There was a time when online retailing was a novel concept in India. There was Flipkart, a company started by two employees of Amazon working off their Bangalore offices. They started by doing books and slowly have added stuff like computers, mobile phones and cameras. While they were at it, information and news portals started e-commerce offshoots, specialized services like Ferns & Petals (for flowers & gifts) came up and one-stop-shops like Infibeam happened. Internet retail is no longer a novelty in this country. Products retail for pretty much the same prices everywhere and user experience of websites largely the same (Infibeam is a blatant copy of Amazon.com, including the arrow metaphor that has been twisted – literally – as a smile). Given this, how do these web services distinguish themselves?
One key dimension is customer service
Take Flipkart for example. Their customer service has been boringly efficient. My experience with them was restricted to books, which they delivered with unfailing punctuality and never with any glitch. Then a few weeks back I decided to buy a Nikon 35mm AF-S f/1.8G lens from them. The value of the order was more than all my previous purchases at Flipkart put together. Thus I was naturally concerned when the item did not ship in the three promised days. For the first time I had a reason to write to their customer support. I won’t bother you with the details but here are some key experiences going through their support infrastructure
- Every e-mail was replied to. With a human touch, including splashes of random bad grammar at places. No canned responses. If you replied to their mail, someone actually replied back, referring to your mail. They read your mails, it was apparent. And each correspondence has embedded in it the history of responses against your complaint ticket
- Their helpdesk did not have irritating marketing messages at the greeting tone. Three rings after you made the IVR choice there was an agent on the other side. No, thankfully they did not tell me how important my call was to them
- The agents spoke with normal Indian accents. Not the stuff that Sumitra churns out at night when she becomes Susan. They sounded like a normal Flipkart employee trying to work through a customer issue
- Sometimes the same agent that you spoke to would call you back, giving exact details of where the order stood. No bluffing. “If we cannot ship this by Monday morning, I promise to call you and help you cancel the order”. Now try that with an airline call center
It is unknown how Flipkart will behave once they reach Amazonian proportions. Actually, I hope they never become of Amazonian proportions. So often we put of the binary choice in front of businesses – Big or Small? Neither, is a perfectly acceptable answer. Let’s just stay “Best” is as good an option as any