How agency brands can hurt our customers’ experience

15 March, 2012 Company, Online, Retail

As consumers become more inclined to voice disgruntled opinions on social media and other online forums, brands are left without a smokescreen or an excuse for poor customer service.

Impressing every customer is something we believe in at Appliances Online, Big Brown Box and Winning Appliances; as I mentioned in a post yesterday we often go the extra mile to reduce the fallout when things do go wrong.

Yet some brands don’t share our high standards towards customer service, and in doing so put pressure on their stakeholders – us.

In retail, proforma brands operate under a slightly different business model to most of the brands we work with; each brand allows retailers such as Winning Appliances and Appliances Online to act only as agents; the brands retain control of pricing, sales transaction and even delivery. This post concentrates on the customer service and delivery aspects of many agency brands… I’ll talk about other aspects in future posts.

The proforma brand arrangement is perfectly fine as long as each agency has the same duty of care with regard to their customers as we do. When done seamlessly customers don’t even know they are dealing with the brand itself rather than with us – often the only sign is that the brand appears on their credit card statement instead of the retailer.

Miele is an example of a proforma brand with exceptional standards of customer service – a standard which impressed me because this is a company that has been a wholesaler and has successfully adapted their brand to act as a retailer – not an easy change for such an old business. Miele deliver items with their own trucks, have a fantastic product range, and clearly communicate stock levels to the agents they deal with. Miele have a large share of voice and we almost never receive customer complaints from consumers who buy products via our retail store. The only issue I have with the Miele agency model is that they take away some of Winning Appliances service advantage in the market…

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for many other agency or proforma brands.

In January we conducted a sale across our three companies and many proforma brands let us down. Customers were left with a bad taste in their mouths as they had to call the agency brands instead of us and were placed on hold or ignored, promises weren’t kept, and products weren’t delivered on time. Many proforma brands made us look bad –– those who don’t deliver goods with their own trucks usually rely on third party transport options and many of these break items and some refuse to bring a product further than the front door, leaving the customer to install it. As part of our service offering we take away the old appliance and all the packaging to be recycled, but some proforma brands don’t offer all of our services. Simply put: they just don’t care about our customers as much as we do… in their minds we are the customer, not the people actually buying their products. Yet this thinking is inherently flawed.

Although we did everything we could in our power to ensure the fallout was limited and each customer was happy with the (eventual) outcome, it was often a frustrating experience. We received many emails and comments from customers on Facebook saying that dealing with proforma brands was exasperating and stressful. I’ve copied some of these emails below and have left them unedited but removed the names of suppliers. I don’t want to name and shame each brand – for obvious reasons – but the emails make it clear how brands can easily improve each customer’s experience.

The recipe is straightforward. Listen to your customers. Communicate with them as frequently as you need to. Have a customer support team manned with people who know about your product range. Don’t leave potential brand advocates on hold. Tell customers the truth so there are no surprises. Return calls and emails. Deliver goods when you say you will and let them know if there’s a problem. And if you say you have great customer support service, don’t let them down.

3 Responses to “How agency brands can hurt our customers’ experience”

  1. Paul says:

    Hi John,

    I bought a *** washing machine from *** last year and for a regular consumer, this whole process is very confusing.

    I was given a receipt by ***, but then they just say “They will call you” and that was it. I had to ask.. “Ok so if I don’t get a call on Monday, who do I call, you guys or them?, What is ‘their’ number?”

    As a customer I don’t like this at all, I want to deal with the the place I bought from, I don’t like being brokered off to someone else to ‘take care’ of me.
    I think if they want to run their business like this and control the payment, delivery, warranty, etc they should ALSO be responsible for the sales process whether it is online or start their own retail stores or something, it is horrible.

    It doesn’t give anyone a good feeling. Sure the retailer gets a bit of commission but it seems like everyone walks away feeling unsatisfied, confused and disconnected. I didn’t feel like I had actually purchased from ***, or built a relationship with either the retail brand or the proforma – it actually felt like I had been sold something “off the back of a truck”.

    I can certainly understand why you are frustrated with them.


    * This comment was moderated to remove mentions of the supplier + retailer.

  2. The great thing about being a regional retailer of Pro Forma brands is that they stay out of the delivery side of the transaction. I agree that Miele is an exceptional example of service and supply. However having a few examples of “Others” metro delivery service, i am glad that we control the handover experience for the people who have chosen us to purchase from. Understanding that Pro Forma suppliers wish to control the brand etc, it is still we the retailers in regional areas who hold the bag for sales, service and support of the product, our customers purchase from us regardless of what the piece of paper says. I don’t like retailers who “Handle” customers by moving responsability onto the supplier, distributor etc. It is the reason 95% of what we sell is supported by a manufacturer and not just a badge.

    • John Winning says:

      Great point and I know exactly how you feel as this is the relationship we have in Newcastle where we make the delivery on the pro forma brands behalf. It is certainly nice to be in control of your own destiny.

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