It’s not often we get apology letters from CEOs of big companies. Usually, companies and their PR agencies try to gloss over failures, explain away inadequacies and focus solely on what they’ve done well. So this letter from the CEO of 65daigou (now rebranded as ezbuy) is a pleasant surprise. Without any flourishes, it comes across as sincere. It’s a really long letter though, so I’ve highlighted some portions. 🙂
Dear valued customers,
It’s a tradition for me to send a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year email before Christmas every year. I would normally review what we have done and achieved for the past year –the good and bad and share plans for the coming year to our valued customers with anticipation and joy. Then, I would thank everyone’s support and love, wish everyone merry Christmas and happy new year sincerely on behalf of 65daigou / ezbuy team.
Regretfully however, though in the midst of festivities, I cannot write this year’s email as I did in the past years. I am filled with the bittersweet sadness of the recent situation that we find ourselves in.
Many things have happened in 2016, re-branding to ezbuy, enlarging our product pool to include millions of products that are available for one-time payment, launching Prime annual membership program, flash deal, cash off sales zone to enhance “greater savings” and many more, which if had happened in 2015, I would be more than happy to list them down, but this year, especially in the recent 3 months, I feel ashamed to do.
Despite all the efforts we had made this year to enhance the shopping experience, if we cannot shorten the overall order fulfillment cycle as we had been doing for the past few years, if we cannot even deliver your orders on time, then we have had failed the most fundamental and important responsibility, which is to send every order to customers with speed and accuracy. This is the worst time ever and there’re so many customers have been with us for more than 2 years, 4 years, even 6 years, when we received feedback from them, when they came to us for help on their orders undergoing abnormal delays, we felt deeply disappointed in ourselves.
During China National holiday (from 1st Oct to 7th Oct), many employees took long leaves and the leftover orders from end of September started to get delayed due to the long holiday. Due to some special reasons, the plan of shifting to a 4 times bigger warehouse in Dong Guan from Guangzhou was delayed to October. And because of the new location, our human resources, regardless of full time employees or part timers was facing a monumental challenge. But we had to shift the warehouse under this circumstance because we needed to get the new warehouse ready for 11.11 sales. We started to see 3 – 8 days delay in October, but before we could catch up, 11.11 came and we received surprisingly high volume of orders. Since then, overall order fulfillment cycle was slower by 5-15 days or even longer.
Customers submitted orders to us but we could not purchase within 24 hours like what we used to. Sellers sent items to our warehouse but we could not complete the inspection, repacking, and give customers a timely update. This terrible situation lasted until mid of Dec. During the worst 3 weeks, tons of goods arrived in our warehouse but no matter how hard the operation team worked, maybe only half of them can be inspected and shipped out, and every day there were tons of goods sitting in every corner of our warehouses pending processing. It was not just the delay that frustrated you, but also our inability of giving you a rough estimation on when your orders can be processed that aggravated the situation. The delay and uncertainty caused all kinds of troubles to tens of thousands customers, some items were meant to be gifts, some items were bought for company events, and others were travel essentials which is now lost the purpose of its original intend… We were not pro-active and customer-oriented enough when you came to us for those delayed items, we should have given you a more solid answer instead of making you ask and wait again. We are truly sorry for the poor and improper communications, which we all can imagine how badly we had made things for you.
When I was young, every time I made mistakes, my parents would ask me to face the wall and confess to myself for an hour. Growing up and entering the workforce, a report called “8D report” was required whenever mistakes were made. This 8D report normally starts from identifying root cause, to finding out Corrective & Preventive actions. It’s a very systematic way of analyzing, understanding mistakes, how mistake happened and how to prevent them. I appreciated it and brought it to our internal operation. Every “unsatisfied” review we received, if we could find the root cause and the particular employee who made the mistake, for example, purchaser bought a wrong spec of item because he/she misunderstand customer’s order remark, a damaged goods because of improper handling and packaging and etc. we would make sure that they write 8D reports for their mistakes instead of punishing them. This Christmas, we need to have a Corrective & Preventive action plans for the mistakes we have made, to give you confidence again.
The severe delay:
Everyone in operation team, management team including myself have been working around the clock, doing our best to check more items, send out more parcels, reply more inquiries;
There were many actions taken;
Getting more manpower at any cost. We raised all orders and parcels related payout, found all possible agencies to help us hire full time and part time staffs
IT team paused all projects, fully focus on ERP improvements to help increase operation efficiency
Rented more temporary warehouses to accommodate items and increased part timers doing order inspection and repacking
We have been trying all possibilities with just one focus, to clear all leftover orders.
Therefore, with all the efforts being put in, we have finally caught up for majority of the orders by 10th Dec. If you have shopped during 12.12, you may have felt that the processing time for 12.12 was much quicker than 11.11. Majority of the 12.12 orders were inspected within a week.
The series of delays which happened in the past 3 months put us in deep thoughts; how to prevent this kind of delay due to similar incidents and during peak season?
Unlike the typical e-commerce website who has an upper limit in order volume, which is the number of stocks available; we have no limit by nature, your support can be overwhelming but we will be incapable of handling all orders well if we solely rely on manpower, hence we have to speed up the process of bringing in intelligent systems to help us relieve the strain on manpower.
A special task force team has been formed to optimize the system and processes from top to bottom, with the consideration of the possible growth in order volume we will receive for the next 2 years.
Engage professionals in logistic/warehousing to help us optimize warehouse turnover time and improve warehouse efficiency.
Meanwhile, we promise 24 hours of processing time for 3 processes: purchase, inspection and parcel shipment from 2017. If any of your orders get delayed, we will penalize ourselves by compensating you rmb1 for every single order, every business day of delay in any of the 3 processes. The longer the delay of each order, the more we will penalize ourselves to compensate you. In future, should similar scale of delay happen again, we could end up compensating huge amount to our customers.
We strive to give you a measurable and tangible promise, hence by announcing this initiative, we force ourselves to pay more attention to our operation. This is the most basic and fundamental thing for us, which has been something we took pride in for the previous years.
2. Customer service team failed to assist you, give you a reply in time, and provide you an unprofessional reply at times:
Although customer service team has doubled in the past 2 months, working overtime every day to clear backlogs, due to the number of problem orders which requires the team to contact both sellers and you to process, coupled with after-sales issues coming from the large amount of 11.11 orders which had been shipped to you, our customer service team will need a slightly longer time to catch up to resume our normal service standard.
We have started piloting an intelligent customer service solution to improve our efficiency in a larger scale; we have arranged for trainings from external parties and internal trainers to improve customer service team soft skill and competence in handling your inquiries. To you, we hope to achieve a more timely and professional customer service standard.
3. All kinds of problems originating from ship-for-me service:
We noticed on different forums, Facebook and other open channels, half of the complaints originate from ship-for-me service. Besides the delay issue which we had resolved during beginning of this Dec, many other problems lie in the disconnection of service expectation.
For ship-for-me service, we are a logistic provider, the only service obligation is to provide a shipping service for whatever item we receive on behalf of you, much like DHL or Singpost.
It is natural that customers who use our ship-for-me service to benchmark the service standard of buy-for-me or prime service, and have higher expectation on us than other logistic providers. When this kind of expectation is applied to damaged or lost parcels, customers cannot understand why ship-for-me service compensation is so little and even capped by shipping fee though this is an industry standard which DHL, Fedex are adopting.
Some customers who use Taobao forwarders to ship some small items or regular items would like to benchmark our processing time vs Taobao forwarders. This is a reasonable comparison. But the fact is Taobao forwarders’ system are integrated with Taobao, they have every detail about your order, they can cross reference and are able to match your orders much easier, faster and with very good accuracy. They also know what the order volume is immediately after you have made purchase so that they can allocate resources in advance. Many of you are used to this so when engaging our ship-for-me service, it’s natural you don’t submit your purchase information or tracking information on our site after you purchase from Taobao. However, this caused a lot of issues in the past. The lack of information in order volume results in insufficient resources allocated and the delay in order processing. And without your order details, if your item comes without your unique ID or an illegible shipping label which contains your unique ID, we could never be able to match easily for you, this caused tens of thousands problem orders unable to be tied to the owner.
Many of you chose to use our ship-for-me service over Taobao forwarders because we offer sea shipment, much cheaper sensitive air shipment and air shipment which is 30% cheaper. We are able to help you to ship bulky items, items containing liquid, batteries etc. which Taobao forwarders do not allow to ship. A huge variety of items which require longer processing time and more tedious checks come to us, without adequate information when we received them. We do not even know if they are valuable or need special care but yet, we need to spend more time and effort to process them.
In the past, we always thought more flexibility for customers is good, but when we offer flexible services and cheaper prices at the same time, we realize that it becomes difficult to manage customers’ expectations.
We do understand that customers want flexibility, cheaper price and higher service standards, but we have to know our capabilities, know what we can offer in order to maintain our service standards and protect our reputation. Thus we have made a difficult decision that from 1st Jan 2017 onward, we will cease all ship-for-me sea shipment service and only offer air shipment service like Taobao forwarders. In the meantime, we do not accept any valuable items and please kindly take note of the compensation of ship-for-me service. It is indeed a difficult decision to make because we sacrificed the flexibility, but this can really help us to have better focus on ship-for-me air shipment. All we hope to do is to give our valuable customers a more efficient service.
With a heavy heart, I write this. The past 3 months, we put so many customers into different kinds of trouble, dilemma and worries, made so many employees work non-stop for so long… but no matter what, we are 65daigou, ezbuy as a team, we do not shrink away from responsibilities that we ought to bear. Even during the worse delay, we were still serious about our ETA and on-time shipping guarantee, making 30% international shipping fee compensation for shipment delays. During 11.11 and Black Friday, those orders we did not manage to purchase in time, as long as your orders were submitted before our guaranteed time, we made the purchase and paid for the differences at our own cost. For after-sales issues, we may need slightly more time to investigate and process one by one, but please trust us that we will not miss out any of your issues and take the responsibilities arising from them.
We are a group of passionate people, we have our dreams and beliefs and we hope to bring more goods from more places around the world to more customers with the utmost convenience and more savings. We do not forgive ourselves when problems arise and neither do we push away our responsibilities. We learn and progress eagerly and we try our best to dig deeper and see through all problems so that we can have better preventative actions. 12.12 order volume was also higher than our planned capacity, but this time having more experience and adapting ourselves, many of you who made purchase during 12.12 and 11.11 may have already felt the improvement in the efficiency of order processing.
This Christmas, we are full of apologies and regrets, but we think to ourselves, no matter what, we have to make everything better in 2017 for you, we have to be more focused, dedicated to provide a fast and professional service. Again, I would like to apologize for all the troubles caused during the past 3 months for you and your loved ones. 2017, we reset and set out again.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
CEO on behalf of ezbuy team