Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The Saga of ESV #1581343485

On a certain messageboard we frequent, there was a thread about Discerning Reader, an online store that sells quality Chritian literature at discounted prices. They review every book that appears on their website, and refuse to sell anything that does not meet up with their standards, hence the appropriate "discerning" title. Anyway, there was some complaining about the customer service of DR and so the owner himself, Rob Schlapfer, joined the board so he could defend his company. In light of all the crazy discussion, I wanted to share my Discerning Reader experience (But not on that board, because sometimes the attitudes of people who post there really scare me.) I apologize in advance for the length. I'm long-winded, even online.

Last October, I realized Gaines' birthday was approaching and wanted to get him a nice birthday present. (November 5th, just in case anyone wanted to know.) He has been in desperate need of a new Bible, since the battered NIV he uses now is a paperback version from Urbana 1990. Needless to say, it has seen it's share of wear and tear. I also knew he wanted to get an ESV, black-letter edition. So, I started looking around, and DR had the best prices by far. Not being too familiar with the site, I saw on the update page that the Genuine Leather Black Letter Edition ESV Bibles were due "Any Day Now." So, I ordered it around October 5th, thinking that a month should be plenty of time for it to come in. I also asked for it to be gift-wrapped, since I didn't want Gaines finding out what it was in case he opened the DR box by mistake (he had ordered some books around the same time as well.)

Then, about October 17th, I got an update on my order-- it said "Will Ship in 24 hrs." Woo-hoo! That sounded great. However, the Bible never shipped and the update message never changed on the update page for my order. A week later, I e-mailed customer service to see what was up and didn't get a reply. So I e-mailed them again. I got a personal call (someone working in Customer Service was taking that day to call everyone who had questions.) He told me that they had one of the exact Bibles I wanted in stock the week before, but someone had made a mistake. When they took it off the shelf and put it on an intern's desk to be gift-wrapped, it had never gotten done. Instead, someone mistakenly sent it out to someone else, and my order never got filled. At least, that's what I was told.

Gaines' birthday rolls around and still no Bible in sight. Their update page still says "Any day now." So I contacted customer service again. I got a fairly quick reply by e-mail, saying that the customer service person who had contacted me originally must have been confused. They had not had that particular Bible in stock for many months, and numerous other people were waiting on it as well. At this point I was a bit frustrated, but I continued to wait. Surely it would be in by Christmas?

Sometime in late November, I believe, I contacted customer service again. I told them that I did not want it gift-wrapped anymore. Gaines knew he had a Bible on the way, the occasion had passed, and I would rather have used the $5 for shipping so it would get here faster. I ended up talking with someone on the phone who said they would take care of it, but who explained it might still be a while because those Bibles were coming from overseas. Apparently there are a shortage of Bible printers in the U.S. Especially ESV ones.

So we waited some more. Just last month, February, they updated the ESV Bible status. Every other ESV Bible version except the Genuine Leather Black-Letter was in stock. I was growing a bit more impatient, wondering why my particular Bible wasn't in, but continued to wait. The update page didn't change for weeks, but I kept checking it everyday just in case. And we waited some more. (Has anyone seen Guffman yet? Even Godot would do at this point...)

So last week, miracle of miracles, I check the DR update page to notice that the Bibles are "IN STOCK." I've never been so happier to see those two words in my life! Saturday, I e-mailed Denise, the nice new lady working at Discerning Reader. (If you've been following their updates, they've had some problems with some of their workers and had to train new folks. Understandable.)

I work part-time in customer service, and I've even worked a few weeks in a shipping department, so I know how hard it is to get things done, especially if you're the only one there. So in my e-mail, I noted that since it was Saturday, I didn't expect a reply until early this week. I'm sure they get lots of demands for "reply to this ASAP" etc., but I could wait. At least now I knew it was in stock.

Well, last night, we're watching the Simpsons episode where Bart goes to France as an exchance student, and we get a phone call. It was from Denise, in the DR office. It was the nicest customer service call I've ever recieved. She repeatedly apologized for our long wait on the Bible, and thanked me profusely for being so patient (Was I? I sure didn't feel that way.) She said they'd had some bad experiences with some customers (I could imagine), and said that to thank me for being so patient and so graceful, they were going to give us a free book with our order: The Passion of the Christ by John Piper. I asked how long it would take: "A week?" and I heard her turn to someone and say, "Rob, are we going to send this one Priority?" and he answered in the affirmative. So she said it should arrive at our apartment in 2-3 days. Wow.

To sum up, since apparently I can't write anything concisely anymore: Discerning Reader is awesome. Although they may have some staffing trouble and some order mix-ups, in my opinion they are the gracious ones. I know what it is like to be on the end of the phone as someone berates your company and yet you still have to be polite. Denise and Rob (and the rest of the DR staff ) are my new heroes.

My only advice to DR would be: contine to strive for "customer service excellence." It is a phrase often thrown around at my workplace, and it sounds too business-jargony for my taste, but I appreciate the policies that go with it. One in particular is that everyone within the organization is required to respond to all phone calls or e-mails within 24 hours, even if you can't answer the person's question. Sometimes I just have to call back and say, "I'm sorry. I have not been able to find out an answer to your question, but we are working on it and someone will contact you tomorrow." I think that is a good tactic to follow.
Also, keep your customers updated on the status of their orders at least weekly, even if it is just to say, "It is not in yet."

I applaud DR and want to publicly thank them for their gracious and timely response to my latest e-mail. Hopefully, Gaines will have a brand-new Bible by the end of the week, and the Redd household will greatly benefit from the "cutting-edge of Bible versions," as we heard Dr. White describe it a few weeks ago.

We'll, uh, keep you posted. (That takes on a whole new meaning on a blog.)

(An addendum: Sadly, DR no longer offers books from Canon Press, for reasons they have detailed on their website. For a few months now I've wanted to own the complete "Family Series" from Doug and Nancy Wilson, and DR was offering all eight books for only $50. Of course, we can still get them directly from Canon, but it was such a great deal I'm sad I let it pass me by. I'll just have to order something else from DR, like one of the plethora of titles I have on my wish list...)

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