Elsevier and Amazon: Twins or mirror opposites?

Update 2014-05-15:  I got several copies shipped to me for free (not author copies – just as a thank you and “we apologise” from Elsevier). As I said elsewhere “shit happens but what matters is how you resolve the customer problem.” This is one way to do it, impressive I find. Check it out here

As the nom de plume of a woman called JK Rowling demonstrates, brand recognition in publishing is important:

The Cuckoo’s Calling sold only about 450 copies in UK hardback under Galbraith’s name after it was published in April but quickly became the top seller on Amazon once it was known to be a Rowling novel.”
(see Gapper, John (July 17, 2013) – The superstar still reigns supreme over publishing)

The follow-up, called “The Silkworm”, is to be published on June 19, 2014. If you have limited brand recognition as I do, the publisher is another factor that can really do you in. In other words, if their production and shipping process, including their online store, fail to deliver, you are in trouble.
CLICK IMAGE - Social Media Audit - ISBN 978-1-84334-745-3 -- ROI, KPI, BlogRank, CyTRAP, Urs E. Gattiker - Rave reviews src=This blog post discusses my experience with Elsevier’s e-store. It is all about failure to communicate and providing the service needed to clinch the sale. I should mention that my original independent publisher Chandos has been acquired by Elsevier, so I suddenly found myself being one of many authors, instead of one of a few at a successful smaller outfit. What a change…

Social Media Audit: Help Your Bottom Line (Elsevier BWL/Mgmt) – 2014 – Author: Urs E. Gattiker, PhD

I thought I would share some of my journey from finishing the proofs until the copy arrives in the mail (still waiting).

Keywords: bigfail, customer feedback, KPI, outsource, onshore, metrics, performance, process management, quality of service, usability, trust

Let’s order a few copies, no sweat!

To get the book as early as possible, I visited Elsevier’s e-store in January and placed my order. The problem started right there: the system wanted to charge me value-added tax (VAT). If the total value of the shipment is below CHF200, no VAT is charged at the border by Swiss authorities.

You think I am joking, but ask Jeff Bezos. Amazon.de, .fr, .co.uk, or .it all manage to get me my books across the border without VAT – and it’s completely legal.

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Elsevier’s customer service crew is in the Philippines. They sent me an email to explain the ropes – a bit confusing, is it not (see below)? So, because I live outside the EU, I am out of luck, and must pay VAT…? I wonder if that VAT money really goes to the Swiss authorities, since, as I mentioned they do not collect it on shipments under €160 (or CHF200).

CLICK - 2 Mistakes - 1. Books up to about €160 (CHF200) can enter Switzerland from the EU without VAT being charged at the border. Why does Elsevier charge it anyway? By the way, no explanation is given on the e-store site. 2. You can enter only one code on each order, as done here, but if you have a second one (e.g., take €50 off next order), you are out of luck and cannot use it. #BigFail #Usability #Trust

As with other firms, once I was done with the service representative on the phone, I got an email with an invite to complete a survey about customer satisfaction. I dutifully filled out the first. After a second call, the second… and then I gave up in disgust.

Why fill out a customer survey when, regardless of many phone calls, your problem cannot be resolved (i.e. the VAT issue is not resolved according to Swiss law, nor can the author discount be given at this time, because the book is not warehoused yet…)?

The printing of the final version of the book took a while. Nevertheless, before my birthday in mid-March 2014, the publisher sent an email informing me that the book was ‘in’. Since it had arrived in Elsevier’s UK warehouse, I looked forward getting my copies.

To my surprise, instead of seeing a book, I got an email, on April Fool’s Day no less, informing me that the order had been cancelled. The explanation was a bit confusing, something about the status of the book changing (the publication date had previously read September 2013 for ages, but that changed on April 2 to now show March 2014). Another email stated that because the order could not be fulfilled since January, it had to be cancelled – something regarding credit card regulations, and no, I will not bore you with details (see image below).

CLICK - Why does an order get cancelled after a while when the book can be physically located in the company's UK warehouse? #BigFail #Usability #Trust

Where has my baby gone?

My publisher assured me that my desk copies were in the mail. However, by the time you read this around April 7, an anxious author is still waiting to be allowed to hold this newborn in his hands.

Because my order got cancelled, I tried to place it again on April 2 (Wednesday). I put in my author discount code and the final price shown was X. Surprise, surprise, when I clicked on “Go to checkout” the price had suddenly increased by about €40. And yes, using a calculator made it clear that Elsevier’s system had miscalculated. Are we truly surprised after reading the above?

Part two of the saga

On Wednesday afternoon (April 2), I got a call from Elsevier US inquiring about my experience with the e-store – usability, trust, processing of order, etc. They had chosen my name out of a hat and asked me about 10 days ago if I would be willing to participate. In return for my efforts, they would give me a voucher of US$110 that I could use to purchase books from Elsevier.

So whilst online, I demonstrated the concerns I had using the screen sharing feature (see below). “I hope that the Elsevier e-store will accept your voucher as part of my payment,” I joked.

To my surprise (not!) things failed to work properly the next morning. After entering my discount code as an author, I could not enter the code to claim my voucher’s worth, earned for work provided to Elsevier the previous day (i.e. the interview I gave).

CLICK - 2 Mistakes - 1. Books up to about €160 (CHF200) can enter Switzerland from the EU without VAT being charged at the border. Why does Elsevier charge it anyway? By the way, no explanation is given on the e-store site. 2. You can enter only one code on each order, as done here, but if you have a second one (e.g., take €50 off next order), you are out of luck and cannot use it. #BigFail #Usability #Trust

In search of decision-makers

So I once again emailed a question, which again resulted in me getting a phone call (at yet another inopportune time). By now I am sure you know the routine.

I was told me that I could not combine two discount offers. Yes, I know what you want to tell me: one is for being an author and the other represents Elsevier’s token of appreciation for my work (also known as payment). Sorry, no can do. Policy does not allow this.

So I asked to get it in writing, which I did (see image below). Clearly, the policy is right and the customer is not. But this means I get cheated out of my time and to add insult to injury, I do not get paid for services rendered.

1. I placed the order early only to have it cancelled… because apparently the people responsible for order processing did not know about the book having arrived at the warehouse.
2. I had to deal with several phone calls, emails, and so forth, trying to get answers to my questions – so far with ZERO success.
3. After all that, I am apparently cheated out of the money promised for services rendered (because if I use that code, I forfeit the author discount that is higher since I want to order 20 copies of the book…).

What a rotten deal, and an unbelievably bad experience for a customer. On the bright side, Elsevier is fair: several customers who placed an order for my book early on had their orders cancelled as well. So I admit, Elsevier is consistent…

CLICK - 2 Mistakes - 1. If you outsource a task or service, ensure the work is handled at least as well as it would be if it had been kept in-house. Calling each time you get a customer request is okay, but if each time you are unable to address the issue, why waste the client's time? 2. I am not trying to combine more than one promotion (author discount). The second discount code is one that represents payment due to me for services rendered to Elsevier (i.e. I was interviewed by Elsevier staff about how I rated their service). Since when is payment for services rendered considered a 'promotion'? #BigFail #Usability #Trust

Tom Noonan, the guy who interviewed me about my usability experience with Elsevier’s e-store, wrote a very nice email below outlining what he had done. But sorry, there was no human around to take care of the mechanical turk and tell it that something is awfully wrong with Elsevier’s e-store and order fulfillment process.

How can this be, especially considering all the customer feedback Elsevier has gotten about my problem and surely from others as well? Why can nothing be done? Is anybody listening? Is there somebody called manager who has the skills and authority to see that this gets attention? Because from a business perspective, it certainly warrants action.

Another example of increasing data that fails to result in action. Elsevier has plenty of data from clients that things need fixing. But apparently these data are either collecting dust or no human is around to care.

Instead, customers seem to get much talk about nothing.
CLICK - Everybody is so polite at Elsevier, but nobody has the authority to take action right now to solve the problem. #BigFail #Usability #Trust

Bottom line

The above illustrates that even if you try to reach scalability and mechanize the process, sometimes things go wrong. Considering the customer feedback Elsevier gets, why is the manager of customer service or the director of the Elsevier Store not able to get this fixed? They have gotten plenty of tapes of customer interviews including notes from their staff about matters like I describe above. Are they listening?

CLICK - 2 Mistakes - 1. APRIL 3 - Showing visitors an offer (yellow) that has expired. 2. Using the discount code SEARCH50 (highlighted in red), results in a higher price than if I use my code for getting a 30 percent author discount. If 50 percent is not higher than 30 percent on Elsevier's e-store, an explanation would help. I could not find one. #BigFail #Usability #TrustHad Jeff Bezos and I spoken about the Elsevier e-store’s usability, we would have agreed that the thing failed to work properly. It is especially funny when you get a 50 percent discount voucher offered by the system (see below), only to find out that this gets you a worse deal than the 30 percent author discount. Of course, given Elsevier’s history, I could not get an explanation for this either – I searched the FAQs (frequently asked questions), and found nothing… You suggest I email? No, thank you! I don’t need to be on the phone another 10 minutes for nothing. Get my drift?

Of course, Jeff would think it silly that on April 2, the site still showed a deal that ended March 31. But we maybe we could offer an introductory workshop. How does April Fool’s Day 2015 sound for you? It will address how to set up an e-store that works when trying to sell books and journals. Maybe Elsevier wants to have its staff sign up?

On the other hand, maybe they just need to shake up the e-store and customer service departments’ management. Implementing clear lines of authority, and actionable metrics that show how customer complaints get reduced would be a great start. Seriously, Jeff Bezos’ actions at Amazon show he believes replacing some staff is the first step – those at the top, of course.

And yes, I have given up on Elsevier. But lonely hearts may want to consider sending Elsevier a question via the email form for Customer Service. They will surely call and be unable to fix the problem, but you will maybe appreciate the human contact…

Interesting Tidbit

London law firm Russels was responsible for JK Rowling’s unmasking as the writer‘Robert Galbraith. Christopher Gossage, a partner at Russels, was fined £1,000 for breach of client confidentiality, after telling his wife’s best friend about Ms Rowling’s pen name.
(see Croft, Jane (January 1, 2014). JK Rowling lawyer fined for outing her as crime novelist)

Source: Elsevier and Amazon: Twins or mirror opposites?

Have you got an example of an abysmal e-shopping experience?
What actionable metrics do you use to see if your e-store performs properly?
Which KPIs (key performance indicators) do you use to make decisions about improving your e-commerce site?

Thanks again for sharing your insights – I always appreciate your very helpful feedback.


Urs E. Gattiker, Ph.D. - CyTRAP Labs - ComMetrics.

The author: This post was written by social media marketing and strategy expert Urs E. Gattiker. His book, Social Media Audit: Measure for Impact, appeared in 2013 from Springer Science Publishers. His latest book about social media fashion with passion was SUPPOSEDLY published in March 2014 – grab your 25 percent discount with free shipping now.


Urs E. Gattiker

Professor Urs E. Gattiker - DrKPI is corporate Europe's leading social media metrics expert (see his books). He continues to work with start-ups. Urs is CEO of CyTRAP Labs GmbH.

19 thoughts on “Elsevier and Amazon: Twins or mirror opposites?

  • 6. April 2014 at 20:32
    Permalink

    Dr. Gattiker, @DrKPI:disqus

    I hear you loud and clear about your suboptimal experience concerning
    – EU taxes,
    – delivery,
    – publication date and
    – discounts
    when using our e-commerce website.

    I’m sorry that this has happened to you and I will look into the matter with the teams here in Amsterdam.
    As you mentioned, creating a good customer journey helps not only us as a publisher but also you as an author of ours. It would be a pity if potential buyers of your book give up buying due to the reasons you outlined in detail above.

    Thank you for taking the time to point this out. We will get back to you when the fixes are implemented.

    With thanks,
    Yasu

    Reply
    • 6. April 2014 at 21:26
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      Dear @yasushiadachi:disqus

      Thanks so much for taking the time to reply to this matter today. As the screenshot below shows. I tried the order with your discount coupon (thank you – generous offer. Yes it worked.

      So I do hope these usability issues can be addressed and I look forward to your reply in the future (things are fixed!).

      I also find the customer service center in the Philippines is a larger issue than just usability. I do hope their know-how and understanding about Europe will improve. As well, I do hope that they will get more authority to resolve client issues faster.

      Thanks for helping.
      Urs

      Reply
      • 6. April 2014 at 21:51
        Permalink

        I’m very pleased to hear that it worked this time. We will get to work with fixing the root causes including what we can do with bringing our service staff in Asia up to speed with complex queries like tax related issues. Allow us a couple of weeks and you can expect to hear from me on the progress. Thank you!

        Reply
        • 7. April 2014 at 7:14
          Permalink

          Hi @yasushiadachi:disqus

          Thanks for the reply on late Sunday night in Amsterdam.
          Yes I am glad it worked – touch wood. I look forward getting the shipment to my house here in Switzerland. Hope it will go through customs without any trouble.

          Most curious I am, of course, to hear back from you regarding getting your staff to handle complex issues. What surprised me, for instance, is that in January I was unable to get an author discount. Of course, reasoning was that the book was not out yet. True as we know. But at the same time, it showed as published in October 2013 on the e-store.

          The customer service folks could not explain except tell me, once again, the rules…

          “…we cannot process an author discount and take the order for your book, until the book is actually published.”

          .
          Making rules is wonderful, having them work in practice can sometimes be a pain. But I know, you are working on these changes and I am sure things will improve. Look forward to you reporting back here about the changes.

          Thanks again for being so forthcoming and taking charge.

          Urs

          @DrKPIcom:twitter

          Reply
  • 7. April 2014 at 11:37
    Permalink

    Dear @yasushiadachi:disqus:disqus
    The saga continues. This morning I get the e-mail below:

    From:
    Subject: Credit Card Order Rejection
    Date: 7 Apr 2014 11:22:07 GMT+2

    To:

    This is an automated notification please do not reply.
    Dear Customer,
    Please be advised that there has been a problem with your recent order.
    We have been unable to charge the credit/debit card used to place the order and require you to contact our customer services team to resolve the issue and process your order.

    Please use the link below to contact us and quote your customer number to allow us to locate your order details.

    Customer Account Number: 79137974
    http://support.elsevier.com/app/ask_bjc/c/6236%2C6245
    Elsevier Customer Services”

    So I clicked on the link and tried to fill out the form. So complicated, asking me all kinds of things I should fill in…. and if I refuse, it fails to work.
    Why does the client have to jump through so many obstacles to get it…. all we need is to fix whatever there is to get the charge card working.

    PS. Incidentally, one is not given the option to reply to the e-mail address that sent the message. More time wasted ….

    Reply
    • 7. April 2014 at 16:32
      Permalink

      Dear @DrKPI:disqus
      This doesn’t sound good at all –
      I will look into it right away.

      This is what you said about the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. Please bear with us…
      Yasu

      Reply
      • 7. April 2014 at 18:13
        Permalink

        Dear @yasushiadachi:disqus

        Thanks so much for your help. In the meantime I got another call – huuu – from Asia.

        The customer service agent addressed the credit card problem (not sure what it was) and then went ahead and processed the order by hand (split it in two to make it pass).

        I appreciate you having assigned an person in the UK (Oxford) to address this issue as well. I hope that Seth Jared Flores will report back tomorrow telling me that the order has been processed.

        Of course, I am particularly curious to hear when the books will arrive.

        Cordially
        Urs @DrKPIcom:twitter

        PS. I am still waiting for my author copies – 20 which I was supposed to get in March …. they got probably lost 🙂

        Reply
  • 14. April 2014 at 14:28
    Permalink

    Dear @yasushiadachi:disqus
    The books arrived today. But unfortunately as I expected, wrong

    Reply
    • 14. April 2014 at 18:41
      Permalink

      Dear @Urs E. Gattiker,

      Everything seems to be going in the wrong direction here. My sincere apologies for this! From our experience with your transaction, we fleshed out and added more than 20 short to mid-term improvement ideas to our existing list and even implemented some of them. Charging VAT twice including delivery is out of the question so I’ll again work with the service team to resolve this asap. Thank you again for being incredibly patient with us.

      Sincerely,
      Yasu

      Reply
      • 17. April 2014 at 10:46
        Permalink

        Dear Urs E. Gattiker | DrKPI

        We’ve shipped five copies of your book by postal service to compensate for all the trouble we made you go through. The extra costs incurred will be credited to you, which you
        might have already heard from my colleague. And in making your next order we will carefully track this so that you don’t go through the same trouble again.

        While we take these immediate actions, we are working on fixing the root cause related to VAT and delivery charges. Our head of logistics is also looking into the matter.

        I will keep you posted.

        Reply
        • 19. April 2014 at 14:14
          Permalink

          Dear @ysushiadachi:disqus

          Thanks so much for this. I look forward receiving those copies 🙂

          we are working on fixing the root cause related to VAT and delivery charges. Our head of logistics is also looking into the matter.

          Super, I am sure you will get this sorted out eventually. Thanks again and I look forward to your next update.
          Happy Easter!
          Cordially
          Urs

          Reply
          • 5. May 2014 at 17:01
            Permalink

            Dear Dr. Gattike ( @DrKPI:disqus )

            I was curious to know whether you have received
            the 35 books we shipped last month – and this time without the extra charges and delivery fee. (Previous unnecessary charges should have been credited to your account by now.)

            We are making big changes to the store including the
            replacement of the underlying system by year end to deliver an improved experience for our customers. Please let me know when you have the time. Thank
            you.

            Yasu

          • 5. May 2014 at 17:35
            Permalink

            Dear @yasushiadachi:disqus

            Thanks so much for replying and sending an e-mail.

            Yes, I got the deliveries….

            1 – author copies with DHL – no problem
            2 – second set of copies with no additional charges via UPS

            You write:

            Previous unnecessary charges should have been credited to your account by now.</blockquote)

            That we still have to check when we get the statements. But I will keep you posted.

            I also got the 3 additional copies (for my troubles) without a problem.
            You know the system was not bad, it is just the little admin bugs that kill the user experience … But I am sure you know.
            Thanks for your help and support. Sh… happens, it is how you deal with it that matters. You came through!

            Thanks
            Urs
            @DrKPIcom:twitter

          • 15. May 2014 at 13:16
            Permalink

            @yasushiadachi:disqus
            We checked our book and I got a bill from you and a credit note 🙂
            This means that I got a few books for free. That I find very generous indeed.
            As I said earlier, problems happen but what matters is how they get fixed.

            Thanks for letting me have free copies for the troubles.
            Cordially
            Urs

          • 16. May 2014 at 12:09
            Permalink

            Dear Urs @DrKPI:disqus

            I’m pleased that the books were delivered to you and the credit note got processed without any problem…this time.

            I have two German colleagues around me so will definitely have a look at the video!

  • 15. May 2014 at 13:34
    Permalink

    Dear @yasushiadachi:disqus
    Today I wanted to see how the e-book version of my title is doing (click to view). Here are my comments.

    1. GREAT: If one purchases the digital version of the book it is a file in PDF format. It comes free of any type of digital rights management (DRM) system. wonderful

    2. Digital copy: The price for the digital copy is €55.00 right now PLUS tax. This is in comparison to the €42 for the print version (because it is being discounted right now on your page – special).

    2 Why not be creative? Pricing I leave to you but because you are changing things anyway, I wonder.
    Would it not be advantageous to offer the customer three options of purchasing on the same page, regardless if she looks for e-book or print book.
    This set of options could be arranaged as follows:

    1. print version … €42 right now)
    2. digital version €55.00
    3. print and digital version (bonus pack – pay one – get one free) €55.00

    As research tells us, people cannot resist the free (get 3 pay 2, etc.). The above can be changed to suit your needs accordingly. Nevertheless, to make it look like purchasing print and digital as a steal / deal will surely help sales.

    Those that wanted the print version only will surely purchase both ….
    Those wanting to purchase the digital copy only will opt to purchase both. Again as research shows, the printed version is read more carefully and better understood than the one read on an iPad or Tablet screen.
    Of course, the more careful people read the content, the better for author and publisher (only if you read it carefully can you benefit and thus feel good about the purchase).
    Yasu, what do you think of my suggestion?

    Reply
  • 16. May 2014 at 12:16
    Permalink

    @Urs E. Gattiker | DrKPI

    I appreciate the suggestion above. To me it makes sense as a customer experience guy but obviously this has to be discussed with our pricing and systems team as well. Let me get back to you but it may take a while as one of the key members of the team is currently on holiday.

    Reply
    • 16. May 2014 at 14:30
      Permalink

      Dear Yasu @yasushiadachi:disqus

      Thanks for this reply to my comment about sales

      1 print
      2 digital
      3 print AND digital http://blog.drkpi.com/bigfail-1/#comment-1386803523

      As I said, just a suggestion that works for The Economist and others. Tried and tested but how you will use it in detail is, of course, your decision.
      It may require a few test cases like my book to see what works best for Elsevier and the author.

      Nevertheless, I look forward to hear about your decision when your colleague is back from his / her well-deserved vacation.

      Respectfully
      Urs

      Reply
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