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Grinding the Gears of Customer Service

At the end of the day, b2b2dot0’s raison d’être is all about customer  service.  Our company’s mission is to enable SAP manufacturers to  provide a world class self-service order management experience to their  customers.  We also know that providing mind-boggling customer service to our clients is at the core of  our business model.  So when I see examples of bad customer service, I  just cringe…and write about it 🙂

Today’s episode of “Customer Dis-Service” is of special interest  because it unmasks an industry wide dark secret of the B2C (and many  B2B) eCommerce websites of SAP Manufacturers.  I’m going to call it the  “eFacade Syndrome”.  That’s when the front end website looks like it’s  integrated with SAP, but it’s not.

Our story begins a few weeks back when six of my bicycling friends  came rolling into my Kerr Lake weekend retreat on their third night of a  four day multi-state self contained bicycling tour.  Self contained,  for the uninitiated, means that they were toting 30-40 lbs of life’s  essentials (camping gear, clothes, toiletries, cooking utensils  etc.) on their bikes and were prepared to rough it at the end of every  day’s 50-70 mile trek. 

That’s why it struck me so funny when one of the gang, Jack Warman,  asked me if I had a coffee grinder.  A coffee grinder?

You see, Jack is clearly a coffee aficionado.  I’m not talking about  the Starbucks “venti Caffe Verona leave room for the skim milk” kind of  guy.  I’m talking hard core “grind it fresh, brew it with filtered  water, drink it black” coffee aficionado!  Jack even roasts his own  coffee beans.  In fact, he  was schlepping a four day supply of his  extra special personal roast for all six riders.  Hence his request for a  grinder. 

Unfortunately, I had to confess that we didn’t have a grinder at our  lake house.  I evoked the “we left it at the city house” standard  excuse.  But I couldn’t tell Jack that we only buy ground coffee and  store it in our freezer until we’re ready to brew…too bourgeois.

That’s when Jack says “no worries, I brought my own” and then begins  to recount his travails of acquiring this bike camping essential.

After scouring the web, Jack found the PERFECT manual grinder, but no  one seems to have had it in stock so Jack went straight to the  Manufacturer’s site, RusTekDirect.  After finding that they too were out  of stock, Jack engages in the following email thread (summarized and  normalized for the 3 hour time zone difference) with RusTek’s customer  service department:

April 21 5:53AM  – Jack inquires  as to when the product will be back in stock.

April 22 11:02AM (30 hours later !) -Jack gets this  email:

Hello Jack,

No, I’m sorry I  don’t have an exact date.

We hope to be  manufacturing and selling new product by Fall this year.

Thanks for  your interest! (notice the exclamation point???  He just  disappointed Jack to no end, but is happy that Jack took interest????)  

April 22 11:33AM  – Jack really wants  the product and tells the manufacturer that he can’t find it anywhere  and really wants one.  Can he help him find a dealer?

April 21 1:10PM (almost 2 hours later) –

Hello again  Jack,

We have a few  (literally) still in the warehouse.  They are brand new, unopened items.  If you want one, simply order it on the  RusTek website.

Many thanks in  advance.

April 21 1:18PM (8 minutes  later…you think Jack’s anxious about this?)

Hi David,

Sorry to bother you  again.I definitely want  one, but the RusTek site says “Out of Stock” and there’s no “Add to Cart” button.

Can I call in my order? Or, is there  another  way I can order it online?

Thanks for your  continued help with this, Jack

April 22 2:42PM (1.5  hours later) –

Sorry Jack,

Please check  the RusTek site again – I went into the site and changed the inventory number to reflect what we have.


Twenty minutes later Jack’s order entry saga was  consummated.  End-to-end, his interactions with RusTek spanned over 34  hours!  Why?  Because of a disconnect between the website and the back  end inventory and fulfillment system.

Jack loves  the product but rightfully hates the purchasing experience he had to go  through. 

Here are my takeaways from this  experience:

  1. There is no substitute for having great products.   But nowadays, unless you’re Apple and have locked in the market to your  proprietary hardware and software, that’s not enough. 
  2. Don’t confuse activity with results.  Interacting  with your customers doesn’t mean that you’re providing them good  customer service.  More and more consumers (and purchasing agents) look  like Jack.  While he was patient and cordial with RusTek, his preference  would have been to never communicate with anyone.  He knew what he  wanted, had a credit card ready and just wanted to press the “place  order” button.  Period.
  3. Customer Services Agents aren’t to blame (most of the time).   Every so often you come across a customer service agent that should  find another profession, but that’s an exception. For the most part,  they are hard working, empathetic and knowledgeable employees.  Their  problem is the systems they have to work with and the bizarre processes  that those systems impose on them.  That’s where their management comes  in.  They need to show the leadership required to take the waste out of  these bad processes.
  4. There are more Jacks around than we care to admit.   RusTek has no clue how mad Jack was.  They have no idea how many people  now know about their broken systems. (pass this post around and  even more will :-)) They underestimate how important internet  access…and all that comes with it – transparency, truth, availability,  speed etc…has become to Jack.  And more and more Jacks are being  groomed everyday. One million ipads are being sold every month.  SAP  bought Sybase for $6B in recognition of the importance of the mobile  internet.  
  5. There is no reason to have disconnected systems.   At least in the SAP world, solving this problem is no longer a  complicated technical project.  All it takes is a commitment to great  customer service and a call to b2b2dot0 🙂

Do you agree with my takeaways?  Are there others that you can think of? 

And as for Jack’s coffee?  It was awesome!  We  now have a grinder (electric) at our lake house. 🙂


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  • Thanks for that. I’ll have to call Jack on my next bike trip – sounds like he has all the necessary gadgets.

    Most notable takeaway – there’s not reason for a disconnected landscape that leaves cusotmers questioning your business opersations and quality of customer service.

    • Thanks Renee. 

      I can certainly vouch for Jack. 🙂

      However, while I agree with your re-emphasizing that there is no reason for disconnected landscapes, in practice, there is one HUGE reason for it.

      That’s not only cost of product, but hardware, software, and manpower to make that happen.  This is especially true for the smaller manufacturers on the market…whose customer service needs are as important as the big guys…but simply don’t have the budget or bandwidth to take on the project to standup and support such a solution.

      We think that an OnDemand solutions like ours is a step in the democratization direction.