“Dude. It’s Not Our Problem”: ThinkGeek.com Blows their Brand This Time

It would make sense that oddity website ThinkGeek.com would be intimately familiar with de-motivator posters from Despair.com. It’s just sad that today’s customer rep picked the one that says “We’re not satisfied until you’re not satisfied”.

I just got off the phone from my worst customer service experience in…well…a long time. And this catalog that tries to look advanced and clever made the most fundamental customer service mistake: they rambled extensively out of their way to dodge responsibility.

The Order. Planning enough pad for shipping time, my wife placed an order with Think Geek on December 14th which included Minecraft T-shirts for my son and my nephew – both Minecraft enthusiasts. Think Geek finally processed money from our account on order December 19th. (Huh? Five days later AND a Sunday? Clearly a bad sign.)

By late evening of December 21st we hadn’t seen the order so we went to track it. Except, it wouldn’t track. The US Postal Service website gave us a message saying essentially “We have no record of physical contact with that order.” This was…um…somewhat concerning so I called them.

Calling Think Geek’s Customer Service. I was encouraged when the phone was quickly picked up. But that was the end of encouragement.

After explaining the situation, the representative put me on hold. Then he comes back and tells me they don’t know anything about the order. Because: “The Post Office loses orders all the time so it’s their fault. I work in shipping and know they’re pretty bad.”

My Head Starts to Explode. It’s the holiday. Things happen. Everyone is stressed. And we manage similar customer service on behalf of branded clients. The idea of an order problem isn’t foreign to me and they probably couldn’t have had a more understanding customer on the phone.

Except they responded with: “not our problem”.

Of course its your problem. If it’s true that a shipping company loses orders all the time, then you shouldn’t offer that option. Or, you could warn that “using this shipping option may cause your order never to arrive because we use a really unreliable supplier”.

The Explosion Goes Nuclear. I ask, “What are you going to do.” Here’s the various levels of the response:

“We can resend most of the order. But, between when we told you we sent an order and now, we ran out of Minecraft t-shirts. So, we’ll just refund your money and call it good.”

“Hey, look, it’s the Post Office that lost the order. So it’s not our fault and that’s all we can do. Why don’t you call the Post Office.”

I responded: “I know how shipping happens and this tracking information doesn’t guarantee it ever reached the Post Office. It might have fallen into a crack in your facility or off the palette before it reached the Post Office. So it is quite concerning that (a) you blame the USPS and (b) all you want to do is give my my money back.”

To which my representative replied “what do you want me to do”. When I explained that most operations offer something to indicate that they really value their customers, he replied “we don’t do that and this is all I can do”.

At which point I resort to: “What part of ‘these are Christmas presents’ don’t you understand? Their value is far higher than their cost.”

The B52 bomb bay doors open and, in my best Major ‘King’ Kong impression, I climb onto the bomb and yell “yee haw” as it sails into the air. (This nonsense might make more sense if you, check this link. Or not.)

Let me suggest two rules to help your customers avoid exploding heads:

1. Never ever say its not your responsibility. Your company made all the choices. Therefore, it IS your responsibility – no matter what you may want to think.

2. Brands build when you have a clear policy for making customers happy when the process screws up. There will be problems. And you can’t make everyone happy. But nuclear fallout was easily avoided in this situation had he immediately acknowledged responsibility and suggested Think Geek go slightly out of their way (not hugely – just something to show they took responsibility).

Instead, “Think” Became “Don’t Think”. I will be cautioning my son about purchasing any more items from Think Geek. They proved unreliable and – yes – flakey. (Maybe it’s branding – aren’t Geek’s are supposed to be flakey?) My wife and I will never again purchase from them for a birthday or holiday – because we can’t rely on delivery.

In the end, they are sending the in-stock items with some level of expedited shipping (snarkily referred to by my rep as “more reliable than USPS” – like it was our fault for choosing one of the options they offered). They will refund payment for the two Minecraft t-shirts (the things we cared most about). And, will give us a $7.95 gift certificate which is the amount of the standard shipping. (It took an extended argument on my part to get this to happen – an argument that cost them hourly wages and loss of brand value.)

My rep fully executed the Demotivator. He seemed happy. And I’m definitely not.

But I don’t think the story is over. My experience may have been an aberration. So I’m going to send them a link to this post and offer them the option of replying with a comment. And I’ll even amend this post if there’s something useful to offer.

So stay tuned…

Addendum December 26, 2011. I have received new information from ThinkGeek.com. Jamie Grove (listed in his signature as VP, Evil Schemes and Nefarious Plans (aka Marketing)) send me a solid response on Christmas Eve after my complaint was forwarded.

His email responds well for a company under these circumstances. Apparently what I was told on the phone was wrong. Rather, the order was submitted after the date for last Christmas delivery with standard shipping (a reality that wasn’t clear to my wife when she placed the order).

For the moment, we await it’s post-Christmas delivery. I’ll update my thoughts further once we have confirmed this is the case.

Addendum #2 January 2, 2012. So, we have received the items that were re-sent by the phone rep. The original order may be lost in the ozone. As a patient consumer, I’ll wait until the end of the week and wrap this up. But, the hope offered in Mr. Grove’s email is wearing thin at this point.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

About Doug Garnett
Doug Garnett is an expert introducing innovative consumer products and services to market while driving higher return on innovation investment. His career has been spent in innovation and he is the president of Protonik, LLC - an innovation consultancy focused on marketing and innovation. Prior to founding Protonik, he was founder and CEO of ad agency Atomic Direct.

11 Responses to “Dude. It’s Not Our Problem”: ThinkGeek.com Blows their Brand This Time

  1. David Graska says:

    Well said. Be interesting to read their response–if any. Wonder how Zappos would have handled such a screw-up? But they probably don’t have many.

    Everyone screws-up at times. The best have the attitude: “If you think we’re good (and we are!) just wait to see what happens if you ever experience a miscue from us (as rare as Haley’s comet!)… because then you’ll find out how REALLY good we are–we won’t just make-it-right and satisfy you… we’ll delight so you much you’ll be hoping for another screw-up every time you place another order!”

    • Doug Garnett says:

      No response yet. One of our policies with vendors is that we know some mistakes will be made – it’s a human reality. So what we ask our vendors is to be honest and always take responsibility.

      And err on the side of too much responsibility. It’s a tiny fraction of consumers who try to game the system. So it’s far more profitable to keep the majority happy than to offend the majority with draconian practices.

      Thanks for the thoughts…

  2. Shelby says:

    i’ve been coming across thinkgeek items all over the internet and their stuff looks really cool! but after reading this i’ll never order from them. thanks for the heads-up!

  3. Joan says:

    Nice to see things haven’t changed. I placed and order for Christmas and when being processed one item was canceled. I contacted them no in a huff about that but that I wanted the 25% off and free shipping applied to a replacement even though it was below the threshold. In order the responses when asked for the discount to be applied to my new order were do you want the tracking info for the original order. The item was discontinued so we will offer you a refund (a it’s still on your site and b I shouldn’t have to even contact you for that. You charge me that’s theft) and then last no your new item doesn’t meet the requirement for the discount.

  4. Charlie says:

    Currently on hold for 70 minutes. Ordered one t-shirt on Dec 8th. Tracking information never made it to USPS.com.

    Christmas Party is this weekend. If I don’t have it by then, I will never order anything else from them.

    Will update once I have spoken to them

  5. Charlie says:

    Had to leave my desk after 124 minutes. Came back hour later and phone had hung up so I assume they finally answered. Called back, 24th in line, estimated hold time is 120 minutes.

    You know, because I have nothing better to do. Keep in mind, I placed an order for one t-shirt on the 8th

  6. my girlfriend ordered me a hoodie and we got pajamas. we cant really afford to get each other stuff so whatever we get is a big deal. im calling for her to straighten things out. as of now i’ve been on hold 2:32:23

  7. Mark says:

    Still Happening:

    Placed a large order 11/28/14. When I inquired about its lack of shipping status 12/6/14, I was contacted on 12/13/14 and told the shipper had a problem (UPS shows the tracking number was generated, but no package ever entered their system) and they would reship the order, less all the items they had since sold out of. On 12/15/14 I get an automated reply that even more items cannot be shiped as they are sold out. The original order was for $205, they refund $106 and ship $81 worth of merchandise. ($18 mysteriously disappears). I ask for the remainder of my money back. On 12/31/14 I give them notice that they have 48 hours to respond (THEIR policy) or I will file a dispute with my credit card company. No response. On 2/3/15 i receive this reply:

    Hello Mark.

    First, I would like to apologize for the extended delay in responding to your inquiry. We have been horribly backlogged with emails and we are working tirelessly to get to every customer, which is taking some time. We certainly acknowledge that the wait time for a response from us has been severely delayed due to the overwhelming back log we have been dealing with, and for that we sincerely apologize.

    I am very sorry to hear that you have filed a dispute with your bank regarding the refund of this order, as it all could have been taken care of with no further action needed in that regard. Unfortunately, since the dispute has already been filed, you will no longer be able to order from ThinkGeek.com.

    We are very sad to see you go in this way, as you have been a very valued customer with us for such a long time. We would have been more than happy to provide you with a positive resolution on this issue, and it is to your detriment that we were not able to provide that in a timely manner.

    Despite the less than pleasant experience you have had with us over this issue, I hope you have an otherwise good day.

    Jasmine S | Customer Service Supervisor”

    THAT is how ThinkGeek operates. They mess up, its my fault, and I am banned from ever ordering again. (Not that I would.)

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