Help customers avoid mistakes and build brand loyalty

Last week I made a mistake in an online ordering system that resulted in my grandmother receiving her 97th birthday present 4 days late. Trouble all round.

It was a fairly typical mix-up: The package wasn’t delivered; I thought that the company had made an error, so I complained; I was told that, actually, the error was mine as I’d ordered something that wasn’t deliverable.

I’m left with a few questions: Why did the company’s system allow me to make the mistake? How easily could it have been prevented? Would a few system improvements have resulted in a better impression of the company? Right now, I’m annoyed and unlike to order through that company again.

Here’s the detail:

I placed an online order for a package to be delivered to by grandmother in the UK last Saturday. The package didn’t turn up. And it didn’t turn up the next day.

I sent an email asking what was happening, and received a reply back (from the Australian representative) saying that it would be followed up. I was told that I’d hear something when they had a response from the UK.

I waited patiently through the UK’s extra-long weekend and, on Thursday, received an email telling me that the company’s terms and conditions state that deliveries can not be made on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays. My package was delivered on Wednesday (the first working day after my requested delivery date).

Fair enough, I suppose. Except for one thing: No one ever reads terms and conditions, and the people who design web-ordering systems know this. Even readers who give the terms and conditions a cursory skim (and they’re rare) would be unlikely to notice that level of detail.

Clearly it’s my fault that I ordered something that couldn’t be delivered when requested. I should have read the terms and conditions. (Given the initial response from Australia, maybe the Australian representatives also need to be more familiar with the terms and conditions!)

But it would be so very easy to communicate that important information outside of the terms and conditions page. Surely it would also be easy to design a system that simply didn’t allow users to select the wrong delivery dates.

Communicating in a different way would empower users. It would cut down on complaints and improve the company’s efficiency. Most of all, it would increase the chances that customers would return.