3 August 2015
One of my businesses buys and sells collectable items and is well established now after almost 30 years of international trading, blogs John Bowen.
Part of that trading has been to use a well-known internet bookshop through which we sell, appropriately enough, collectable books.
A year or so ago we were advised that, owing to EU regulations, we would need to provide various documentary proofs of who we were. Fair enough - a chore certainly, but we are who we say we are and have nothing to hide, so as we were asked to provide information we did so and the process was easy enough. The supplier would put a message on our account dashboard and we just had to follow the link and attached a scanned copy of whatever document that they asked for.
So far so good, perhaps, but for nearly a year there has been a message on the account dashboard that verification was taking place despite other sources of information saying that the process should take no more than 10 days.
Then I had to be in the Far East for a couple of weeks at a time when the person who looks after that virtual shop for me was away and so I put the online book store into inactive mode so that we would not disappoint anyone who wanted to order. This was unfortunate, as we had booked some advertising in a well-known glossy magazine and, with the Law of Sod in full swing, the first issue with our advert came out on the day that we shut the shop for two weeks. Such is life.
Once back, we tried to reactivate the online store, but although the website accepted the change of status, did not make it happen so we contacted the helpline. It obviously works from a script that does not include our problem, so we wasted half-an-hour going round in circles before the helpdesk person told me that my problem was being referred to the verification team and that they would be in touch.
We heard nothing, but about 10 days later when we tried again to reactivate the site we noticed that there was a message for us that says the problem would be resolved in a set number of working days. It wasn't, but then I find I can't re-open the original job ticket because it has expired so I open a new one. I also point out in the feedback about the first job ticket that it wasn't resolved and am offered the chance to re-open it, so I do. No action, and so I rise yet another job ticket. No action again, so I try another link from the account dashboard and I get a phone contact. Here, the conversation becomes bizarre. Here are some extracts:
Operator: "You need to contact the verification team."
Me: "OK, how do I do that? Can you give me a contact number or email?"
Operator: "At the moment we are acting as a front end for them."
A short while later:
Operator: "You have to have your details verified and that takes about 10 days and then you can start selling; you are not able to sell until you are verified".
Me: "But I was selling before you began the verification process. I was selling all the way through the verification process and you were paying me money for my sales - you can see that on my account. It was fine until May, when I made the account inactive because I was going to be away."
Operator: "There is no link between the inactive status and the verification process."
Me: "So can we please make my account active again?"
Operator: "Your account cannot be activated before we have completed the verification process."
We left it that the operator would raise the problem with the verification team and, you've guessed - it would be resolved within 10 working days. Customer service this is not, and it is in such sharp contrast to my experiences with the same company as a buyer because there they are superb.
By now it was clear that I needed to do something other than waste time as we have not been able to use that sales channel for around two months now. I decide to open an account with another global online bookseller.
I open its web page and click the link to start selling books and that takes me to a page where I fill in all sorts of data and then on to another where I have to do a lot more. The site keeps defaulting some of the fields to another country despite my having already made it clear that I am in the UK and will be trading from there - but no, I have to keep opening a dropdown list and finding the UK. After getting through all of the hassle of account details, VAT number and so on, I finally get to the bottom of that page and click of the Save & Continue button. The button greys out to show that something has happened, but nothing else. After five minutes of waiting I go and do something useful, but an hour later nothing has changed apart from an email welcoming me.
I click the link on the email and am directed to the company's website where it is apparent that I am now a buyer, but not a seller. I have a life to live and things to do so I go off and do them returning another hour or so later to the computer. I try again and this time I am allowed to open up the page to become a seller; yes, I am back where I started and have to key pretty much the whole lot in again.
In the first case you have a modern classic problem of a helpdesk that is not equipped to do the job and life there as an operator must be hell. In the second it is more about someone who has designed a process that has not been properly tested from a user perspective. In both cases the suppliers have people queuing up to use them and perhaps take the cynical view that why should they care? But if they don't then someone will sneak up on them and do the job properly.
Post script Monday 3rd August:
I wrote this just over a week ago and afterwards I left a comment on social media about the poor customer service from the first supplier. Over the next 24 hours we exchanged more information and then I was contacted by customer service. A couple of days later I received a request to send a current copy of a document that I had provided eight months or so ago and another couple of days on my account went back live. Sorted in the end - but why did it take so long?
The potential replacement online outlet said that they would be in touch in two working days to confirm my account. I've heard nothing yet.
John Bowen is an FM consultant