Just before the holidays last year, I received a very honest email from a company that I subscribe their service from. Frankly, I have never expected an email from the company, let alone from its CEO admitting to their mistakes and be so upfront about it. It is a refreshing take for someone to stand up and owe up to their errors when most companies ignore or deluded themselves that nothing is wrong and they are the best in the market.
To give you an insight into the background of the company, EzBuy is a Singapore-based e-commerce website that allows users to shop for items available in overseas online stores, which are cheaper or easier to find than in domestic stores. It currently sources products from China, the US, and Taiwan. Acting as a middleman between overseas e-commerce retailers and consumers, EZBuy takes care of everything from purchasing the items to shipping and importing them.
Due to the previous upcoming holidays and a major shopping event 11.11 (similar to Black Friday), the promised delivery was delayed. Not everyone is impacted by the delays. As a regular online shopper, I am used to delaying shipments and deliveries. With too many variables involved like customs, it is forgivable and almost expected that such incidents happen every now and then. I don’t see the point of fuming at something I can’t control just because something I have ordered is coming to me late by a few days. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I received an email from EzBuy.
Below is the extract from the email I have received from the CEO.
Dear Valued customers,
It is an annual tradition for me to send a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year email before Christmas. I would normally review what we have done and achieved over the past year – the good and the bad, and share plans for the coming year to our valued customers. Regretfully however, in the midst of these festivities, I cannot write this year’s email as I’ve done over the past years. I am filled with bittersweet sadness over the recent situation that we find ourselves in.
Many things have happened in 2016: re-branding to ezbuy; enlarging our product pool to include millions of products that are available for one-time payment, launching Prime annual membership program, flash deal, cash off, sales zone to enhance “greater savings” and many more. If all these had taken place in 2015, I would be happy to share these accomplishments, but this year, especially for the past 3 months, I feel ashamed to do so.
Despite all the efforts we put in this year to enhance your shopping experience, if we couldn’t even deliver your orders on time, then we have had failed our most fundamental and important responsibility, which is to send every order to customers with speed and accuracy. This is our worst ever showing and after receiving feedback from many customers who have been with us for more than 1, 2 or even 3 years, we are deeply disappointed in ourselves.
During China’s long National holiday (from 1st Oct to 7th Oct), many employees took long leave and the leftover orders from end of September started to get delayed. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, our plans to prepare for 11.11 sales by shifting to a warehouse in Dong Guan that is 4 times bigger than the one in Guangzhou was delayed. And at this new location, our human resource team faced a monumental challenge in recruiting new employees. We started to see 3 – 8 days delay in October, and before we could catch up, 11.11 arrived and we received a surprisingly high volume of orders. Since then, the overall order fulfillment cycle slowed by 5 – 15 days or more.
When I was young, every time I made mistakes, my parents would ask me to face the wall and confess to myself for an hour. Growing up and entering the workforce, a report called “8D report” was required whenever mistakes were made. This 8D report starts from identifying root cause, to finding out Corrective & Preventive actions. It’s a very systematic way of analyzing; understanding how mistakes happened and preventing them. I found it immensely valuable and brought it to our internal operations. For every “unsatisfied” review we received, if we could find the root cause and the particular employee who made the mistake, for example, purchaser bought a wrong spec of item because he/she misunderstood the customer’s remarks, we would make sure that they write 8D reports for their mistakes instead of punishing them. This Christmas, we will execute Corrective & Preventive Action Plans for the mistakes we have made, to restore your confidence in us.
Everyone, including myself, has been working around the clock, doing our best to inspect more items, send out more parcels, reply more inquiries;
There were many actions taken;
Putting all our efforts to clear all leftover orders, today, we have caught up in clearing the majority of orders up till 11th Dec.
The series of delays which happened in the past 3 months put us into deep thought: How could we prevent these delays from happening again due to the same reasons or seasonality peaks?
Unlike the typical e-commerce website, which has an upper limit in order volume based on the amount of available stock; we have no limit by nature, and your support can be overwhelming. We cannot handle all orders well if we solely rely on manpower, hence we have to speed up the process of bringing in intelligent systems.
Starting January 2017, if any of your orders get delayed, we will penalize ourselves by compensating you RMB 1 per single delayed order, per business day due to delays in any of the 3 operational stages: Purchase; Inspection; Parcel Packing, each having a separate 24 hour guarantee. The longer the delay of each order, the more we will penalize ourselves to compensate you. In the future, should a delay of such scale ever happen again, our compensation to our customers will have a severe impact on us.
We strive to give you a measurable and tangible promise, hence by announcing this initiative, we force ourselves to pay more attention to our operations. This is the most fundamental thing for us, and something we took pride in for the previous years.
2. Customer Service failing to provide a professional and timely response at all times:
Although our customer service team has doubled and they are working overtime every day to clear backlogs, the number of problem orders, coupled with after-sales issues with many 11.11 orders, our customer service team will need a bit more time before reaching our normal service standards.
We know you are facing many other issues, like parcel collection or delivery. Sorry for bring you all these troubles on top of the delay. The customer service team is able to help you better with all these issues now. Reach us and we will do our best to help. If your call or online chat is not served immediately, please do not give up, try again, we will definitely be there to help.
Moving forward, to achieve higher professional customer service standards, we have started piloting an intelligent customer service solution and prepared trainings from internal and external parties on soft skills and technical competence.
3. Problems originating from Ship-for-me service:
Half of all complaints on Facebook and other open channels are related to ship-for-me service. Besides the delay issue which we resolved in early Dec, many problems are due to customers’ disconnect in service expectations. For ship-for-me service, we are a logistic provider and the only service obligation is to provide a shipping service for whatever item we receive on your behalf, much like DHL or Poslaju. It is natural for these customers to benchmark the service standards of buy-for-me or prime service against that of other logistic providers. When similar expectations are applied to damaged or lost parcels, customers cannot understand why ship-for-me service compensation is so little and even capped by shipping fee though this is an industry standard which DHL and Fedex are adopting.
Some customers who use Taobao forwarders tend to benchmark our processing time against theirs. This is a reasonable comparison. But the fact is Taobao forwarders’ operational systems are integrated with Taobao; they can cross reference and match your orders easily, quickly and accurately, they can allocate resources in advance based on total order volume. Many of you are used to this that when engaging our ship-for-me service, it’s natural you don’t submit your purchase information or tracking information on our site after you purchase from Taobao. This created a lot of issues for us as we cannot quickly allocate resources, which delays order processing. And without your order details, unique ID or if your shipping label is illegible, it becomes one of the thousands of problem orders which we couldn’t identify their rightful owner.
Many of you chose to use our ship-for-me service over Taobao forwarders because our sea, sensitive and normal air shipment services are cheaper by 30%. We are also ship bulky items, items containing liquid, batteries etc. which Taobao forwarders do not accept for shipping. A large variety of items with inadequate information, requiring longer processing time and more rigorous checks come to us as a result. We do understand that customers want flexibility, cheaper price and higher service standards, but we have to know our capabilities to manage customers’ expectations, to maintain our service standards and protect our reputation.
Thus we have made a difficult decision that from 1st Jan 2017 onwards, we will cease our ship-for-me sea shipment service and only offer air shipment services like Taobao forwarders. In the meantime, we will not forward any item with an exorbitantly high monetary value; please kindly take note of our compensation liability policy for our ship-for-me service. It is indeed a difficult decision to make because we sacrificed the flexibility, but this can really help us to have better focus on ship-for-me air shipments. All we hope to do is to give our valuable customers a more efficient service.
I write this with a heavy heart. The past 3 months, we have created so much trouble and worries for many customers, and made so many employees work non-stop for so long. But no matter what, we are 65daigou, ezbuy as a team, we do not shrink away from responsibilities. Even during the worst delays, we were still serious about our ETA and on-time shipping guarantee, making 30% international shipping fee compensation for shipment delays. For orders submitted before our guaranteed time but we did not manage to purchase in time during 11.11 and Black Friday, we made up for the price difference at our own cost.
We are a group of passionate people with dreams and beliefs, and we hope to bring more goods from more places around the world to more customers with utmost convenience and more savings. We do not forgive ourselves when problems arise. We learn and progress eagerly and we try our best to dig deeper and see through all problems so that we can have better preventative actions. 12.12 order volume was also higher than our planned capacity, but this time we had more experience and adapted to the situation better.
We will always remember there are so many of you supporting us in various ways during our worse days. Thank you very much for staying with us on this journey, being understanding and giving us time. Some of you patiently waiting for us to give you an update, to tolerating our mistakes; some of you felt our pressure and purposely travel all the way down to our collection points to bring us wishes and encouragements even under bad weather conditions. We sincerely thank you for believing in us. Your warm words of encouragement gives us fighting spirit, to work even harder and find better solutions for you.
This Christmas, we are full of apologies and regrets, but we think to ourselves, no matter what, we have to make everything better in 2017 for you, we have to be more focused, dedicated to provide a fast and professional service. Again, I would like to apologize for all the troubles caused during the past 3 months for you and your loved ones. 2017, we reset and set out again.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
CEO on behalf of ezbuy team
In my reply:
Dear Mr He Jian,
Thank you for your honest and heartfelt email. I can only feel your pain and your internal struggle as you decide to send out this email to all your customers.
I applaud that you did not hide behind your desk as your Vice President or Marketing Manager represent the whole company to express your message. I appreciate no bullshit or PR fancy words to cover your mistakes. No shifting the blame to others or worse, to us – the consumers. In such a consumerism society and harsh business world we live in, thank you for such refreshing honesty, which is a rare find.
From the sequence of events unfold leading to the delays to the detailed corrective action plans in place, your words expressed your disappointment and regrets that such incident happened during your watch yet displayed sincerity in making things right again.
I can pledge that as your customer, I will continue to patronise and use your services.
Thank you and your team for working passionately and endlessly throughout the festive period.
Join MiddleMe at Twitter (MiddleMe_net), FaceBook (MiddleMe.net) and WeChat! Best things in life are meant to be shared, start spreading MiddleMe around, after all, sharing is caring.