It’s that time of year again, where gifts are exchanged between people who love one another, or pretend to with varying degrees of acting talent. It’s also the time of year where customer services of big retailers are stretched (much) thinner than their desire to provide said service. Everyone’s experienced the long queues, hotlines asking to please call back later, and automated email replies informing you that your email will be treated in due course, i.e. a week or more.
Most times, customers just don’t like their gift and want to exchange it, in which case they are generally understanding of the constraints of the holiday season on retailers. And then there’s the small proportion of customers who offered someone a product which turned out to be faulty, and who are much less understanding. Having planned for a month to give a gift to a close one, only for that gift to be out of order when the gift is opened, can be quite infuriating. For a quick resolution, the best hope is often to come out and complain publicly, effectively shaming a retailer into honoring their legal obligations in a timely manner. It’s worked for me a couple times in the past, as brands know just how damaging for their image a legitimate customer complaint can be if they ignore it. Not this time though, so here’s my holiday tale.
Once upon a time, there was a faulty product…
Deep in a Toshiba factory, or more likely some sub-sub-contractor’s factory, was born a laptop, with multiple bugs, including a faulty keyboard with 5 keys not working at all, a few others showing a buggy behavior, and even a misbehaving battery as well. This laptop was the love child of the ugly duckling and the poison apple, the kind that makes you dread what kind of rotten breakdown it’s going to throw at you, at some fuzzy point in the near-ish future. Or at least that would make you worried about a sudden drama, if you could actually use it normally to begin with.
This laptop was no testament to the professionalism of the quality assurance department at Toshiba, yet it yearned for freedom, and so it was sold. But more on Toshiba later, for in this tale they shine by more than just bad QA and customer service..
… That was sold by a somewhat reputable retailer
RueDuCommerce is a fairly large online retailer, having grossed over 300M€ in 2011, and though this was actually 10% less than 2010, they managed to remained profitable. In all cases, the hundreds of holiday elves living in its caves had come to know what customer protection laws were, and what good business practices should be. But hey, it was Christmas so why no Grinch it up a bit when delivering their uPads (ugly Poison apple-ducklings)?
In democratic France, the customer protection laws were clear: a customer who was given a faulty product, one that appeared OK on the outside, but turned out to be crap when tried, could ask for a repair or a replacement. Hell, if that wasn’t possible, the customer was entitled to a full refund. But RueDuCommerce’s customer service and their self-described “eReputation and fire fighting” guy wouldn’t just replace a faulty product, for that was not ‘Grinch-y’ enough.
What ensued remains to this day an example of what not to do when doing customer care. It starts with denying your customer their basic right for a bogus reason, such as saying that the presence or absence of the packaging it was sent in, actually changes how the law applies to the product inside. It continues with taking your customer for a massive idiot, and insisting on fake facts, even bending what the law says, which is very Grinch-y indeed. Needless to say, when you have the law under the eyes and the whisper of the retailer tells you it ain’t so, it’s hard to remain civil. But big Grinches aren’t vanquished through brute force only, and when a customer steps into their labyrinth, he must be resilient.
The long way home
Let’s drop the fairy tale for a bit here. You’ll find in the screenshots at the bottom of the article this full twitter exchange (in French, sorry). The high points of this story include :
- RDC asking me if I’d like a replacement, me saying yes, and them saying that since the whole of a cardboard box and two pieces of foam won’t be included in the return package, they can’t exchange it.
- RDC claiming that repairing a laptop is totally free, while a replacement is expensive. It gets a gold star for being very much in the fairy tale spirit, and blissfully ignoring that someone, ie Toshiba, will foot the repair costs.
- RDC judging which law articles apply and which don’t, in a very Grinch-y judge and party kind of way, and putting smileys here and there to be more chummy.
- RDC finally saying to just write a certified letter to their legal department.
Through all this, it did appear that the contract that bound this particular Grinch to this particular uPad factory meant that if the factory didn’t get the cardboard and the product, no matter how faulty the product, it wouldn’t replace it. And in this they would screw over the Grinch, who would in turn have no choice but to screw you over too… Or so would the Grinch have you believe!
Stop bitching, start a revolution
When a brand eReputation guy tells you to basically go legal on them, it speaks volume to just how little bitching can do in the end, if the retailer’s internal policies are misguided. So to all gift buyers getting the Christmas shaft with crap products and crappier customer service, do get vocal, but if that won’t work, make sure to get legal. It’s often much simpler than you think, and it’s the way to go if you don’t want to find yourself too often on the short end of bad sales policies in the future.
In France, about 20 articles of about 3-4 lines each, and very easy to understand, tell you exactly what your rights are. They are found in the “Consumer Code” and the “Civil Code” – relevant sections here [FR] and here [FR]. Don’t let the retailers terms of sale overwhelm you in the legalese, do speak out on Twitter. Name and shame the shops that respect neither their customers nor the law, and just fight, for you right, to Christmas, paaaaar-taaaaaay!
Gallery of twitter screen grabs below, reads down to up and it’s all French so go here to twitter if you want to pop a translate on the text and see if you can make some sense of it.