Almost two years ago we wrote about Made.com, which had just launched after receiving £2.5m of backing from the likes of Brent Hoberman.

Made.com is a bit like Naked Wines for the furniture, in that it bypasses retailers, connecting consumers directly with wholesalers in order to supply “beautiful furniture without the high street markup”. It’s an innovative idea that we liked, and we said it had an excellent chance of success. 

However, there’s a problem. I’m one of the people at Econsultancy who receives comment notifications for our blog, and that Made.com post regularly attracts unhappy customers who complain about poor service, faulty products, cancelled orders, the courier company, and – most commonly – the lack of a telephone number on its website. It’s been bugging me.

At some point I expected Made.com to wade into the fray, apologise, listen to the issues, and then try to fix up the problems. But there’s no sign of any intervention from somebody at the firm who cares about service. 

I turned to Twitter, to see if the company was more responsive on that channel. There are signs of life, but a search for ‘@madedotcom’ makes for depressing reading, and suggests that the customer experience isn’t what it should be:

Made.com customer service issues

The lack of replies from Made.com are telling. In addition, it’s censoring negative comments on Facebook:

All of this is a surprise, given that this is an internet startup that should know better. So much for transparency, engagement, and caring about the customer experience. Clearly Made.com didn’t get the memo.

Why the service allergy?

Avoiding customer complaints is short sighted in the extreme, but when a company is relatively new it is borderline insane. Buying from a new company is always a leap of faith for consumers, but more so when we’re talking about a product such as a sofa, which has a relatively high order value and a lead time that can be as long as 14 weeks. 

I can’t find a telephone number on the Made.com website, which is one reason why aggrieved customers are leaving comments on our site, and complaining on Twitter and Facebook (albeit deleted ones), and writing dozens of one star reviews (there are a bunch of five star reviews too, so it’s not all bad). To my mind, this is far from rocket science: the lack of a contact number is forcing people to do their bitching elsewhere. Is that really what Made.com wants?

Trust and transparency are so important in an age where everybody can have an audience and can be a publisher. There is literally nowhere to hide, and businesses need to adjust. It’s easy to delete an unfavourable remark on your Facebook page, but it’s not the smart thing to do, and it’s impossible to delete people’s tweets, comments on blogs like ours, or reviews on consumer websites. 

I started this post by comparing Made.com to Naked Wines, but the difference is that the CEO of the latter company actively responds to complaints (even though many of them seem to be dubious).

Lifetime value FTW

In my view the very best KPI in business is average customer lifetime value. It tells you a great deal about loyalty, purchase frequency and average order values.

Companies that focus on this metric tend to have more respect for the customer than ones that don’t, because it’s not just about pricing, it’s about the customer experience, satisfaction and retention. Miserable customers don’t become repeat buyers, or brand advocates. Made.com is missing a trick in this regard, particularly given the nature of its business.

It may be impossible to please all of the people all of the time, but I’ve found that I have much greater respect for a company that fixes a problem, compared to one that makes me sit on hold for 20 minutes before somebody who can’t actually help me picks up the phone. Problems occur: it’s how you deal with them that counts. 

Made.com needs to rethink its approach to service, or it is going to face an uphill struggle. Acquiring new customers is one of the more challenging things in business. Retaining them should be far easier, as there’s already an existing relationship in place. Damage that relationship and you’re in trouble, and more so if your customers tell the world how rubbish you are. 

The flipside is customer advocacy and lots of repeat business, which is a much better scenario. And that’s why companies or all shapes and sizes need to invest in service, and go the extra mile to deliver a wonderful customer experience. 

I don’t really do favourite quotes, but one that has always stuck with me was from Tony Hsieh, the Zappos founder, who said:

“We are a service company that just happens to sell shoes.”

Zappos generates 75% of its annual $1bn+ revenue from existing customers. I think Made.com can learn a lot from that.

Update: Great to see that Made.com CEO Ning Li has left a comment below, in which he pledges to greatly improve service levels.