Customer Disservice




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Having worked in product development for some time, I’d like to think I understand how customer service can and should work.  The level of incompetence in this area is truly astounding.  Let me give you an example of how it should NOT work and then we can work through how it should work.


Barnes & Noble.  So sorry to pick on you when you’re flailing, but possibly one of the reasons you’re flailing is you need to improve in some areas.  I’m here to help you with at least one of them.  

I love books.  I love physical bookstores.  I want you to stay around, at least until independent bookstores return to every town.  Dare to dream.  

As a supporter, I am a Barnes & Noble member.  I pay $25 for the privilege of free shipping online and additional discounts.   I’m happy to do it.  It’s a good deal for me.   Except when the following occurred.  

Last year, while checking out in a store, the cashier told me my membership would soon expire and asked if want to renew today.  Sure, sounds good.  A few weeks later what did I notice on my credit card statement but two charges for Barnes & Noble renewal.   Some research tells me one is from the transaction in the store and the other another auto-renewal initiated from the website.  Seriously?    Since I’m logged into, I enter the support area and enter an inquiry.  I received the below in response: 


Thank you for inquiring about your Barnes & Noble Membership.

To protect your privacy and respond to your request, please provide all of the following information:

-Member name
-Member mailing address
-Barnes & Noble Membership number

If you do not have your Membership number available, please provide one of the following:

-Phone number
-Last four digits of the credit card #
-Last store in which your Membership was used.

Please accept our sincere apologies for the inconvenience.


To protect my privacy, provide information that you already have because I was logged in to your site when I sent this inquiry?    Sigh, but ok.  I return to the Customer Service section of the website, but there is no apparent way to view existing support tickets to add this information, which they already have.  So, I’m left with the assumption that for my privacy I should personal information to them via email.   Now this was last year, perhaps they weren’t yet aware that email isn’t the most secure mechanism.

Note:  because I have worked in technology, I know what this means.  It means their Customer Service functionality isn’t fully connected to their website.  It’s just email and phone in issues, and it’s most likely a completely separate operation from any other part of the business.  This is insane because:

1.      You have an e-commerce operation where people may need support. 

2.      You have digital products, i.e.) the Nook that may actually require support. 


If you don’t want to support a real Customer Service area online, possibly there are other more pressing areas of your business to focus on, then don’t allow people to enter in information online that appears to an actual support ticket, but is in reality just an email.  I hate having to call and wade through the phone menu. HATE IT.  But I’d prefer it if you just told me that upfront rather than go through this farce.  

But I do it.  I respond with the information.  I even provide them with the date, the store and the total amount of my purchase to help.

Days later a response arrives.  I should take the receipt from the store back to the store and tell them to refund me.  Customer Service can’t initiate that refund from their system.   For real.  

So now I further know that the website and the store systems aren’t really connected.   They are connected enough that when I use my member card in a store, they know it’s going to expire, but not connected enough to have one channel process a refund processed through the other.   Ridiculous. 

At this point, I give up.  I don’t have the receipt anymore.  It’s only $25.  I’m not investing any more time.  Except to go on to the website and turn off auto-renewal for my membership, because I don’t know that I want to renew.  

Flash forward to this year to my renewal time.  What do you think happened?   Take a guess.  Naturally, the membership auto-renewed anyway.   I return to the website and look under Membership settings.   Somehow the setting has reverted to auto-renew and here is the really interesting part, it displays my credit card information with the correct credit card number, but incorrect expiration date.   I return out to the payments area of My Account. There my credit card and expiration date are accurate.  So they must store credit card information for memberships separately and somehow, someone changed it.   Lunacy.  


Barnes & Noble:  get your shit together. 


Here is how this should go: 

I enter my issue into the system.  I receive a response saying they will respond soon.   The response should include research determining that, indeed, I have been charged twice for a membership and informing me that I have been refunded for one.   Done.

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