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“Dude. It’s Not Our Problem”: ThinkGeek.com Blows their Brand This Time

Posted by Doug Garnett December - 22 - 2011 - Thursday

It would make sense that oddity website ThinkGeek.com would be intimately familiar with de-motivator posters from Despair.com. It’s just sad that today’s customer rep picked the one that says “We’re not satisfied until you’re not satisfied”.

I just got off the phone from my worst customer service experience in…well…a long time. And this catalog that tries to look advanced and clever made the most fundamental customer service mistake: they rambled extensively out of their way to dodge responsibility.

The Order. Planning enough pad for shipping time, my wife placed an order with Think Geek on December 14th which included Minecraft T-shirts for my son and my nephew – both Minecraft enthusiasts. Think Geek finally processed money from our account on order December 19th. (Huh? Five days later AND a Sunday? Clearly a bad sign.)

By late evening of December 21st we hadn’t seen the order so we went to track it. Except, it wouldn’t track. The US Postal Service website gave us a message saying essentially “We have no record of physical contact with that order.” This was…um…somewhat concerning so I called them.

Calling Think Geek’s Customer Service. I was encouraged when the phone was quickly picked up. But that was the end of encouragement.

After explaining the situation, the representative put me on hold. Then he comes back and tells me they don’t know anything about the order. Because: “The Post Office loses orders all the time so it’s their fault. I work in shipping and know they’re pretty bad.”

My Head Starts to Explode. It’s the holiday. Things happen. Everyone is stressed. And we manage similar customer service on behalf of branded clients. The idea of an order problem isn’t foreign to me and they probably couldn’t have had a more understanding customer on the phone.

Except they responded with: “not our problem”.

Of course its your problem. If it’s true that a shipping company loses orders all the time, then you shouldn’t offer that option. Or, you could warn that “using this shipping option may cause your order never to arrive because we use a really unreliable supplier”.

The Explosion Goes Nuclear. I ask, “What are you going to do.” Here’s the various levels of the response:

“We can resend most of the order. But, between when we told you we sent an order and now, we ran out of Minecraft t-shirts. So, we’ll just refund your money and call it good.”

“Hey, look, it’s the Post Office that lost the order. So it’s not our fault and that’s all we can do. Why don’t you call the Post Office.”

I responded: “I know how shipping happens and this tracking information doesn’t guarantee it ever reached the Post Office. It might have fallen into a crack in your facility or off the palette before it reached the Post Office. So it is quite concerning that (a) you blame the USPS and (b) all you want to do is give my my money back.”

To which my representative replied “what do you want me to do”. When I explained that most operations offer something to indicate that they really value their customers, he replied “we don’t do that and this is all I can do”.

At which point I resort to: “What part of ‘these are Christmas presents’ don’t you understand? Their value is far higher than their cost.”

The B52 bomb bay doors open and, in my best Major ‘King’ Kong impression, I climb onto the bomb and yell “yee haw” as it sails into the air. (This nonsense might make more sense if you, check this link. Or not.)

Let me suggest two rules to help your customers avoid exploding heads:

1. Never ever say its not your responsibility. Your company made all the choices. Therefore, it IS your responsibility – no matter what you may want to think.

2. Brands build when you have a clear policy for making customers happy when the process screws up. There will be problems. And you can’t make everyone happy. But nuclear fallout was easily avoided in this situation had he immediately acknowledged responsibility and suggested Think Geek go slightly out of their way (not hugely – just something to show they took responsibility).

Instead, “Think” Became “Don’t Think”. I will be cautioning my son about purchasing any more items from Think Geek. They proved unreliable and – yes – flakey. (Maybe it’s branding – aren’t Geek’s are supposed to be flakey?) My wife and I will never again purchase from them for a birthday or holiday – because we can’t rely on delivery.

In the end, they are sending the in-stock items with some level of expedited shipping (snarkily referred to by my rep as “more reliable than USPS” – like it was our fault for choosing one of the options they offered). They will refund payment for the two Minecraft t-shirts (the things we cared most about). And, will give us a $7.95 gift certificate which is the amount of the standard shipping. (It took an extended argument on my part to get this to happen – an argument that cost them hourly wages and loss of brand value.)

My rep fully executed the Demotivator. He seemed happy. And I’m definitely not.

But I don’t think the story is over. My experience may have been an aberration. So I’m going to send them a link to this post and offer them the option of replying with a comment. And I’ll even amend this post if there’s something useful to offer.

So stay tuned…

Addendum December 26, 2011. I have received new information from ThinkGeek.com. Jamie Grove (listed in his signature as VP, Evil Schemes and Nefarious Plans (aka Marketing)) send me a solid response on Christmas Eve after my complaint was forwarded.

His email responds well for a company under these circumstances. Apparently what I was told on the phone was wrong. Rather, the order was submitted after the date for last Christmas delivery with standard shipping (a reality that wasn’t clear to my wife when she placed the order).

For the moment, we await it’s post-Christmas delivery. I’ll update my thoughts further once we have confirmed this is the case.

Addendum #2 January 2, 2012. So, we have received the items that were re-sent by the phone rep. The original order may be lost in the ozone. As a patient consumer, I’ll wait until the end of the week and wrap this up. But, the hope offered in Mr. Grove’s email is wearing thin at this point.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved


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Doug Garnett, DRTV and Technology Industry Expert

Doug Garnett is founder and CEO of DRTV agency Atomic Direct and a leading expert on innovative uses of DRTV, infomercials and other in-depth TV and non-TV messages to build brand and drive sales.

Doug has been working in and around the technology field for 27 years. After starting in aerospace, he spent 5 years selling and marketing supercomputers. Since shifting to advertising, his clients have included AT&T, IBM, Apple, Disney Mobile, Ugobe, Presto, and Netpliance.

Doug sits on the editorial board of Response Magazine, is an adjunct professor of general advertising at Portland State University, and is a member of the Jordan-Whitney Greensheet Panel.

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