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Has John Lewis lost the plot?

In May of this year a good friend of ours ordered curtains for their bedroom from John Lewis. John Lewis was her first choice of supplier known for “never knowingly undersold” (whatever that may mean) and excellent customer service. She was given a delivery date of the 31st August. This seemed a long time to wait for some privacy in the bedroom but not to worry; as she said, “I thought it’s not worth getting a quote from anywhere else because if John Lewis can’t do it before then no one else would be likely to”. On the 30th August she got an email from John Lewis saying that they would have to cancel the installation of the curtains because one of the installers was ill. They would reschedule and gave a new date for the installation of the middle of October. Now this prompted the John Lewis devotee to phone the company and say that such a delay was unacceptable. This protestation didn’t get anywhere.

This saga continues and so we can’t give you a conclusion at the present. The cause of the problem according to John Lewis is the lack of availability of both product and staff. In other words, supply chain disruption. This won’t surprise you. In fact, a survey of 400 medium-sized businesses by the accounting company RSM showed that 38% of businesses had problems receiving supplies and as a result had seen a fall in customer satisfaction. Businesses working directly with consumers were affected most by the disruptions. A half of the surveyed companies experienced supply issues which caused them to change their UK suppliers. In fact, over a third had resorted to buying supplies from their competitors, at a higher rate, in order to maintain their business continuum.

The knock-on effect of the pandemic is the disruption in the supply chain which is in turn affecting customer experience. When John Lewis finds it incapable of taking an order for curtains and delivering it within five months, we know that something has gone seriously wrong.

So what to do if this happens to you?

Be honest and be true. Honesty has to be a priority but it may be necessary to do a bit more than say “it’s not our fault”. A business exists to solve these problems. There may be some curtain material that is available at an earlier date. Maybe blinds are an interim measure. And if John Lewis can’t supply, maybe they can recommend somebody who can. And, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t make promises that you can’t keep.

Keep the customer informed. Sending an email cancelling the fitting the day before the promised delivery is not a good example of customer communications. It also makes you think that no one was keeping an eye on the order. A phone call rather than an email would surely have been something of an improvement. It would, at least, have given John Lewis the opportunity to explain in person and beg forgiveness and it would have given the customer the chance to ask some important questions.

Don’t put the customer to the back of the queue. It’s hard to imagine that in the next month the curtain fitter wouldn’t have recovered and been available to do the job. A new date must be found and it should be soon. It may mean shunting other people’s fittings by half a day or so next week but surely this is better than demonstrating that there is no flexibility in the customer service programme.

Be generous to a fault. If something like this happens it will for sure have ramifications. Our friend who ordered the curtains must have spent a fortune with John Lewis over the last couple of years as they have been remodelling their house. It would be worth John Lewis swallowing the financial pain on the curtain order and giving the cutrains free and gratis. According to The White House Office Of Consumer Affairs a dissatisfied customer will tell between 9 and 15 people about their experience. 13% of dissatisfied customers will tell more than 20 people. Look at us – she told us the story and we are telling you about it. The RSM survey that we referred to earlier says that 28% of companies have lost their top customers after supply problems. How many times do we have to remind people that great customer experience is worth its weight in gold?


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