I wasn’t planning on this blog post today but last week it became clear that my struggle would be a fantastic case study and learning experience for entrepreneurs everywhere. Along the way I’ll be sharing the system failures that I identified and then the system suggestion to go along with it.
It all started with stickers.
In preparation for an upcoming event, the client’s designer gave us a file to print stickers for our member folders. The designer had the specs right from the website of the company we chose: Sticker Mule.
I’d printed with them before and was impressed by the quality and quick turn around time. While other companies also create high quality work, they usually require a minimum order of 1,000 stickers.
As I detail this case study I’ll include dates for perspective – everything takes place over 14 days.
April 18th – I uploaded the file into Sticker Mule, selecting the size sticker I wanted and paying for the order via PayPal. During checkout I gave my cell phone number for text notifications of the order. The same day I received a confirmation email saying the proof would be available within 24 hours for approval. Then it would take 5 days to print and ship.
All good! I would need the order by today, May 4th so 16 days was plenty of time.
Personal failure – instead of adding “approve proofs for stickers” on my calendar, like I should have, I forgot about this, assuming there were no issues.
System failure – I never received the proof email or a text message. Whether this was simply not sent or there was a tech glitch there’s still time to resolve the problem.
System suggestion – If a client does not open or click on a proof email send a second within 12 hours. Then, follow up with a phone call or email from customer service until a connection is made. This technology exists, use it.
Unknown to me, on April 18th the PayPal order was cancelled by StickerMule which did not trigger a notification from PayPal.
System failure – there was no notification that the payment was returned when the order was cancelled the same day it was received. In fact, on the StickerMule order page it still showed the order as active and paid.
System suggestion – Send an email of any payment status change to your client, require them to click or reply and if you don’t receive that click follow up. Be proactive.
April 23rd – out of the blue I received an email:
I replied to the email to inquire what the problem was and got this response on April 24th
On April 25th I emailed customer service a direct link to the same file that I uploaded 8 days earlier. This exact same file was now the correct resolution.
Having learned my lesson, I followed up on April 26th for the proof and got this email from Customer Service:
That link didn’t work so I requested another one, this time viewing the proof and approving the order. If you’re keeping track we’re now 8 days after the order was first submitted.
System failure: when sending links to clients, always test them before sending.
System suggestion: If you’re noticing that there are issues with a client getting proofs, or any email, highlight it to pay more attention to the order. Don’t assume that everything is okay.
System failure #2: at no point in 6 emails did the customer service team indicate that payment was returned and would need to be resubmitted.
System suggestion: Fix the coding on your site that indicates payment status OR when an order is cancelled, restart the whole process with a new order number, payment and status if un-cancelling the order will create lots of problems.
At this point I received a text notification saying the payment had declined. I logged in, checking the order status and it showed “paid” with a delivery date of April 27th.
The stickers didn’t arrive on the 27th… or the 28th… or the 29th…
Last Friday was April 29th and by this point I was beginning to get nervous so I sent another email to follow up.
For the first time I was notified about the payment cancellation that occured:
This communication includes some bad information – the payment did “go through” but was then rejected by StickerMule after the fact. So it’s not a payment failure, it was a refund to which I was never notified.
System failure: be very clear in describing what’s happened with a payment, pay failures indicate a lack of funds, cancelled card or incorrect information. A refund is processed by the seller, at times without notifying the buyer.
As I mentioned in the email, I would need to receive this order by Monday in order to prepare for the event. The order arriving on May 5th would be too late – already 14 days past the original arrival date and by this point it was also beyond the point where we could reorder with another company.
This is the point in the debacle that I determined this would be an amazing case study of horrible systems, because all I needed to do now was re-pay for the order so that the stickers could be printed and rush shipped. No biggie, right? Wrong.
There was just one problem with the link provided, sending me back to the order to make the payment. Every time I clicked to “Submit Payment Info” the website would not allow me to submit the payment.
This is what I would see on the website:
Obviously the System Failure here is that the website is not reading the true status of the order. I’ve already noted that if an order is reopened the payment needs to be addressed immediately but also, fix the website code.
In this case my System Suggestion would also be to break company policy and begin printing the order (especially a relatively small order like this one under $100) and then to proactively deal with the payment. Rush shipping is fine, but if it will take a full 5 days to print an order of less than 100 items then it won’t make a difference. Remember, at this point we’re a full week past the initial delivery estimate and the website was still showing the order would be arriving 2 days ago.
I’ll spare you the back-and-forth emails where I reminded the customer service rep that their link was not working and assuring them that I was indeed logged into my account.
Finally, a customer service rep sent me a direct PayPal link to pay, which I did, and then confirmed payment was received.
Of course, 10 minutes later I got another text message saying my payment had failed.
At this point I am trusting in this final customer service correspondence:
All in all I took 11 days, more than 25 emails, tagging StickerMule on Twitter, 2 payments and more time that I care to admit to get this order finalized.
Time will still tell if the order arrives today in time for the event, but I was pleasantly surprised to find this in my inbox on April 30th:
Your business is not immune to this type of system failure
For the most part I can stay impassive and identify how and why and where the system is failing. It helps to remember that we’re all human, code fails and every business make mistakes.
However, your job in business is to identify these mistakes when they happen and fix the problem. Your immediate concern is making it right with the client if at all possible.
(Remember that this order, from a returning customer, was small in terms of the cost: under $100 and has probably cost that or more in customer service expenses.)
Here are 3 ways to identify and fix your system failures:
- At the first sign of a problem give it your full attention. Make a phone call to the client, begin to create a solution and ensure that you’re doing all you can and let the client know that.
- Understand the point(s) of failure and work on them, then test obsessively. If this has happened to one client it can recur with others.
- Make it right immediately, your client is not going to care if they eventually get what was ordered or things are eventually fixed. Your client wants to know that you care about them and are empathetic to the problem.
No one likes to be wrong, no business enjoys having broken links, incorrect information, emails that don’t go out or inaccurate text notifications. But if you don’t resolve these system failures in your business you’ll lose not just clients and income but your brand reputation.