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Omni-channel omni-shambles - Argos and an online retail fail

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan September 7, 2015
Online ordering of a new dishwasher from an omni-channel retailer like Argos ought to be really simple, shouldn't it? Not so much it seems. Lessons to be learned for others here.

Argos online homepage © Argos
Argos online (© Argos)

It’s never going to be the best of Monday mornings when the first thing that happens is the dishwasher dies on you.

That was what happened to me last week - and plunged me into an omni-channel omni-shambles that demonstrated just how easy it is for retail brands to screw up totally.

Having ascertained that the dishwasher was beyond repair - the water pouring out from its innards was a bit of a clue! - I followed the 2015 internet-enabled buyer rules and hit the internet to find a replacement.

My best option turned out to be UK retailer Argos, the only electronics and consumer goods firm that appeared able to deliver within 48 hours and not require 3 weeks notice to deliver a replacement.

So I placed my order, paid over my money and was sent my delivery time. I was only able to select a 6-hour window for delivery. (I don’t understand why online grocery firms are able to narrow down delivery slots to an hour, but the likes of Argos can’t manage that. #FAIL 1.)

So I settled down to sit indoors between 12 noon and 6pm.

Then I received a text message from Argos confirming my delivery slot of 4pm and 9pm. #FAIL 2.

So I searched the Argos home page and found the telephone number for the delivery call center and rang it up to clarify.

Or rather I tried to call it up to clarify. After 20 minutes hanging on the line with no sign of a human being picking up the phone, I gave up. #FAIL 3.

I turned then to the online chat support. After taking 2 minutes to load, the chat window opened up for me and a minute or so after that an agent came online. Not exactly instant messaging, but I’ll let that one go.

I asked why I’d been sent two confirmations with two different delivery slots. Was I expected to sit in between noon and 9pm on the off chance?

The agent checked and came back to confirm that my original time slot was the correct one and to ignore the second text I'd received. Not entirely convinced, I said OK and went on my way.

Come delivery day and the clock starts ticking. Midday, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 5pm, 6pm - all come and go and no sign of a dishwasher. Clearly the Argos agent got it wrong and the damned thing will be delivered before 9pm as the second text said.

But 7pm, 8pm and 9pm also come and go and nothing turns up. I checked my email and my text messages to see if there was a message from the delivery people, but nada. #FAIL 4.

So, with 9 hours of house arrest now over and still no dishwasher, I decided to sleep on it. The call center was closed and wouldn’t open until 8am next day. I do post a series of testy messages on Twitter to the self-styled @argoshelpers, but they've clearly clocked off for the day.

The next day

Next morning, I hit the phone at 8am precisely. This was a good move as I did get through to someone after about 5 minutes this time.

Or at least I thought it was a good move until I actually engaged with the person on the other end of the line. To call her robotic would be to insult robots.

‘Where’s my dishwasher?’ I ask.

She goes off to check and comes back. ‘It hasn’t been delivered,” she says.

’Why hasn’t it been delivered?’ I try.

'There’s been a system error, 'she replies, completely deadpan.

'What sort of system error?’ I persist.

'The paperwork wasn’t handed over,' she replies, a living embodiment of indifference.

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 11.03.37
Argos omni-channel

‘You mean my online purchase from you as an omni-channel retailer, that you confirmed by email, text and via your online chat support, hasn’t been delivered because someone didn’t pass on a piece of paper?’ I ask. #FAIL 5

“There’s been a system error,” she repeats. “I can book you another slot.'

'When?' I ask.

'In a week and a half,' she replies.

“So my 48 hour delivery will now be 2 weeks in total from order?’ I say. “Does that strike you as satisfactory?’

‘You can always cancel the order,’ she replies, seemingly completely unconcerned that her employer has now lost business and a customer.

So I did.

Livid, I find another provider and make another purchase. This one is with Currys. It’s the same machine, albeit a bit more expensive, but they are able to deliver in 48 hours.

They also offer me a slot with a 4 hour window.

And on the day, they actually turn up at the earliest part of that window, after texting me to confirm that they’re on their way. #SUCCESS ON EVERY LEVEL.

Meanwhile, as I’m waiting for Currys to arrive, Argos sends me an email asking me to fill out a study asking me how happy I am with my purchase and their service.

This is followed by another email telling me that I called their customer service arm and asking how well had they done?

I’m very happy to provide feedback as you might imagine.

I do get a response from @argoshelpers on Twitter, by the way. It comes through a mere 34 hours after I first contact them with an urgent query. #FAIL 6.

Impressive stuff.

My take

A perfect example of how easy it is to screw up the omni-channel experience if your processes aren’t joined up.

When using the online chat support about the double time slot booking, no explanation was offered as to how this had occurred, leaving me - correctly as it turned out - to assume that it was a cock-up. That did leave me fearing the worst, but being assured by the online agent that I didn’t need to worry.

Things get worse if your organisational culture just isn’t customer-centric. You can invest in all the omni-channel tech that you like, but as with the early days of CRM, if your basic stance is that the customer is a flaming nuisance, all the tech in the world isn’t going to help you.

At no point did the call center person I spoke to after the non-delivery utter the word ‘sorry’. She told me she could see I would be annoyed, which was about as far as customer empathy went it seemed. When she told me I could cancel the order, she added the priceless gem: 'Lots of people do that.'

I imagine they do.

Addendum: with immaculate timing, literally as I was writing this article, I received the following:

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 11.37.04

So over a week after the failed delivery and the cancelled order and the refund of my money, Argos’ customer management systems still think they delivered me a dishwasher!

Text book omni-channel omni-shambles. Caveat emptor and all that.

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