Is Covid-19 a valid excuse for poor service?

It’s a tricky time for business as we all know. Teams are split up, people are working from home or operating with reduced numbers on site, but is this an excuse for poor service?

This is a question I’ve been thinking about following a poor experience with Google Store. To cut a long story short having placed an order on 13th April, I received an email confirmation that the products ordered would arrive on 28th April.  This was a bit later than I would have ideally liked as the products ordered should make it less tricky for my family to work together at home simultaneously, but acceptable given the current situation.

However, come the 28th April nothing arrived and more frustratingly no communication about when the goods ordered might arrive. So, on the 29th I decided to call them – not possible as it turns out as they don’t provide a phone number, so I used their chat system.  The below is a direct transcript from part of the chat:


11:25 am

I’ve checked the order details and I’d like to inform you that due to delivery partner limitations resulting from the coronavirus situation, Google Store shipments to some areas may be delayed.


11:25 am

Rest assured, we’re looking into this and are doing everything we can to get it to you as soon as possible.


11:26 am

Also, unfortunately, we are not able to give you a specific timeline for delivery right now.

All very polite, but rather unhelpful. I also subsequently found out later in the chat that the order was still in ‘processing’, so I’m not sure why they were blaming the shipping companies. I decided to cancel as I had no idea when the goods would arrive, but this was refused on the grounds that it needed to be done by a supervisor who would contact me by email within 24 hours – which they promptly didn’t.

After chasing I eventually received an email from the supervisor still with no indication of any likely delivery date and with no acknowledgement that I wanted to cancel.  So I replied again saying that if they couldn’t provide me with a reasonable date for delivery I’d like to cancel to which as yet I’ve had no reply.

Is this acceptable?

My view here is that there are different things at work here that need to be addressed:

Is it acceptable that the products didn’t arrive on time? 

The answer to this one is probably yes. Companies, even huge ones like Google, are operating under constraints at the moment.  Things do go wrong and we as customers probably need to forgive these.

Is it acceptable that they didn’t notify me or try to communicate with me about it?

I’d say no to this one. Letting people down is one thing, but not communicating proactively with them seems bad business to me as you’re immediately going to have frustrated customers. This communication could have been provided equally by a site or home-based team.

Is it acceptable that they won’t provide me with a new date?

Again, I would say the answer to this is no. It is not common practice to order something with no idea when it is going to arrive and indeed I would not even have ordered the products directly from Google if there hadn’t been a delivery date online at the time, which was then confirmed in the email.

To miss that date and not offer an alternative seems almost unbelievable, and to say they can’t because they don’t know either implies dishonesty or incredibly poor processes – no shipping company that I know of will take an order for shipment and not provide an estimated pick up or delivery date and certainly no reputable company should be setting up a contract with a shipping company without these guarantees.

Is it acceptable that they won’t cancel the order?

The products are still at the warehouse and they can’t tell me when they will deliver – of course they should allow me to cancel.

So – is it acceptable for companies to use Covid-19 as an excuse for poor service?

Covid-19 undoubtedly makes things harder for pretty much every company.

Some companies have risen to the challenge admirably – my gym for example being one of them, pausing my monthly payment automatically and offering online workouts for free.

Others though, like Google Store, seem to be using it as an excuse for poor service. There are things outside businesses control and we should always try and understand and forgive these, but where things are within their control such as communication and customer service then I personally think it is poor that companies (particularly big ones such as Google) are blaming the Covid-19 situation for these failures. If they cannot deliver goods, then they shouldn’t be offering them for sale.

It’s also bad business. People will remember the fact they were let down and this will influence their buying behaviour in the future. This is an even bigger risk for a company like Google, because while I know that the Google Cloud business for example is separate to the Google Store business not everyone will and this could lead to other parts of the company being effected negatively.

I would love to know what other people think – so if you’re seeing this on social media please do add your comments.

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