Customer Service Lesson: Caviat Emptier Newport News/Spiegel

This is a guest post by one of my favorite, and smartest of friends, and a well-known online security expert, Christopher Burgess (@burgessct)

My Customer Service Nightmare at the Hands of Newport News/Spiegel 

There comes a time in every consumer’s lifetime when a retailer may try and take advantage of the relationship and deliver less or nothing in exchange for the consumer’s hard-earned money. Such was the case with my spouse and Newport News/Spiegel online and direct marketing clothiers.

In our situation, my wife purchased and returned items from Newport News in February 2011. Yet, as of June 2011 the refund she was due had not yet been received. But amazingly every time she spoke with a customer service representative (CSR) she was told something like this: “Ma’am, we assure you, your name is at the top of the list. We are experiencing a computer glitch, you will have your money in five days, we asked that you wait two billing cycles. We don’t know what is going on, call us back on Monday,” etc.

As consumers, you should be aware that for unscrupulous retailers, all of these platitudes are nothing more than holding statements, crafted by the retailer and designed to get the customer off the phone and to buy time.

In our scenario – my bride demonstrated extraordinary patience and trust over the course of a four month period – which is not uncommon for many consumers.

In exasperation, and because my wife was able to get no resolution to this situation, I thought it might make sense to test the power of social media. Accordingly, I posted a note on Newport News Facebook page and an @mention to their Twitter account. Amazingly, they removed the comment from the Facebook page, but not before others had made comments that they too were encountering similar issues.

The Twitter notes went without notice or response.

It quickly became clear that these are examples of two brands – Newport News and Spiegel – who are using their social network presences to broadcast but not engage with their customers. Not surprising – it happens all the time. However, what’s disturbing is that in the event someone has a negative experience with these retailers and posts a complaint, it’s immediately purged rather than dealt with in a straightforward, upstanding or honest manner.

The retailer’s action to delete versus engage actually had a far more detrimental effect than if they had engaged and resolved. But it not only serves as an excellent example of how not to handle customer service in social networks, it gives me fodder for a blog post about customer service.

My wife’s patience finally snapped, and she engaged the Washington Attorney General’s office to file a formal compliant against Newport News. The AG’s office contacted her, verified that the compliant had validity and sent paperwork to Newport News asking that they refund the funds. Even they were ignored.

Not to be deterred, she simultaneously filed a complaint with the FTC Consumer Complaint division. The FTC acknowledged receipt, but we quickly learned that there has to be a cacophony of complaints for either entity to actually take action. If this kind of thing happens to you at the hands of any vendor, I recommend filing a complaint against them, as each voice most definitely adds to the noise of the choir.

My tenacious wife waited another week and then called the credit card fraud department and filed a complaint. They noted her time to request a charge-back had passed, but they would gladly review her material and try. She forwarded the shipping/billing statements, copies of the email promises, call notes (dates, times, CSR’s name) and within one week they credited her credit card statement with 100% of the funds in question. They followed up with their own written documentation – case closed – 1 July.

Bottom line – if you are purchasing from either Newport News or its sister organization, Spiegel, allow me to help you through the morass so that you don’t get left waiting for your refund or worse, left holding the bag.

  • Pay by credit card.
  • If you return an item – track the package, ensure a signature upon receipt, memorialize all your conversations and emails – document, document, document.
  • If you have not received your money by day 29 of the purchase, contact your credit card company and ask that they execute a charge back against the vendor. They will immediately credit your account and debit the vendor (with fees).

Most importantly, don’t fall prey to their delay tactics! Whether it’s Spiegel, Newport News or any other retailer, if they ask something like this: “Please allow us up to 15 days to receive and process your returned merchandise. Allow 2 credit card statements for your refund to appear,” be forewarned. There’s the gotcha – your credit card company asks that you challenge vendor’s charge within 30 days – waiting two billing cycles often can make it impossible for you to dispute a charge on your credit card – and that’s just what retailers like this are counting on.

As always, knowledge is your most powerful asset. And, when it comes to these particular merchants, remember Caveat Emptor – give them a wide berth.

Christopher Burgess is a senior security advisor to the chief security officer of a Fortune 100 company, who previously served as a senior national security executive for more than 30 years. Christopher addresses threats to intellectual property, security aspects of social media, security strategy, security education and awareness and prevention of industrial espionage. You can follow him on his blog BurgessCT

Photo credit: The Guardian

  • http://twitter.com/MeasureCP kimberly nasief

    Great post.  Here is my somewhat caveat:  The customer should not use social media as a whipping post if they don’t get their way.  By this I mean, In some circumstances, I have seen companies being completely transparent in their social networks-responsiveness to both the positive and negative (hence, they aren’t just being social for the sake of marketing, but are actually responding to customers with care).  

    However, in this situation, I would have done the same thing-going to the extreme of blogging, telling friends, having my friends post on the company’s wall, etc.  

  • Karma Smith-Sabino

    BAD FORM Newport-News:
    I made an order online this past Friday (Sept 30), when I got to shipping options it only listed Standard shipping. I am going on a cruise this Saturday (Oct 8) & was willing to pay Express shipping. I called the Customer Service number only to hear “all circuits are busy, please try your call later”. After a few attempts, I decided to call the phone number listed on the site if you wish to order via phone. The 1st time I called, I was on hold for 36 minutes for a “live” agent b4 my cell phone went dead. I tried again around noon & was left on hold for 53 minutes this time…well, I decided to place the order as I knew(or thought) that I could just cancel if I saw that the items would not reach me in time. I did receive an email showing what I ordered. I tried to call twice on Sunday was on hold both times well over an hour! I went on the Customer Service page of the site. It lists an online form that you can use to contact them…well, it is there but it is not active(you can NOT “click” on it!
    On Sunday evening I went back and looked over that email that they sent me when I placed the order the day prior and there was indeed a “click-able” Customer Care link. I emailed them explaining the entire situation. I stated that if they could not assist me w/Express shipping or did not respond to me by the end of business the next day (Monday Oct 3) that I would be canceling my order.
    Well…needless to say, I am not happy with the outcome. All I got was an automated response stating that they usually respond within 2 days, but since they are experiencing difficulties they are not sure when they can respond. They also go on to tell me to be patient…really?
    I tried to go onto the site log-in to my acct to cancel the order, but I can NOT do this as it is still “processing”. I then went onto my online bank acct that is associated w/that debit card and Newport-News is indeed holding my money…I feel like they are holding my money hostage. I have them on hold as I type this. I am using the speaker phone (it has been 3hrs 12min).
    This is COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE…I too just went onto the FaceBook Page and vented under thier posts as you can not post directly to the page, only comment. Im sure it will be deleted, but I will keep going until I am able to get thru to them to CANCEL my order and my FUNDS are RELEASED!!!!
    Karma Smith-Sabino

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=558850237 Heather Palugyay Bansemer

    I stupidly did the same thing this last Friday.Here’s my story.

    I’ve been on Newport-News and Spiegel’s marketing email lists for some time. And last Friday, I bit. 30% off? You betcha, I’m in. And so I started poking around the site. What do I like? What do I need? What don’t I need, but want to have anyway? Ohhhh a chic yellow blazer. And a sassy black dress…$150 later (after my 30% off), I’m one satisfied marketing momma, just drooling over the thought of my package showing up.

    Color me surprised then, when this morning I log onto the site to check my order status. In process? It’s been three days? Why in process. Surely, there’s a mistake. So I called. After waiting on hold for a little while (a reasonable amount of time), I was on the phone with one of their reps. It took her a while to 1) find my order 2) find out why it was still in process 3) determine that the WAREHOUSE had CANCELLED MY ENTIRE ORDER because one item was out of stock 4) figure out how to reorder the remaining three items (with an additional discount bring my total to a jaw-dropping $50 thanks to a supervisor) and put me on hold to wait for the supervisor to key in some special code into her computer…and there I sat. on hold. For five minutes at a time, with this very sweet rep coming back on offering her apologies and asking me to be patient.

    I bet I had you at CANCELLED MY ENTIRE ORDER, right? Because if the warehouse had not done that, the rest of my order would have gone through. No additional discounting required, and they would have kept not only my $75 dollars, but also likely my repeat business. Yeah. Not so much, now.

    Then, I bet you stopped at “waiting for a supervisor”. Shouldn’t their reps have either a) more supervisors to call on for assistance or b) more autonomy in decision making?

    Most, if not all, of their clothing line is aimed at middle class working woman. Working women who do not have the time to a) shop in stores or b) be on the phone getting run through the grinder trying to fix a situation they didn’t break.

    I also realize that their company is still in bankruptcy processes. But how should that cause ME, the consumer that pays the bills, problems? It shouldn’t.

    It. Really. Should. Not.

    Fast forward to the end of my call with the first rep. The end of the call that ended with a dial tone of a dropped call. I had to call back again – it took me 20 minutes to get a new person on the line. Guess what. No notes taken on the previous call. But all the supervisors are now “in a meeting” (said with fingerquotes) and so I can’t be helped at this time. I’m told to call back.

    I. Should. Call. Back?

    yes, I agree that it’s ridiculous. But I want this yellow blazer. If you saw it, you’d know why.

    So I called back.

    And the same thing again at 12:30pm PST.

    So, alas, my order is still out there in the land of nothingness. My beautiful yellow blazer. I want it so badly.

    Nothing about this is resolved. Except, of course, that they have my $$, and I have no sweet yellow blazer, nor the tracking code of one.

    Oh, and their Twitter account and Social Media Management? Gone. Just like my $$.

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