EECB Scores Direct Hit On Overstock's CEO

Reader Alison is enjoying her Sunday morning even though Overstock.com failed to send her the shipping label she needs to return a defective DVD player. At 10 a.m., she launched the feared Executive Email Carpet Bomb at twelve Overstock executives. Shortly before 1 p.m., CEO Patrick Byrne personally responded. Read her story, after the jump.

Hello,

I am writing because of a terrible experience I had with overstock.com recently. I understand that mistakes will happen, but there is no excuse for treating your customers poorly when they attempt to resolve your mistake, or for having customer service representatives who clearly aren’t trained or equipped to handle issues effectively.

I ordered a DVD player from overstock.com recently. When it arrived and I set it up, I immediately discovered that it was completely nonfunctional: The eject button didn’t work at all, so I couldn’t even open the tray to put a DVD in, and the VCR portion ejected tapes as soon as I inserted them. I called Overstock and was told that you would initiate a return and I would receive a shipping label by email within two days. Two days later, having received no shipping label, I used Overstock’s “live chat” to find out what was going on.

The woman who “helped” me over live chat made the situation far, far worse. She wouldn’t respond to questions, answered things I wasn’t even asking, casually dropped information very late in the conversation that I had asked for much earlier on without success, and was generally infuriating in her unwillingness or inability to listen and respond to what I was asking.

After 20 minutes of a very unhelpful live chat, I terminated the conversation, still having no idea when, if ever, my return label will arrive. I don’t understand why it would take days to email a return label to me, I don’t understand why it’s still not here, and I certainly don’t understand why she wouldn’t just let me print one directly, as your Web site promises customers can.

I am attaching the transcript of the chat to this message as a file, so that you can verify this.

I would like my return label to either be emailed to me immediately, or I would like to be able to print one online. I am very disappointed in Overstock’s unhelpful, aggravating customer service, which made an already frustrating situation far, far worse, and if this situation isn’t resolved quickly, I plan to post far and wide online (craigslist, consumerist.com, etc.) to describe my experience and encourage others to stay far away from Overstock.

Sincerely,

Alison

Reissuing a shipping label should not take much effort, but that didn’t stop Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne from replying:

Dear Alison,

I am so sorry about the lousy experience. I will have someone contact you immediately to resolve things. Please elt (sic) me now if things are not fixed to your satisfaction by Monday afternoon.

Patrick

We congratulate Patrick for responding to a customer’s email on a Sunday morning – which by itself almost qualifies as above and beyond.

The Executive Email Carpet Bomb is one of the most effective tools for promptly resolving complaints. Read our step-by-step guide to learn how to launch your own EECB.

(AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)

Comments

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  1. alhypo says:

    She was probably having so much trouble on the chat because those CSRs are chatting with many people at the same time. They just switch rapidly from conversation to conversation. I can imagine if the CSR is not at the top of his/her game, it would be easy to get mixed up.

  2. Hinomura says:

    @alhypo: wow I never knew that they had to deal w/ multiple customers at a time during those live chats. seems more like a managerial issue if that was the case w/ alison. speaking of managerial, you would think that a CEO would (k)now how to use a spell check program that might elt him feign the appearance of intelligence. :P

  3. jkaufman101 says:

    actually, i think the ceo DOES go above and beyond for his sunday morning action. also, combine this with his refusal to go along with the facebook privacy scheme last week. this man is my hero!

  4. chrisgoh says:

    Here is something that always bothers me in posts like this -

    “if this situation isn’t resolved quickly, I plan to post far and wide online (craigslist, consumerist.com, etc.) to describe my experience and encourage others to stay far away from Overstock.”

    You use a threat, which I don’t have a problem with, but when they comply you still go ahead and post.

  5. PICKLES_IN_MY_TUNA says:

    The live chat person I dealt with on Friday was in Southeast Asia (I asked after numerous attempts of not having my questions answered). The live chat was horrible to deal with for the same reasons Allison gave. I sent Overstock.com an email in my frustration of the total lack of communication.

    ~~~~

    From: xxxxx@yahoo.com>
    To: feedback@overstock.com
    Cc: cxxxxx@yahoo.com
    Sent: Friday, November 30, 2007 11:26:39 AM
    Subject: feedback of customer service

    When I deal with a company located in the United States, I expect to talk to someone in the United States, someone who will fully comprehend my situation/question and will answer me in a way that I too understand. More and more I find I am dealing with someone who is outsourced from another country. Today I learned Overstock.com is one of these companies. I am frustrated with the level of customer service I received. Today, it was nothing more than going in circles and having the live chat person regurgitate information from the website. I read the website, I already knew what the website said. I needed a bit more information. I needed my questions answered. That really did not happen without a certain level of frustration, anger, and just plain ol’ banging my head against the wall so to speak.

    I will think twice before I purchase something from your company again. I hope that many more people will join me in this thought and companies with this type of employment practices will someday feel the backlash of it and return to employing Americans.

    I am a reasonable, profitable and desirable customer and I will not stand for this level of poor customer service.

    ~~~~

    This is all I got back

    From: “feedback@overstock.com”
    To: xxxxx@yahoo.com>
    Sent: Friday, November 30, 2007 11:25:26 AM
    Subject: Thank you for your feedback

    Thank you for submitting your feedback to Overstock.com. Your comment will be read and noted.
    The following links are provided to help you answer your questions that you might have.
    Help Center
    Best Price Guarantee
    Cart & Checkout
    How to Track Orders
    Canceling an Order
    Privacy Policy
    Shipping Policy
    Standard Returns Policy
    Join Club O
    Become an Affiliate
    Investor Relations
    About Overstock.com
    Jobs at Overstock.com
    Have Products to Sell?
    If you need further assistance, please Contact Customer Care and they will be able to help you.
    We look forward to your next visit and the opportunity to provide you with quality brand-name products at prices up to 80% off retail.

    Sincerely,
    Overstock.com

    From the computer generated response, I don’t think anyone read my email. My next email will be to Patrick Byrne.

  6. Rando says:

    @alhypo: Our emailers have to do 2 live chats plus respond to emails all at once.

  7. Aladdyn says:

    @chrisgoh: She posted the fact that they resolved the situation, or at least started to fix it, which I would consider a positive. As the old saying goes, “There are no bad carpenters, there are just some who don’t fix their mistakes” or something like that anyway

  8. DallasDMD says:

    @chrisgoh: The difference is he did not encourage people to stop shopping at Overstock. He gave the CEO’s reply and expressed his satisfaction at the resolution.

  9. KJones says:

    So will there be a beheading of (or at least an apology from) the inept person in customer disservice?

    It shouldn’t require contacting a CEO to get a proper response or service. Worse yet, one has to wonder if he’ll change his email now to avoid customers in the future. I’ve seen that before.

  10. LilKoko says:

    @Hinomura: I don’t think that’s fair. The fact that he responded to a customer complaint on Sunday was definitely above and beyond. Judging him harshly for a spelling mistake is unfair.

    I was impressed with his use of the word “lousy” to describe the customer’s experience. That was being honest and I’m sure his corporate lawyers will be on his case about that first thing Monday morning. But I think it showed that he actually read the complaint and acknowledged that the customer was treated unfairly. He ignored legalese corporate doublespeak. That counts in my book.

  11. curmudgeon5 says:

    I’m the sender of the EECB. I agree with Lilkoko re: being impressed by his use of the word “lousy” — so different from the dodges I’d received up until that point. It was honest, took responsibility, and said he’d get the problem fixed — all I wanted. It sucks that I had to contact him to get that result, and I imagine they’d have far happier customers if he figured out how to get his type of approach trickling down to their CSRs, but it immediately diffused my frustration. When someone says your experience has been “lousy,” you know they’re going to get it fixed for you. But when you hear corporate-speak like “We’re very sorry you’ve been disappointed,” it doesn’t inspire any confidence that a solution is forthcoming.

  12. curmudgeon5 says:

    Me again, with an update: I just received a call from someone at Overstock, assuring me that she would be personally watching the situation and making sure I get the label and the return goes smoothly. I feel very confident now that my situation will be taken care of, but it’s making me question the whole idea behind executive customer service — why is it that only customers who know how to get it can get this kind of service? This is how it should have been handled from the beginning, without the CEO needing to be involved. On the surface it seems like that would just be good business sense, but I guess I have to conclude that companies (who study these things) have determined it’s actually not — i.e., that they must have fired out that they actually save money by allowing some customers to go away angry and unhappy, that they save more in cost-cutting than they lose through those customers. That completely sucks for customers, of course, but I can’t figure out why else this sort of thing would be so rampant.

  13. Buran says:

    @randotheking: That’s not an excuse. I can do half a dozen instant message conversations all at once and keep them straight with only very rare mistakes such as sending a message to the wrong tab. Things like on-screen ongoing transcripts (which every IM client I’ve ever seen does) make this a no-brainer.

    If this rep was really that unable to multitask, maybe she should be reassigned as incapable of carrying out the task given her.

  14. legotech says:

    Overstock is great as long as there is nothing wrong with your order…they seem to be completely incapable of handling a return without losing thier minds.

    In fact they once shipped me the incorrect book and refused to replace it unless I paid the restock fee and shipping again. I ended up giving the book as a gift and now only use Overstock when I get free gift cards.

  15. pyloff says:

    I am believing all live chatters are bots assisted by humans. Go figure.

    I still believe that.

  16. Frostberg says:

    thats why i buy stuff at a real life store

  17. 5cents says:

    Patrick can’t spell. And he’s a OCE of a company? :p

  18. Jean Naimard says:

    Here is another wonderful DUH moment…

    When you want to sell to americans who will not want to pay more than the absolute rock-minimum price, you cannot afford the sky-high salaries demanded by americans.

    So you have no choice to outsource to turd-worlders who will live happily on $0.25 a day.

  19. Pylon83 says:

    @5cents:
    He probably whipped out the response on his Blackberry and didn’t notice. Give the guy a little credit for responding on a Sunday afternoon. I’m sure he’s got things he would rather be doing.

  20. chrisgoh says:

    @Aladdyn and DALLASDMD :

    I don’t think the poster is exactly saying that they think Overstock did a good job here -

    “I feel very confident now that my situation will be taken care of, but it’s making me question the whole idea behind executive customer service — why is it that only customers who know how to get it can get this kind of service?”

    Do you think reading this story makes people more likely or less likely to shop at Overstock? I’d say reading the original post would make most people less likely to shop there and hence given the original threat to post if the issue was not resolved, it should not have been posted when they offered to fix it.

  21. theora55 says:

    As far as I can tell, Overstock’s “Live Chat” is a computer program. I’d be interested to hear otherwise.

  22. goodkitty says:

    I ordered from Overstock.com once, and had to return an item that arrived stained. Lets just say that I eventually did get a refund (minus shipping fees!), but I’ll never do business with them again. From my experience and other’s reviews I didn’t even think Overstock was anything other than a pseudo-scam site, the Internet equivalent of K-Mart (well, aside from kmart.com I suppose). I agree with LegoTech… they’re good assuming nothing goes wrong with your order, and that you realize that whatever you buy from O-Mart is there because nobody else wanted it in the first place.

  23. mungojerry says:

    @Scents:
    Um, you’re right. Patrick can’t spell ‘let’.

    “Hey Patrick, spell the word ‘let’.”
    “Ok, that would be E-L-T, ‘let’.”

  24. alhypo says:

    Okay, now I’m confused. This is what he wrote:

    “Please elt me now if things are not fixed to your satisfaction by Monday afternoon.”

    Now, which of these is what he meant?:

    “Please tell me now if things are not fixed to your satisfaction by Monday afternoon.”

    Or:

    “Please let me know if things are not fixed to your satisfaction by Monday afternoon.”

    The first one is what I thought he meant at first. In that case, he misspelled “tell”, but also confused the tense of his sentence by asking her to tell him something now that she won’t know until tomorrow.

    The second one makes more sense, but in that case he misspelled both “let” and “know”. It’s a mystery.

  25. jooverz says:

    I do not trust Overstock products. Well, at least not their electronics. I’d buy bedsheets from them, unless anyone has horror stories on those.

  26. LAGirl says:

    i’ve purchased a lot of items from Overstock, including sheets, duvet covers + clothing. always had a positive experience. quality was great for the price, and you can’t beat free/super low shipping + no tax.

  27. bonzombiekitty says:

    People do realize that the “Live Chat” things are usually not “Live” at all, right? You’re normally just chatting with a computer program. Same thing for when you send in a question/complaint by e-mail.

  28. emona says:

    I have never had an issue with Overstock and I’ve had to return several things. Of course, when something goes wrong I CALL them. Much easier to communicate that way.

  29. pepe the king prawn says:

    i doubt that it was the ceo who replied to the email. it was probably his secretary or assistant… who obviously can’t spell.

  30. ekthesy says:

    I thought this was a very shrill complaint to an issue that hadn’t nearly been advanced far enough to warrant an EECB. Not at all. You try the online CS chat–which is there (and on many other companies’ Web sites) 99% as a meaningless PR sop–and then start e-mailing executives?

    Most of the work for online chat is outsourced anyway, either overseas or to a bot, so you’re better off using the regular customer service number if you can. I know Overstock is not known for stellar customer service, but the OP didn’t do HER due diligence by making one cursory call to customer service.

    The point of the EECB is as a last resort when you have been ill-treated by multiple CSRs at multiple management levels, in multiple venues. If it gets used cavalierly, as I feel it was in this instance, it will inevitably blunt the impact of future EECBs.

    And threatening to report the company to Craigslist users is one of the more empty threats I’ve observed in awhile.

  31. PICKLES_IN_MY_TUNA says:

    @bonzombiekitty: Well then what is the point of “live” chat. That just pisses me off to no end.
    Is it a person or not? It seemed like a person, just a really inept person.