I was approximately 5 months into running Errine Adaptive Clothing,  designing and manufacturing clothing for people with a physical disability, when I decided I needed a professional website with an ecommerce store through which to sell the clothing. Initially I tried a business that provided a ‘one size fits all’ web design service; this was a complete disaster and I lost several hundred dollars.

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I had hired a consultant to work with me on the clothing designs and to liaise with the off shore manufacturers, she was very professional, honest, and trustworthy, and recommended a web design company she and several of her clients had used with great success. Thinking that word of mouth was the best recommendation I just went with the company she recommended. I will call them CV.

CV appeared to be very professional, had great ideas, and provided me with prices to set up a custom designed website, I signed the contract and away we went.

There were many issues with the website once it went live but CV assured me this was normal and just ‘teething problems’. As time progressed the issues did not go away and I was invoiced over and over for the work they completed to ‘work on fixing the issues’. I paid each time and on time. In hindsight those costs should have been included in the set up costs, but being green and naive I never thought to question them.

 


When my site began receiving orders I also started to receive complaints from customers about the checkout process; postage cost not calculating properly; shopping cart not working; tax not calculating correctly. In addition I would receive phone calls from angry customers asking why I had not responded to their email – emails I had never received! My website was also offline more than it was online.

As you can imagine I was contacting CV regularly about these issues. One day the owner of CV said to me ‘our other clients only call us at the most twice a year, you’re calling us every week, you need to manage these things yourself’.

I was now in a state of constant stress and panic, not sleeping, felt exhausted, and felt betrayed, ‘ripped-off’, and disheartened. I was also angry with myself for choosing this nightmare company without checking them out first. Self-doubt consumed me and I questioned my ability to run a business.

 

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My website was repeatedly offline; my business brand and reputation was being damaged each day, and I had no idea how to fix the problems myself. I trawled forums and help sites; bought books and spent hours each day and night doing crash courses in shopping carts, websites, html. You name it, I tried to learn it. I spent hours each day and night trying to fix the postage, tax, and other problems and just made a bigger mess of it.

When I realised I just could not manage this myself I spent weeks calling other companies to help me with my website and got varied responses: ‘we will have to completely rebuild the site’ or ‘we can patch it up’’. Many did not get back to me. Several (by now I knew a lot more about website design) did not know what they were talking about or told me completely irrelevant or false information. Not that I think they were being malicious, rather, they were not as experienced or knowledgeable as they professed to be.

Eventually I found a company that actually listened! The more they talked the more I realised the first company did not know what they were doing. I had accepted the fact that I would have to pay more money and I was very dubious about committing myself to another contract/company. They understood this and took a lot of time talking with me. They also agreed to let me pay them over 12 monthly instalments, given the expense and trouble I had just gone through.

By now I was so relieved I just cried on the phone, they were very patient with me.

I have been with them for almost a year now and they have done everything they said they would. There have been no problems with the website and don’t mind how often I contact them. The problems my first website had, were even bigger than I had initially realised:

  • There was no firewall to protect my customers credit card details or prevent hackers from gaining access
  • They had designed my website with a free template that had very limited options to configure hence most of the problems
  • The add-ons they used (modules, components) were all free and some were up to 4 years out of date which was why postage, tax etc. was not calculating properly

The list goes on and on.

What was the biggest contributing factor to it happening? (other than the intent/actions of the other party) i.e. you were in a rush, you didn't shop round

I went with this business because someone I trusted recommended them, I didn’t shop around, and because I was unfamiliar with the technology and aspects of web design so didn’t know the right questions to ask to ‘assess’ their experience and knowledge.

What I learned from the experience?

I always try to find a positive in a negative and the positive here was that I learned a great deal from this very traumatic experience.

Now, before I engage with any business I familiarise myself with the type of product or service I am seeking and construct a list of specific questions to ask them. If I don’t know what to ask them how do I know if they are going to be able to do the job they say they can? This also gives them the impression you know what you are talking about and that you are not ‘easy prey’.

I take my time and shop around and read websites, this gives me lots of information about a company, their level of professionalism, and I am learning ‘jargon’ and terminology at the same time. This arms me with more information when I make the call. It is time consuming, but has saved me from a number of potentially disastrous situations.

If a business does not give me the time of day on the phone, I drop them immediately. I usually make contact first through email to gauge their response and their response time.

The businesses that reply through email asking me to ‘send them an email with more information’ go straight into the ‘delete’ folder. If they can’t take five minutes to call me when I am looking to buy their product or service, then what will they be like to work with post sale? If they assume I have so much time on my hands to sit and type out yet another email to them, they assume wrong and are not worth my effort.

If a business calls, I have my questions ready and sound like I know what I am talking about. I have stumped a few and never heard back from some. The phone call is also another opportunity to gauge their professionalism and commitment to you as a potential customer.

Do they rush through the call like they have more important things to be dealing with? You are important too and should not be treated as a second rate customer (some business are only interested in big players).

Do they call from a local coffee shop or station with lots of background noise so you have to keep repeating yourself or shout to be heard? It’s not that hard to find a quite spot to call and give you a few minutes of quality time.

Do they wait days or longer to get back to you? If you purchased their product or service and encountered an urgent problem, how long would you have to wait to receive help or support?

Are they able to answer your questions or do you get a lot of ‘I’m not sure about that I will have to get back to you’ or ‘I don’t know I’ll have to get my supervisor to call you about that’? You need a business that can help when you need help, particularly in urgent situations; you are paying good money so you should expect a good service!

Before engaging with any new business I now thoroughly check them out before jumping in, I rely on my ‘gutfeeling’, and don’t just take someone else word that they are good.

Jane Thomasson, Managing Director of Errine Adaptive Clothing www.errine.com.au