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Carry the can for your content capturing calamity and capitalise

June 14, 2011 • Opinion

How eBucks turned a potentially damaging blunder into a marketing win.

The digital marketplace offers abundant opportunity for disastrous mistakes. But it is within the power of the website or social page owner to turn those slip-ups around and even benefit from them.

Simon Bestbier, e-Business Manager, Realmdigital (image source: Realmdigital)


It can happen to you

Making a content error is as easy as leaving a radio button unchecked in your online content management system. And the likelihood of it happening is quite high:

- E-commerce catalogues are updated at a high frequency

- There are no systems checks for human error

- Online catalogue authorisation processes are fewer than in traditional retail.

Case in point

The example of eBucks has much to teach us: As has happened to many other big brands, the loyalty programme recently fell victim to a content capturing error on a listing for can openers. While the eBucks-denominated value for one brand of opener displayed correctly, the associated rand value was left as “0” (zero).

Since buyers are given the choice of paying in Rands or eBucks, customers took advantage of the mistake, and large numbers of can openers were ordered as a result. The incident became a talking point in the e-commerce industry.

Don’t be tempted

The temptation in such a case may be to take public issue with consumers or to hope it dies a silent death, but this would be a mistake.

Unfortunately, the odds of someone shooting their mouth off are considerable. Online retailers often employ a webmaster as the sole point of contact. Quite often this is a technical person unschooled in the subtleties of customer service (unlike a physical retailer with sales agents assisting with complaints), who moreover has a repetitive job with a high likelihood of error.

Besides being quite likely to say the wrong thing during a sensitive exchange with a customer, the risk of it getting shared, tweeted or otherwise paid forward in the online playground are also much higher than in a store environment.

A right way to do it…

To its credit, eBucks did the right thing when alerted to its mistake. Rather than try to pin the fault entirely on its customers for taking advantage of its mistake, the company owned up to its own content error.

In a neat turnaround, it wrote a disarming candid and humorous email to the customers who bought a total of 155 can openers for next to nothing, asking the cheeky offenders to donate their gains to the Suidheuwels Primary School feeding scheme, on the assumption that they must have opened a soup kitchen for them to have needed so many tin openers. eBucks to date has made a  R10 000-00 donation to the feeding scheme which is approximately the value of the products that were sold at the zero rate.

And a wrong way

The Internet is awash with examples of service providers handling challenging customer situations less astutely than the above example.

Online booking airline Ryanair has been called “a byword for appalling customer service” by The Economist (source: Wikipedia), for a variety of incidents, including its combative handling of many customer complaints.

In another example, self-published author Jacqueline Howlett’s online meltdown about a poor review earned her much derision among readers who might otherwise have become followers.

The lesson is this – own up to your mistakes and be humble in your public interaction. Nobody is perfect – poor reviews and gaffes happen. You can only make it worse by turning it into a shouting match – either becoming a laughing stock, or worse – a brand that people love to hate.

By Simon Bestbier, e-Business Manager, Realmdigital

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