This is a guest post by one of my favorite, and smartest of friends, and a well-known online security expert, Christopher Burgess (@burgessct)
My Customer Service Nightmare at the Hands of Newport News/Spiegel
There comes a time in every consumer’s lifetime when a retailer may try and take advantage of the relationship and deliver less or nothing in exchange for the consumer’s hard-earned money. Such was the case with my spouse and Newport News/Spiegel online and direct marketing clothiers.
In our situation, my wife purchased and returned items from Newport News in February 2011. Yet, as of June 2011 the refund she was due had not yet been received. But amazingly every time she spoke with a customer service representative (CSR) she was told something like this: “Ma’am, we assure you, your name is at the top of the list. We are experiencing a computer glitch, you will have your money in five days, we asked that you wait two billing cycles. We don’t know what is going on, call us back on Monday,” etc.
As consumers, you should be aware that for unscrupulous retailers, all of these platitudes are nothing more than holding statements, crafted by the retailer and designed to get the customer off the phone and to buy time.
In our scenario – my bride demonstrated extraordinary patience and trust over the course of a four month period – which is not uncommon for many consumers.
In exasperation, and because my wife was able to get no resolution to this situation, I thought it might make sense to test the power of social media. Accordingly, I posted a note on Newport News Facebook page and an @mention to their Twitter account. Amazingly, they removed the comment from the Facebook page, but not before others had made comments that they too were encountering similar issues.
The Twitter notes went without notice or response.
It quickly became clear that these are examples of two brands – Newport News and Spiegel – who are using their social network presences to broadcast but not engage with their customers. Not surprising – it happens all the time. However, what’s disturbing is that in the event someone has a negative experience with these retailers and posts a complaint, it’s immediately purged rather than dealt with in a straightforward, upstanding or honest manner.
The retailer’s action to delete versus engage actually had a far more detrimental effect than if they had engaged and resolved. But it not only serves as an excellent example of how not to handle customer service in social networks, it gives me fodder for a blog post about customer service.
My wife’s patience finally snapped, and she engaged the Washington Attorney General’s office to file a formal compliant against Newport News. The AG’s office contacted her, verified that the compliant had validity and sent paperwork to Newport News asking that they refund the funds. Even they were ignored.
Not to be deterred, she simultaneously filed a complaint with the FTC Consumer Complaint division. The FTC acknowledged receipt, but we quickly learned that there has to be a cacophony of complaints for either entity to actually take action. If this kind of thing happens to you at the hands of any vendor, I recommend filing a complaint against them, as each voice most definitely adds to the noise of the choir.
My tenacious wife waited another week and then called the credit card fraud department and filed a complaint. They noted her time to request a charge-back had passed, but they would gladly review her material and try. She forwarded the shipping/billing statements, copies of the email promises, call notes (dates, times, CSR’s name) and within one week they credited her credit card statement with 100% of the funds in question. They followed up with their own written documentation – case closed – 1 July.
Bottom line – if you are purchasing from either Newport News or its sister organization, Spiegel, allow me to help you through the morass so that you don’t get left waiting for your refund or worse, left holding the bag.
- Pay by credit card.
- If you return an item – track the package, ensure a signature upon receipt, memorialize all your conversations and emails – document, document, document.
- If you have not received your money by day 29 of the purchase, contact your credit card company and ask that they execute a charge back against the vendor. They will immediately credit your account and debit the vendor (with fees).
Most importantly, don’t fall prey to their delay tactics! Whether it’s Spiegel, Newport News or any other retailer, if they ask something like this: “Please allow us up to 15 days to receive and process your returned merchandise. Allow 2 credit card statements for your refund to appear,” be forewarned. There’s the gotcha – your credit card company asks that you challenge vendor’s charge within 30 days – waiting two billing cycles often can make it impossible for you to dispute a charge on your credit card – and that’s just what retailers like this are counting on.
As always, knowledge is your most powerful asset. And, when it comes to these particular merchants, remember Caveat Emptor – give them a wide berth.
Christopher Burgess is a senior security advisor to the chief security officer of a Fortune 100 company, who previously served as a senior national security executive for more than 30 years. Christopher addresses threats to intellectual property, security aspects of social media, security strategy, security education and awareness and prevention of industrial espionage. You can follow him on his blog BurgessCT
Photo credit: The Guardian