The above photo is a picture of the holiday card my fiancé Jack and I ordered this year. And while it conveys joy, love, and holiday excitement, the process of ordering these cards turned me into a real Scrooge.
It all started about two weeks ago when Jack and I decided to order our annual Christmas cards from Snapfish. We had designed and purchased our cards through Snapfish last year and had received them within about a week. Plus, the online photo printing company was having a 50%-off sale, so ordering our cards through the company this year seemed like a no brainer. We placed our order in the evening of Sunday, December 6.
We read that it could take up to five business days for our order to be processed, so I expected to see a tracking number for our order by Friday, December 11. But as I continued to check our order status throughout the week, I didn’t see an update. And when I saw that our order still hadn’t shipped by Monday, December 14, I began to feel anxious, especially considering that shipping could take an additional five days or more.
So, Jack and I tried to do what any customer would do in a situation like this—we tried to contact customer service. The brand’s customer service information wasn’t apparent on the site, and when we tried to click on a question mark icon, suggesting an FAQ section, we saw the following:
But that’s not all. If you type “Snapfish customer service” into Google, you’ll see three different pages turn up—two of which are from different websites (Snapfish’s old website and Snapfish’s new website). Plus, the company doesn’t have a customer service phone number—a fun fact Jack and I learned after scouring both websites. The only way to contact Snapfish’s customer service department was by email or online chat.
Jack tried sending an email, but didn’t receive an answer, and we both tried using the chat option a few times. Each time we used it, we saw something like this.
Still, we would wait in line. But after watching the queue dwindle down to zero, we would be kicked out of line and be told that there wasn’t an agent available to talk to us.
It felt like we weren’t getting any answers. Snapfish hadn’t provided any updates regarding the status of our order. So, I decided to do what many ignored customers do: throw a social media hissy fit. However, it appears that some customers beat me to the punch. We saw this message on the company’s Facebook page.
We started to read a few of the more than 900 comments listed below the message. Many of them expressed the same frustration and customer abandonment that we felt.
We also revisited Snapfish’s website where we saw a timetable listing when customers could expect to receive their cards, and which ones wouldn’t receive their greetings in time for Christmas.
It was now December 15. And even with the expedited shipping that Snapfish promised, we weren’t confident that we would receive our holiday cards in time—or at all. We considered ordering new cards from another company and returning our Snapfish cards once they arrived. However, we knew that getting in touch with the company was nearly impossible and the chances of us getting a refund highly unlikely.
Then, around midnight, a Christmas miracle happened: We received an email from Snapfish saying that our cards were ready to be shipped. I couldn’t believe it. I immediately typed the tracking number into UPS’s tracking system only to receive this message.
ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?! Jack spent the next day, December 16, calling UPS. He learned that our package was in Maryland, and that it would be in New York and on our doorstep the next day.
Lies. All of them. When our package wasn’t delivered the next day on December 17, Jack called UPS again and learned that our address wasn’t listed on our order package—only our ZIP Code was.
How that’s even possible is beyond me. Whether this was Snapfish’s or UPS’s fault, it certainly didn’t add to our customer experience.
Thankfully, Jack was able to locate our package at a local UPS facility, which he walked to (in the rain) and then proceeded to wait 45 minutes for our package.
So, how does this story end? Well, we did get our cards and sent them off to our friends and family—sorry, Mom and Dad for the delay. Oh, and Snapfish finally responded to Jack’s email—after we received our cards. Note how the automated response said we would get a response in one business day, and we didn’t receive a response for five days. The message didn’t even answer his initial question regarding the status of our package.
Now, I understand that some of these problems, like the 45-minute wait at the UPS facility, were not Snapfish’s fault. I also get that every brand experiences its fair share of problems. And while I applaud Snapfish for trying to rectify the situation by providing expedited shipping, there are a number of steps it could have taken to prevent this catastrophe from getting out of hand in the first place. Here are five.
1. Know your limits. No brand wants to turn down business. But if Snapfish had more orders than it could handle, then it should have stopped taking orders until it could fulfill its current shipments. Although this tactic may have caused Snapfish to lose money in the short term, it could have maintained some of its customer loyalty, which ultimately drives more revenue in the long run.
2. Communicate with customers in a timely fashion. You know that expression “silence is golden”? Well, that’s not the case when dealing with customer complaints. The most frustrating part of this whole experience was the lack of communication regarding our order. Indeed, the lack of email notifications and replies to customers’ social comments made the company seem like it lacked empathy. If Snapfish had emailed me the moment it knew my order would be delayed, I would have felt informed and like the brand actually cared about me as a customer. Plus, it would have saved me the time and hassle of trying to repeatedly contact the company.
Also, if a company promises to communicate with a customer by a certain time, like how Snapfish promised to respond to Jack’s email inquiry in one business day, then it needs to follow through.
3. Make it easy for customers to find information. I know Snapfish tried to update its customers by posting on its Facebook page and updating its shipping timetable on its website; however, its marketers shouldn’t expect disgruntled customers to find this content on their own. Again, an email directing customers to these channels would have been much more effective and would have helped customers get the answers that they were looking for sooner. Remember: Your customers are paying you for a service; why make them do all of the work?
4. Let customers communicate with you via the channels they choose. There are a number of channels through which customers can communicate with companies these days, and limiting their options to better suit the company’s needs is poor taste. In my case, I’m an old-fashioned gal when it comes to customer service, and I prefer to speak to a person when I have a problem. When Snapfish failed to provide me with a customer service phone number—and instead forced me to use its digital channels that didn’t even work—I became even more irate.
5. Anticipate problems and try to troubleshoot them ahead of time. Being an online photo printing company, Snapfish should have realized that falling behind on orders was a plausible risk. As a result, the company should have had a strategy in place for how to prevent this crisis and react to it if it were to occur. Alex Stanton, CEO of Stanton Public Relations and Marketing, refers to this concept as having a “Backflash” strategy.
“Organizations and brands are sometimes slow to respond to attacks, problems, or advocacy groups where they end up front and center….Backflash is a strategy that people need to employ to either mobilize the constituency to affect change or sometimes maintain the status quo,” he says.
Stanton says that there are three key components of a Backflash strategy that companies need to consider to drive positive conversations about the brand after the crisis has occurred and restore customers’ faith in the brand.
- A look back into what the brand has done in the past, including what’s worked, what hasn’t worked, and how the brand has responded
- A response to the charge, problem, or advocacy campaign
- Doing it all in a “flash”—a.k.a. super fast
He also advises brands to hire a designated employee to manage these affairs.
So while there’s a good chance Jack and I won’t order our cards from Snapfish next Christmas, perhaps the company can apply some of these best practices to have a jollier holiday in 2016.