Stella & Dot launches new platform at the wrong time

Stella & Dot is a multi-level marketing based line of boutique-style jewellery.   By using a trunk show (tupperware-style party) selling strategy, their ‘stylists’ (independent sales partners) showcase the product directly to customers.  A stylist approached me in early December, at her wits end with the poor customer service provided by Stella & Dot.

The stylist, Anne (name changed), had placed a web order on behalf of her customers, with Stella & Dot after hosting one of these trunk shows.  Due to an error with the web site, the order of over $800 appeared ‘stuck’ and would would not ship.

Anne called customer service to find out the status of the order.  The first call was placed two weeks after the order was entered.  By this point, it is standard practice for the orders to have already arrived at their destination.  Anne had promised this to her customers.

After waiting on hold for more than an hour, Anne gave up and disconnected the call.  She called in the next day and again was on hold for over an hour and again abandoned the call.  After sending several emails in to support, Anne still had no response.

When she finally did get through to support, the customer service rep was rude and unhelpful.  She refused to act because there was a policy in place.  This policy prevented Anne’s order from being closed.  Although the customers were already charged for the purchases, the order would take more than 4 weeks from when it was entered, before it would ship.

After requesting an escalation several times, Anne was told there was no supervisor or manager, but that she could arrange a call back at a later date.  After requesting to be escalated again, the agent stated that she was being verbally abused, and disconnected the call.

It was at this point, that Anne approached me to intervene.  I was able to contact a Stella & Dot executive and board member.  A senior person contacted Anne the next day and after several more hours of discussion, the order was subsequently shipped.

Why couldn’t Stella & Dot do the right thing initially and just ship the order.  Well, after corresponding with representatives, the answer became clear to me.  There were several break downs.

Firstly, it appears to be the (or certainly one of the) busiest seasons of the year for order processing.  Secondly, they launched a new web site that was anything but improved.  Several bugs existed, one of which caused Anne’s order to be stuck.  Thirdly, the customer service rep was not empowered to do the right thing, and instead quoted ‘policy’ to the customer.

This could not have been a worse time for the stylists to have to deal with a new web site which had at least one critical bug.  This was acknowledged in early January as stylists who had a trunk show during this failure were given free product as an apology.

Companies need to be careful when making major platform, process changes during a critical season.  If they must make these types of changes, then they need to increase staff, and train them on ensuring the customer is taken care of when a critical failure occurs.

Giving out product after the fact does nothing for the stylists who were left without support when facing their own customers.  This reactive decision is how it is done in organizations that don’t know how to provide support, and don’t have a culture around customer experience (Stella & Dot: I’m willing to consult if you’re listening).

Anne figures she spent about 15 hours with support on this issue and effectively lost any money she made on her sale.  She also lost customers as a result of the long delay in shipping.  In the end, the customers received their jewelry and Stella & Dot received a lot of bad will.

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