Feb 202012
business customer service is essential in the new economy

On their busiest day of the year, the florist site Ready Flowers had a shocker. With dozens of customers upset their Valentines Day flowers didn’t arrive.

Their reaction was to stop answering their calls, as one Ready Flowers angry customer on the Whirlpoool website said;

Calling through to their 24/7 hotline was no good, all it told me (after 30 mins on hold) was a automated message saying it was valentine’s day (duh), that they were busy and that I should leave a message.

So on their one key day of the year, they didn’t have enough staff to meet demand.

Ready Flowers has been a success story expanding to 17 countries since being founded in 2005. The service is a modern version of the Interflora model where the company takes the order which they pass onto a local florist who creates the flower arrangement to Ready Flowers’ or Interflora’s specifications.

The risk for Ready Flowers is that the local florist isn’t very good and that’s where customer support and tight supplier management comes into place.

Which is clearly where they fell over on Valentines Day.

In a 2009 interview with the Financial Review that’s quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, Ready Flowers’ founder Thomas Hegarty claimed his success was due to good search-engine optimisation, online advertising, and landing pages for every delivery location.

Missing is the term “customer service” – in that interview Thomas went onto say, “We saw that we could add value by applying more efficient technology without needing a large number of people to run the business”.

This is the flaw in the web 2.0 business model. In the real world, businesses don’t run on remote control – mistakes are made, deadline missed and people do dumb things which the algorithm can’t handle.

Over the last thirty years, customer service has been seen as an unnecessary cost centre. This was fine in a world where automated, low margin and fast moving goods were seen as the business model to emulate.

If you can’t compete on price, it’s service that matters and this is where you’ll need more than a lost cost call centre and a well optimised website.

  5 Responses to “The limits of SEO”

  1. Yes this is where the rubber meets the road and where online business and conventional businesses experience the greatest potential for friction in their model. Many owners of online businesses can be oblivious to the ‘customer feel’ that conventional business owners know only too well. Yes they are real people and they get persnickety if they don’t get what you promised.

  2. Absolutely right Lindy, on top of that it seems to me many businesses haven’t considered what happens when a stroppy customer calls.

    In many cases we get obsessed with getting our website optimised and the logo looking good and forget the essentials of customer service.

    • Add to that, few business owners or managers know whether they are optimised for search and if they are paying for an “SEO service” whether it is any use at all. Much of it is just a scam. So not only is SEO not the full story even the SEO they think they are doing may be lacking. Then there is the optimisation for People, which is often a forgotten element.

      The process for business to undertake to get things right before visitors find the site (search) or the business drives visitors to the site (SM) and what happens while the visitors are on the site, and progressing through the stage of buying, then to fulfillment stage is so important yet may be left up to people who are not skilled in some of those areas (IT people handling customer service issues for example). This is where it will show if there is not a well constructed strategy and process to ensure all these bases are well covered.

  3. Hi Paul,

    I would like to have a chance to respond to your post and why we had a little bit of a bumpy ride this Valentine’s Day.

    The major issue this year was not because of a lack of service staff planning or supply chain management. This year was different as we experienced a DDOS attack on our systems (all of which are hosted on our own private cloud, including the phone systems) that started early morning on the 14th and continued for a period of 24 hours. This affected our ability to manage and control transactions as effectively as we would have expected.

    You are right, service does matter a huge amount, just as much as getting the customer in the door and in turn sending the flowers and gifts to their loved ones door. That is why over the Valentines Period we employ 65 staff across Australasia and roughly 4000 suppliers around the world to cope with the demand. Under normal “event day” periods this should be more than enough to manage the spike in demand over the few days.

    Even with the attack on our systems, we were able to manage to straighten things out reasonably quickly however we still did have around 4 hours of downtime and 24 hours of slower than optimal systems. Out of the tens of thousands of transactions that we processed, we received a small rate of issues (mostly due to the attack) with most enquiries on orders received resolved relatively quickly.

    We have now taken steps to ensure that even with a DDOS attack on our systems, we are more than capable of weathering these actions in the future if they occur again.

    Lastly, we definitely value our customers and want them all to have the best experience possible and that is why we do place a huge amount of importance on customer service by investing a large amount of time, money and effort into developing the systems just as much as the customer service staff to provide our valued customers with that great experience every time.


    Thomas Hegarty
    Managing Director – Ready Flowers Limited

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: