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The Book Order

Posted on Thursday, March 29, 2018 in Small Business Today Articles

If you are a regular reader of this space, you know I love to write about great customer service stories. Unfortunately, there are a lot more stories about horrible customer service, and I like to write about those as well. But a week ago I heard a story that just made me scratch my head in wonder.

My son-in-law Pete works for St. Luke’s Church here in Ankeny. He needed to order 39 books for a religious education class that he helps coordinate. The books cost $17 each which was certainly within his budget. Shipping was another discussion point altogether, and is the point of this discussion. The company that supplies the books, which is also the only company that supplies the books charges 2 types of shipping: on orders under $100 there they charge a flat fee of $7.50; on orders over $100 they charge a shipping fee of 12% of the total. Those of you who are strong in math, don’t get too far ahead of me.

Pete has a Masters degree in math and used to teach high school math. He is also a good steward of the church’s money, so when he saw the opportunity to save a few bucks, he took advantage of the unusual shipping policy. Instead of making one order for all 39 books and incurring a shipping charge of almost $80, he decided to make 8 separate orders and have shipping charges of only $60. That’s like getting a book for free! All was good until he receive a call from the book company.

The man who called Pete wanted to know if he really wanted on making 8 separate orders of the same book. Pete explained that yes the order was placed exactly as he intended, and that he could save the church almost $20 in shipping by placing the order the way he did. The man from the book company sounded confused, but agreed to process the orders as placed. When Pete told me the story, he mentioned that he was fully expecting the company to understand the irony of their policy and agree to put all the orders into one and charge the lower shipping. They didn’t. As a matter of fact, the man at the book company was astounded that anyone would go through the trouble of making 8 orders instead of 1 to save money. Like it had never been done before.

As small business owners and managers, it is part of our job to train our staff to recognize when a policy borders on the ridiculous. Now at the bank we don’t do much shipping, so I admit I do not understand the intricate complexities of what is involved there. On the other hand, I can say with almost 100% certainty that shipping costs for 1 container of 39 books has to cost less than 8 containers of 5 books each. The cost of the boxes should be more than enough to offset any increase in shipping costs. It would be better for the company and better for the customer. The proverbial win/win situation.

I understand the shipping policy imposed by the book company. I also understand the shrewd savings calculated by Pete. Why the book company didn’t alter their shipping charges to benefit all concerned is a head-scratcher. Does your company have policies like that? My guess is that you probably have something in place that makes sense only to the person that wrote the policy. Most of the time your people will follow the policy, grumble about it under their breath, and never tell you how bad it is. Take some time this week and ask your people what policies they question and then examine them.

The more I think about it, the more I think this story falls under the category of bad customer service. Sure Pete saved money for the church which is great, but he now has to deal with 8 boxes to recycle instead of 1. Sad because it could have been a story of great customer service.

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