliver on a Saturday for a purchase made on a Friday, add that as an exception to your 24 – 48 hour delivery service that you shout from the rooftops. In the information age, marketing means more when you tell stories that people can identify with and that resonate with them. When you do choose to tell stories, tell it all. The good and the bad. Don’t fluff it up. Don’t leave out the prickly bits. Your customers will respect you a whole lot more for telling all.
That concludes my entrepreneurial lesson plan from a horrendous experience with what is supposed to be a renowned South African retail outfit. From the looks of things, I will be shopping for appliances at Hirsch’s for myself going forward.