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Posted by on Oct 6, 2012

Department-thinking in eCommerce

Department-thinking in eCommerce


What I’m going to say is obvious.

The customer doesn’t care about the departments a company has. They care about getting whatever it is that they paid for.

Why then do so many well-functioning eCommerce sites from Land’s End to West Elm showcase their department thinking when it comes to customer service?

Usually,  customers don’t notice that there are all kinds of departments lurking behind that wonderful website that brings them furniture and school uniforms to their doors. Thanks to a focus over the last decade on user experience – and investment in human-centred design – customers can browse,  place an order,  get the package, and return as needed.  One seamless, working experience.

Until the customer needs to call.

An issue at West Elms prompts the customer to call.

And then even the best of the best companies can’t help but shuffle the customer  from one department to another.

Calling West Elm leads to 5 mentions of different departments:

“Hi, I’m S. from West Elm customer service (#1). …[explanation of issue] … OK, I need to transfer you to the special customer service (#2)….  Looks like the payment department put a hold on it (#3).  [The issue gets fixed. Customer now asks for a refund of  1 day shipping.] …That’s another department (#4). You’ll have to call customer service (#5) tomorrow to get that refund”.

And Land’s End, which does many things so right, also has a hard time keeping the customer out of the department trap when it comes to tricky issues.

The bin liner didn’t fit as advertised, leading to a call. The customer talked to customer service (#1), special customer service (#2), the buying department (#3) and personal shopping department (#4) before getting the issue resolved. photo: from

A misfitting bin liner leads to a conversation with  4 different departments over 5 days.  The customer follows up themselves twice, presumably because through all those transfers, no one at Land’s End knew anymore who was responsible for the customer.

In the end, empathetic staff, a prompt refund and a $50 ‘we’re sorry’ voucher (which is more than West Elm did) manage the issue and the customer remains loyal.

But these stories make  me wonder why a customer-dedicated company like Land’s End doesn’t have a “one call, one representative” policy.  One representative is then responsible for solving the issue from end to end, and navigating the departments silently without the customer even knowing the ins and outs of the Chinese manufacturer of bin liners and their measuring systems.





1 Comment

  1. So true. Which is why i was pleasantly surprised by SNS bank customer service, handling my call ánd issue in one leap.

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