Did I Provide Good Customer Service?

Dear Consumerist,

I’m an avid reader of your site and I’m also a partner in a new company that sells DVDs and movie downloads online. I’m in charge of customer service and want to make sure I’m getting things right since this is my first foray in retail sales.

Recently a customer ordered 2 Christmas themed DVDs that turned out to be out of stock…

…(they ordered on the 12th, emailed on the 18th to ask about the order, and I heard from our DVD distributor a few hours later that it was out of stock). I sent her an email apologizing, refunded her credit card, and sent a $20 gift card to use for future downloads or DVDs.

Is there anything else I should have done here? Was the gift card too much, too little, or about right? I’m feeling like I might have messed up someone’s Christmas and I was hoping for some objective advice on how to handle situations like this as a good company should.

-Kevin H.

Rest easy Kevin, you provided excellent customer service. Making up to your customer when things go wrong takes three steps:

1. Address the issue directly, resolving if possible.
2. Apologize.
3. Offer something extra as a reconciliatory gesture.

You successfully completed all three steps. I would definitely say your gift card offer was very generous, but since it could have put a crimp in someone’s Christmas, maybe not too generous, especially if you just converted a one-time customer into a long-term customer. The funny thing about shoppers and how they feel about companies is that they will feel better about a company that messed up and made things right than a company that did everything right all along. The one thing though is that you should change your system so that it doesn’t take orders for out-of-stock items. And as some commenters point out, charging a customer’s credit card before the item ships could be a violation of the merchant agreement with the credit card processor. Good luck in your new role.

(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. elislider says:

    wow, an excellent sign that Consumerist is doing more than just making customers weild better tools and get some laughs about other funny sightings.

  2. HRHKingFriday says:

    Yes, this is what I love about consumerist. Its not all adbusters and trying to deny the fact that we’re all consumers. I enjoy budgeting, saving, AND spending my money.

  3. chrisgoh says:

    Good job, but I have to ask, what happened between the 12th and the 18th. It would have been better to proactively let the customer know there was a problem. On the 12th, did your site indicate these were in stock and if so why didn’t someone catch on sooner that they really were not?

  4. missdona says:

    Good job, but as a matter of course, don’t charge people’s credit cards until you’re ready to ship the product.

    I think the charging upon order, but before ship, is a bad move for any company.

  5. XTC46 says:

    well done.

    sheesh…we get an example of good customer service, and don’t even know what company to go to inorder to get it!

  6. smallestmills says:

    Next time you go out there and FIND those DVDs at your own expense. Then, you hand deliver those DVDs dressed up as Santa or whatever holiday is closest. God help you if it’s the Queen’s birthday. Finally, you pat yourself on the back for a job well done when that story appears on Consumerist under the heading of “Above and Beyond.”

  7. Here’s my opinion :) — although the Consumerist side of me is happy for your once-and-future-customer, the business side of me thinks you gave her too much. A $5-10 coupon would have sufficed, I’m guessing.

    If you give out such huge apologies every time a vendor messes things up on your side, then one bad business relationship could end up costing you either a lot of money in coupons or a lot of angry customers who have been trained to expect big cash back from you.

    I’d advise having a succinct but well-thought-out ordering and shipping policy that sets deadlines you can stick to and explains exactly what you will do in the even that something is out of stock due to actions beyond your control. Don’t avoid taking blame, but limit the consequences of it.

  8. Indecision says:

    @missdona: “I think the charging upon order, but before ship, is a bad move for any company.”

    It’s actually against Visa’s rules, probably everyone else’s too. Authorize when the order is placed, but don’t charge until the stuff is shipped.

    This guy might want to revamp his order system.

  9. And I love that my reaction is more muted the reactions of many of our readers, ha ha…

  10. PeterLeppik says:

    By my understanding (IANAL, etc.), in the United States it is not legal to charge the credit card until the product actually ships.

    It’s not often enforced, and many mail-order companies aren’t aware of it, but that’s what the law says.

    So while the customer service was fine, charging the card before shipping was a definite no-no.

  11. warf0x0r says:

    @chrisgoh: Yeah I would have to agree, sure there are slip-ups but if your inventory system can’t relay the data more quickly you may want to consider a new solution if you’re trying to pull customers away from established sites like amazon.com or download and rental services like netflix.

  12. marsneedsrabbits says:

    You did good, Kevin!
    I agree with the Consumerist – if a company chooses to do right when it has the opportunity to go either way, they have won me as a customer forever.

  13. Scuba Steve says:

    Its a trap!

  14. spinachdip says:

    I had a similar experience with Drugstore.com. They had an out-of-stock item marked as in-stock because there was a delay in shipping from the manufacturer. I was peeved about the wait and they would’ve lost me as a customer for good, but when I asked if they could upgrade to overnight shipping and the CSR didn’t hesitate in giving me the upgrade, and promised to call when the item shipped (and she did).

    So yeah, it would’ve helped if they had contacted me first about the delay, but the lack of hesitation with the shipping upgrade helped, especially since I needed the item for my Thanksgiving trip.

  15. mandarin says:

    I wish I get that service…

  16. trujunglist says:

    $20 gift card! Wow. I think that $5-$10 would be more appropriate, but you’ve definitely won yourself a long time customer who will recommend you to friends, and have probably done your company a favor.

  17. Jim says:

    @Indecision: Correct, that is a violation of your card acceptance agreement. Visa, MasterCard, AmEx, and Discover all have this if I recall correctly (it was an issue at my employer last year). I believe at least one of those actually states that you have to confirm that the recipient has received the item before charging their card.

  18. UpsetPanda says:

    $20 IMO is too much, I think $5 to $10 is better…but I’m not sure exactly how this would even put a crimp in anyone’s Christmas. Last time I looked, Dec. 18 was plenty of time to order DVDs from several online retailers, including Amazon I believe. If they were international, I see how it might be an issue.

  19. omyard says:

    A $20 gift card because a product is out of stock? That’s a bit much.

    What website is this? I’d love to order out of stock items just so I can get free gift cards.

  20. kalmakazee says:


    You won me over as a customer already. What is the name of your company and your website url? I don’t even know what the name of your company is and already I want to buy from you. :-)

    I have my own business and I always swore that in my company the customer is always right. Even when the customer is wrong the customer is still always right. Did that make any sense?

  21. spinachdip says:

    @omyard: But what if the DVDs you order are actually in stock and they ship on time. You’ll be left with the DVDs you paid for and nothing else. What then? WHAT THEN????

  22. jimconsumer says:

    Excellent customer service, but here’s the question: Did you learn from this? The customer should not have had to email you and ask about her order. You should have procedures in place to track these things; if a customer’s order can’t be shipped within a reasonable time frame (usually 24 hours Monday – Friday), you need to know why and take immediate steps to rectify, or inform the customer.

    So, while I applaud you for making things right for her, be sure you take the next step: Find out HOW this happened and fix it so it doesn’t happen again. This is the part that virtually all companies seem to be completely incompetent on.

  23. PølάrβǽЯ says:

    Ben, what company is this? I want to buy from these people!

  24. Blueoysterjoe says:

    I think you handled this pretty well.

    Generally, I expect things to go wrong from time to time, and I am fine with it. I can’t leave my house every morning without forgetting half of what I need for the day.

    So when something goes wrong, and the company simply apologizes, I am cool with it. And when they add something nice to the bargain, like a gift card or a discount, I am very, very cool with it and will actually go out of my way to use it again.

    In this way, I am a bit of an activist. If it comes down to Company A vs. Company B, and maybe Company B is a little more expensive than Company A, BUT Company B went out of their way to make me happy, I will pay that premium because not only did they make me happy, but I bet they have made other people happy as well, and I want to help make sure that this company survives and therefore makes the planet a tiny bit happier. I’m nutty like that.

  25. Eric says:

    The only thing that you could have done better, if possible, would be to go find the DVD somewhere else and send it. Assuming that was not an option, good job!

  26. sauceistheboss says:

    Sounds pretty good overall, but as a person who has been on the receiving end of multiple “out of stock” emails sent about 6 days after the order (from indy amazon sellers) I must say that it really burns from a customer’s view. Especially when the customer has to find this out on their own AFTER sending an inquiry. Whether or not the distributor is the real problem, it is the person who takes the money that looks bad.

    However, the $20 credit IS a nice gesture… and about all you could do.

  27. MyCokesBiggerThanYours says:

    Gift certificate was too much.

  28. SOhp101 says:

    It sucks that the inventory system doesn’t update the site, but $20 was a great response. But in any customer service situation, the main question you have to ask yourself is: would I want to be treated the way I’m treating others?

  29. StevieD says:

    Obviously you are relying upon an outside company to provide fulfillment of your customer orders.

    The weakness in the business plan was easily exposed when you did not have the item IN STOCK at your location when you offered it to the public.

    I suspect you will be issuing a lot of those gift cards in the future if you continue with your current business model.

  30. ceriphim says:

    @Chris Walters: I agree. The $20 GC is a bit much, but if it works to build your customer base, then okay. However looking at it from the margin side, that hurts a lot if it’s a common issue, or a common solution to a range of issues…

  31. eskimo81 says:

    You did very well handling the situation.

    The only suggestion that I would make (coming from 5 years of retail experience) is to be more pro-active about your customer orders. You have certain expectations of your vendors, and you will want to manage those expectations in such a way that you can make the customer aware of any issues and how you are correcting them before they even notice that anything is wrong.

  32. nardo218 says:

    *eyeroll* He’s just showing off and defending himself because of all the attacks on his profession on this site. Insecurity is annoying when it’s posted as news.

  33. RvLeshrac says:


    The customer is rarely, if ever, right. That’s not to say that the business is right any more often.

    A business’s responsibility is to ensure that the customer gets what they paid for and, possibly (depending on the business), that the customer has any problems with the merchandise handled in the appropriate manner.

    The customer’s responsibility, especially during this time of year, is to ensure that they got what they paid for (no Sorny TVs, etc), that they understand the company’s return policy (if the return policy says ’30 days’ and you try to return it after six months, you need to shut up and go home when they tell you that they won’t take it), and that they understand that the piece of paper in the box that reads “If this item is defective, DO NOT RETURN IT TO THE STORE FROM WHICH YOU PURCHASED IT!” means that you need to call the company first to make sure that you know how to work the item.

    Don’t return that HDD to the store because you don’t know how to install it properly. Don’t return that DVD player to the store because you don’t know how to program the clock. Don’t show up in six months and yell and scream about how you ‘spend lots of money here,’ demanding that the store take back the item despite your being COMPLETELY without any rights or even privileges in that regard.

    More of us are taking your personal information, and more of us can see that, while you’ve spent $10,000 here in the past year, you’ve also returned $9,995.67 worth of merchandise.

  34. RvLeshrac says:

    While we’re on the subject, I’d love to see a “Stupid Consumers” article on the site, or any site, really.

    The “boneheaded business moves” bit was good, now run the one where the woman curses and screams because the store wouldn’t take back her two-year-old PC, or the six-month old LCD TV that had the screen smashed in by the handle of her broom.

  35. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    I agree with the above posters in that:

    Selling the item as in stock when it was not verifiably in your possession to ship is not at all acceptable. Not providing a shipping update when the item did not ship within 48 hours is completely unacceptable. No compensation is really appropriate here except purchasing a copy of the CD (if necessary at a loss to yourself) and shipping it to the customer in a fashion that gets it there within the original estimated delivery date. You must not charge her extra for this shipping even if it costs you extra. That’s only fair because you really dropped the ball.

    That said, I do understand you might someday sell something that your computer system shows as legitimately in stock when it is not. In that case, a written notification and apology must go out within 48 hours of the order. In the notification, you may offer the customer two or more of the following options:

    – Cancel the order for a full refund of all money paid including “fees” and “handling”, plus free shipping on the next order (this must ALWAYS be one of the options).
    – Allow the item to be backordered (shipping must be at your expense). If the item is a gift, offer to send a nice letter of apology to the intended recipient.
    – Choose a replacement item of equivalent or better value (significant discount or free shipping).
    – Give store credit and offer a discount or free shipping on the next order.

    Hire a compassionate, well-regarded, groovy person to write all company correspondence related to issues such as this. :)

  36. ivealwaysgotmail10 says:

    Most companies would just say, were out of stock, sorry. Anything else i can help you with?

    Whoever sent that in Should never doubt their abilities again, All it takes to be a good customer service rep is common sense, the ability to put yourslef in the customers shoes, and the ability to tell your supervisor that he or she should reconsider his/her decision without sounding offensive.

  37. ShadowFalls says:


    ToysRus.com was just like this. They had a game that apparently had a set release that was incorrect. They could not ship the item till that period, and the date kept changing. They did not know when or if they would get it in stock or not and provided no resolution short of canceling the order.

    In regard to this topic. You can not charge someone’s credit card till it has shipped. This would tick me off to the greatest extent.

    After you went and charged my card and no notification, I would be quick calling you first upset and if I get no resolution, a charge back. American Express would have slapped you around and made you regret ever doing what you did.

  38. trollkiller says:

    Ok so you screwed up by
    1) Not having the item in stock or not knowing your fulfillment company was out of stock.

    2)Waiting for your customer to contact you about the order. 6 days is way too long to send out an order unless it was a special order and the customer understood that from the get go. Bad monkey, don’t do it again.

    You did well by owning the mistake and emailing the customer, a phone call would have been better assuming you had their phone number.

    You would not needed to give a $20 gift certificate if you had been on the ball and acted quickly.

    The best advice I can give you for customer service is.

    1)Never, never, never lie.

    2)If you make a mistake own up to it promptly and fully. Customers are forgiving because they make mistakes too.

    I had a customer once that was very angry his TV was not delivered. My manager was talking to him when I came out of the back. I realized I had forgotten to schedule the delivery and I walked up to the both of them an confessed my mistake. The customer’s anger fell like a rock, and he said “that’s ok I fuck up too”. Rescheduled delivery, happy customer and a repeat customer. Saved sale, saved commission, cost nothing.

    3)You will not satisfy every customer no matter how hard you try. Sometimes you just have to say no, do it politely. Sometimes it is profitable to let a difficult customer shop your competition.

    As one boss of mine said “The customer is always right, except when it costs me money.” Did that $20 cost your company money? Not if the customer spends that $20 and more.

    4)Follow up on complaints. If you notice areas that are causing complaints get them fixed.

    5)Be proactive, if you see a problem with an order that will cause a delay or might cause a complaint, contact the customer.

    Example: A DVD box is scraped up but the DVD is fine, contact the customer and tell them the one in stock is damaged and ask would they accept it with free shipping, do they want to wait for an undamaged one to come in or would they like to cancel the order. Do not send it out and hope it sneaks by. There are customers like me that will not bother contacting you. I will just tell EVERYBODY I know what kind of crap merchandise you sell.

    Good luck.

  39. trollkiller says:

    @ShadowFalls: I ordered all of my Christmas stuff from Walmart.com (yeah hate me for feeding the beast) Within 24 hours I had three emails informing me that items were out of stock. In the same email was a toll free number to call if I wanted to cancel the out of stock item(s).

    Long story short the out of stock items arrived BEFORE the in stock items. They also emailed me when each item shipped and when to expect them.

  40. DCGaymer says:

    It’s much, much cheaper to give a discount to a pre-existing client than it is to find a new one. So your honest goal should be to do whatever it takes to make the client happy and whole again.

    The old business model said. “One mad consumer tells thirty”
    Today’s business model? “One mad “Consumerist” tells thousands.”

    Here’s how you can quantify profit and loss in dealing with individual customers on a case by case basis. It’s fair to your company and it’s fair to the consumer.

    1. What is your company profit ratio? How much are they making off each order after all the overhead is averaged in? 20% is what a well run profitable company makes. Your percentage may vary.

    Work with your bosses and accounting to figure it out. Then get permission to use this as your “managerial discretion” in resolving customer service issues.

    Every time you have to use your “managerial discretion” log it and recap it in your report’s. Daily, weekly and monthly. Assign the reason as to why the discount was applied and assign that cost to the individual department. Managers LOVE that.

    No stock? Purchasing probably gets the blame.
    Wrong items in the box? Fulfillment did it when pulling or packing.
    Item’s not delivered on time? Transportation is to blame.
    You get the picture.

    Don’t internalize the client issues. You get to be the good guys who work arm in arm with the client in resolving their issues. You represent the whole company…but make sure the client knows…you’re going to work with them to resolve it. Be earnest and honest.

    2. What is the ttl dollar amount of the order in question…multiply it by the percentage. At 20% a $50 dollar order has $10 dollars of wiggle room. Can you resolve their issue for that much?

    3. If the client still isn’t happy…consider whether or not the client has a history. Pull it up and see what the overall dollar amount of the full history is. Multiply the total dollar amount by your percentage (20%?). That’s the actual amount of wiggle room you have to profitably save the client. Not just the order…but the client. This way you can go over and above in the client’s eye’s but know you’ve still made your company a profit in the long run. (be sure to note it in the client’s file when you’ve gone over and above. You’ll need to keep an eye on some client’s).

    4. When you finally send the order, here’s your chance to shine. Send them an apology with a note and a coupon for a future order. Let them know how much you value them as a client….and how much you hope they’ll come back.

  41. dlab says:

    Wow, people sure love to bitch.

    Having plentiful experience in the world of call centers, I can see that most of the responses above fail to take in to account some important facts:

    Kevin is a customer service representative. I doubt he established his company’s business model. I also doubt he was the person that picked the fulfillment vendor, or developed the systems that tie together his company’s CRM systems and the fulfillment vendor’s inventory systems. He also did not come up with his company’s order fulfillment process, and he certainly didn’t decide to charge the customer’s credit card immediately after ordering. Furthermore, Kevin does not have a personal relationship with every single customer his company has — on the contrary, his job is to sit in a dark call center and service each inbound call, one at a time, in the order that they arrived. His job IS NOT to make or change policies, nor is it to follow every customer’s order through the fulfillment process, or single-handedly fix everything that is wrong with his company.

    Considering Kevin’s actual sphere of influence in his position, he provided excellent customer service. He took ownership of the problem, and he saved a customer by making up for their goof… heck, that $20 gift card is a free DVD! Good job dude!

  42. eddieisannoying says:

    He said he’s apartner in the company and in charge of customre service. That’s more than a rep in a call center.

  43. mammalpants says:

    that was great service!

    check back in here in 5 years when you start outsourcing everything and don’t really care all that much about anything but the bottom line.


  44. ninjatales says:

    What name does this company go by? One thing I know is that it’s NOT buy.com cuz of all the crap I took from them.

    1. $10 discount not applied to my first purchase of a camera. CSR said would put it in my 2nd.

    2. $10 discount not applied to my 2nd purchase (2 DVD s worth $15). But it took over a month for them to have it in stock and I canceled it after waiting for over a month. The discount never showed up either.

    3. Bought a DVD. 2 weeks later it’s still “processing” and nobody (CSR) had any idea of what was going on with it. I tried to cancel it and a week later, I got it in the mail. I was charged the amount and no $10 discount because the product was $8 (+ $4 shipping) which was $12.

    4. Bought a tv tuner for around $60 and didn’t get my $35 rebates or yet the $10 discount.

    5. BUY.com’s CSRs are terrible.

    MORAL of the Story: DONT SHOP AT BUY.COM unless the product doesn’t come with a warranty/rebate or you don’t care about the Google Checkout crap.

    Concluding Note: PLEASE INCLUDE NAME OF THE COMPANY FROM THIS ARTICLE. Would be nice to be able to shop at honest businesses.

  45. ninjatales says:

    Forgot to mention but my rebate was “lost” and the check hadn’t been cashed out but the company was not willing to cancel that check and send me another one.

    Originally, on my rebate status (rebatestatus.com) page, it said “Please allow at least 30 days for delivery.”

    The rebate check took 25 days to process and was mailed out from the center on Sep 26.

    October 15 no check.

    October 31 and still no check.

    CSR said they would investigate and I should call back in 30 days. Nothing done. Got multiple emails and I filled out a million forms online for them.

    November 15 no check. Called in and they said they had no clue about it. Got an email from rebatestatus saying they would mail me a check. Called in and they denied it but I have the email.

    November 30 no check but got another email saying they would mail me the check. Called in they’re “still investigating”. Transferred between the manufacturer (KWORLD) and rebatestatus CSRs because neither wanted to take responsibility.

    December 5, KWORLD CSR told me he would mail out the check and email me back. Checked rebatestatus.com and now it’s “Please allow at least 15 days for delivery.”

    December 20 and no resolution.

    VERDICT: BUY.COM sucks. Their rebate affiliate Rebatestatus sucks. Their product Kworld TV Tuner died after 3 months of usage. CSRs for all 3 companies suck. The only thing I got were crappy products and empty promises.

    Haven’t shopped there since. Amazon, Target, Newegg, eBay, Overstock, etc all saw me purchase over $1500 worth of stuff since October and will see more but not BUY.com or their close buddies.

    *sorry. just a personal rant. had to get it off my chest.*

  46. thalia says:

    If someone’s Christmas was ruined because they didn’t get two DVDs, then something is seriously screwed up.

  47. kalmakazee says:


    1st of all thanks for commenting on my post, I REALLY appreciate it. I am VERY open to other peoples opinion(s). :-)

    I totally agree with what you wrote. When I wrote my comment I meant more if a customer of mine is calling to complain on something that’s logical and the complaint is a reasonable one. For example if a customer of mine bought a BRAND NEW item and it wasn’t working properly I would (GLADLY) pay to have th person ship the item back to me even though I am taking a loss. Another example would be in my listings I always mention that the customer has 14 days to return a defective item to exchange it for another one (and no where does it mention that I would pay for shipping – not sure if it is my responsibility to pay for return shipping or not though i would want another company to pay for my return shipping if I bought an item from them i try to do to others what i want others to do for me) and if the customer calls me after 14 days and less than 30 days i will still be kind enough to exchange the item though my listing explicitly mentions that i won’t. It’s not GREAT examples and I am not a very good explainer but i hope you get the drift of what I am trying to say. :-)

    Outta curiosity how come when others try to comment on someone elses post it responds in red and by me it responds in black?