Someone Out There: Once upon a time in the land of the disappearing cusotmer…

This monthly column looks at marketing issues from a consumer's point of view. Our consumer columnist is a single, urban-dwelling female, 18-34, with a university degree and an income in the $30K-$40K range.Once upon a timeÉIn the Jan. 23 issue of...

This monthly column looks at marketing issues from a consumer’s point of view. Our consumer columnist is a single, urban-dwelling female, 18-34, with a university degree and an income in the $30K-$40K range.

Once upon a timeÉ

In the Jan. 23 issue of Strategy, Barbara Canning Brown wrote a Speaking Directly column about her adventures in mail order land.

She had tried to ‘do her Christmas shopping in her pajamas’ – and hijinks ensued.

Not the kind of hijinks that would make for a really interesting column, but, as she put it, ‘except for two orders, everything had some sort of saga attached to it.’

In my case, it’s not a saga but a fairy tale (because I get the feeling that only in the land of make-believe am I ever going to get what I ordered.)

So, draw closer round the fire, children, and I’ll tell you The Tale of the Disappearing Customer.

Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who joined a mail-order cd club.

The princess mailed in orders, and two or three weeks later, she received cds. It was a symbiotic relationship. She was a happy customer.

Then, one dark and stormy night in the middle of October, with the spectre of Christmas Present(s) passing like a shadow before the moon, the princess mailed in an unusually large order – $150 worth, to be exact.

Two weeks passed. No cds. Three weeks. Four weeks. ‘Ah,’ the princess said to herself, ‘Something’s amiss in the kingdom.’

She called the castle.

Princess (pleasantly): ‘My cds haven’t arrived yet. I don’t mind waiting for them, but since they’ve always gotten to me earlier than this, I think something’s wrong, so I wanted to let you know.’

Courtier #1: ‘They were shipped Nov. 1. It’s only been two weeks. Nothing’s wrong.’

P: ‘It usually doesn’t take two weeks for them to get from the suburbs to downtown – even in rush hour. I think somewhere there’s a postal worker listening to Gregorian chants.’

C#1 (in snotty/patronizing tone): ‘Has that ever happened before?’

P (sheepishly): ‘No.’

C#1: ‘Then I don’t think it’s happened this time.’ Click.

But, C#1 was wrong.

Two weeks later the princess called back.

C#2 (politely): ‘I’m sorry, but we can’t do anything until six weeks has elapsed. Call back Dec. 5.’

Dec. 5:

P: ‘Blah, blah, blah. This is ridiculous. I want to cancel my order.’

C#3: ‘You can’t cancel an order you’ve already received.’

P: ‘I haven’t received it; that’s the point.’

C#3 (politely): ‘Okay, I’m not accusing you of stealing the cds (Princess: !!!), but, I’ll need something in writing saying you want us to cancel, or reship, or whatever. But, C#2 was wrong: six weeks is Dec. 15 not Dec. 5. We can’t do anything til then. Sorry.’

The princess sent the letter and went back to doing whatever it is characters in fairy tales do in between the bursts of action.

But, nary a Christmas album or intended gift arrived. What did arrive was a demand for a large bag of gold.

The princess ignored it, innocently figuring that at some point the customer service department and the accounting department would talk to each other.

A few weeks later she received a letter from one of the king’s lords in waiting: ‘Dear Princess: Just a note…. Pay us so we can keep sending you cds,’ (signed) John Smith, Credit Manager.

(This, I might add, dear children, to a princess who had always handed over her bag of gold promptly in the past.)

The princess made a photocopy of the letter and sent it back inscribed: ‘Dear John: Just a note…As soon as I receive this order, I will be delighted to pay for it.’

Two weeks later the princess got an apologetic note saying her cds would be reshipped immediately, sorry for the inconvenience.

The princess perked up.

A box arrived. (Three months after she had originally placed her order.) It contained half the shipment.

She waited. A week. Another week. Nothing else arrived. She killed the time by reading the fine print on her mailings from the cd club.

According to them, if the Post Office dragon reared its ugly head, the cd club felt it was up to the princess to vanquish it (like anyone could.)

The princess was taken aback. She was paying $16.87 in ‘shipping and handling’ charges for this order. Being a resident of the land of make believe, she had the wacky idea that the cd club should handle it.

Besides, the cd club was a big company – which gave the Post Office a lot of business – and which had a lot more clout than a mere princess.

Resigned, she paid for the first half of the shipment and included a note mentioning that half the order was still outstanding.

And that’s where the story ends, boys and girls. The princess doubts she’ll ever see the rest of her order. And even if she does, she can no longer deal with the cd club. After all, what’s the point of ordering things, if all you actually receive is grief and payment notices?

It doesn’t look like there’s going to be a happy ending this time.