FTD’s Big Mamma’s Day #FAIL

No FTD

Much of the digital marketing discussion revolves around which brand or campaign is getting this or that digital media discipline right. But there are even more fundamental issues and lessons that have to be learned and re-learned by many brands. Basic customer service is unfortunately one of them.

A case-in-point: my Mother’s Day experience with FTD. There were multiple points of failure up and down the line. It’s almost a case study in how to alienate a customer.

For roughly ten days prior to Mother’s Day I was hit with FTD emails. I decided (on May 5) to send flowers to my mother. I specified that the arrangement be delivered on Saturday (May 7) to avoid any problem with the Mother’s Day delivery crunch. As I was about to check out on FTD.com, I saw that $35 of my order was taxes, fees and delivery charges — about 30% of the total order value.

Before I pulled the e-trigger, those service charges gave me pause. I thought I would probably get more value and better service from a local florist in my mother’s area. Yet against that intuition, I went ahead with the order.

I assumed the flowers would be delivered on May 7 as specified. On May 8 (yesterday) I called my mother. In the early afternoon she called me back and left a voicemail. There was no mention of the flowers and I inferred they had not been delivered.

Fearing some sort of screw up, I went to FTD.com to check order status. After inputting the order number the site returned a message that said, essentially, the company was too busy to provide specific order information. I then called customer service.

That’s when things took a turn for the worse. Indeed, sometimes talking to a poorly trained customer service rep, or one that has little or no authority or incentive to really help, is worse than no interaction at all. Bad customer service will damage the value of a brand.

It was then about 4 pm Pacific Time and the call was answered by an offshore call center. After providing my order number I was told the flowers would be delivered by 9pm. WTF: this was both surprising and frustrating. I asked for identification of the local florist involved to get more precise information, but that was refused “for privacy reasons.”

After additional, fruitless discussion I asked to speak with a supervisor. That request was resisted multiple times (it was clear there was a policy of trying to deflect these requests). I was put on hold for about 15 – 20 minutes. The supervisor was less scripted and spoke better English. She told me the order was “out” and would be delivered soon. She couldn’t be more precise about status and also wouldn’t give me the identity of  the local florist fulfilling the order.

During my roughly 40 minutes of elapsed time on the phone with these offshore agents, I started tweeting my frustration (see, e.g., above). However, nobody from @FTD ever responded on Twitter.

Once I got off the phone I went to Facebook and complained on FTD’s wall. There was a rapid but mostly impotent response. Late yesterday evening I got a voicemail from an FTD rep on the East Coast, whom I spoke with today. Someone must have escalated my complaint.

Eventually, the flowers were delivered, more than 24 hours late — though still technically on Mother’s Day. As I explained to FTD on the phone today, there were multiple points of failure in my interaction with the brand:

  • The mediocre e-commerce experience
  • The unrelenting “buy now” emails that continued after I placed my order
  • The lack of any updates prior to delivery
  • The failure to provide tracking information on the website on the critical day
  • The use of tone-deaf offshore reps reading from scripts, who provided boilerplate responses
  • The failure to respond on Twitter

My service charge was refunded, which was not offered but which I affirmatively demanded. The person I spoke to today (in the US) was sincerely apologetic and thanked me for my feedback. However I simply won’t use FTD again.

Next time I will heed that internal voice and go directly to a local florist (search: “florists” “city name”). That’s who’s doing all the work anyway — and that’s who should get my money.

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12 Responses to “FTD’s Big Mamma’s Day #FAIL”

  1. MiriamEllis says at

    Hey Greg,
    I had an even worse experience with FTD. They didn’t deliver my mother’s flowers until 2 days after the holiday. They gave me a $20 kickback but I was very disappointed.

  2. Greg Sterling says at

    Sorry to hear that Miriam. Very frustrating

  3. Dave says at

    Local florists are one of those industries that have been ripped off by the web.  Endless stories on this.  Just endless.  So many bs middle men stealing from the local florists.  Google doesn’t help this at all.

    From this past January this story from Canadian news surfaced about the problems that florists face…specifically due to Google adwords:  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/online-shopping-google-ads-1.3420914

    Following the story if you searched on a mobile using a search phrase such as Deans Flowers (the name) on a mobile, what would show up on a screen was the ad for a florist middleman and the knowledge box map for the actual Deans.

    In other words the mobile visual gave a VERY STRONG sense that the ad was the actual Deans.   And it wasn’t.

    Search For Dean’s now.  Deans is running adwords.   They couldn’t beat the google “system”.  So now they have to pay also.    Rather crummy.

    Back to ftd…and all the middle men florists.   They are marketing scams.   Get a florist local to your mom.   Boy they will give good service.  If not…get a different local florist.   They give personalized good service.

    FTD and the other middle men just give grief and bs.  Terrible services.

  4. Greg Sterling says at

    In this context FTD and others like it are just a form of search arbitrage.

  5. Dave says at

    What is search arbitrage??   From the adwords perspective, and via a mobile the view made the combination ad/KB view of the actual location appear as if the ad was Deans.  It wasn’t.  

    That isn’t arbitrage.  Its deceptive.  Simple.  

    Local florists have been complaining about this for years.  Did you read the article?  Dean’s would get calls from dissatisfied “customers”….just like you were  a dissatisfied customer.  The difference is the customers placed an order with the advertiser thinking it was Deans.  

    The customers were deceived.  Its been occurring for years.  The entire low cost FTD campaign and those of 3rd party middle men/phone bank internet florists drives crappy deceptive service.  

    Consumers lose.  With adwords google always wins.  As late as 3/4 months ago Deans florists wasn’t advertising for its name.  Now it does.  

    Google wins.  

    Arbitrage???   I think if Don Corleone, the Godfather was real and alive he’d hustle into this business.  Not only is it a great scam.  Its legal.  

  6. Greg Sterling says at

    Wasn’t talking about your Deans example, which sounds terrible. With FTD — they can outrank local florists and create more visibility. Effectively they’re buying traffic that might go to a local florist and then “reselling” that conversion to the local florist but keeping margin that would otherwise go to that florist. That’s what I mean by Arbitrage.

  7. Dave says at

    Greg:

    When one goes into discussions in which florists partake they will describe the fees. I’m not a florist.  But there are florists who partake in discussions on web marketing.  I’ve seen fees described as 20% and occasionally 40%.  I’m not in that industry.  I don’t know the fee structure from the “middle men”.  

    20% is very high.  40% is killer high.  When you say the “arbitragers” ie ftd are “buying traffic”  ie spending a lot to get very high rankings, and then reselling it and taking the florist’s margin…..are they?  Or are they destroying margins and creating poor service….as you received.  

    I don’t know.  I never use ftd.  I’ve been going the route of florists local to the destination in which I’m interested.  I’ve gotten great service.  My mom or other (multiple) recipients have remarked on how beautiful and long lasting the floral arrangement was.  After a bit the florists know the recipient and they know the buyer (me and/or me and other relatives).  The florists make custom recommendations.  Really great service.  Flowers arrive in a timely fashion and they are always commended and long lasting.  

    So is it arbitrage or is it an economic model that is squeezing value from the customer…or is it both?   Meanwhile ftd not only has high rankings but they spend a lot on national name brand advertising with expensive celebrities.  

    Maybe the question should be ….”how many customers are dissatisfied with ftd service?”   How often are flowers of low quality, not delivered in a timely basis?   

    If I am a local florist filling orders that come into my shop by direct buyers and by ftd et al, which deliveries get priority???   As a florist I’ll prioritize the ones at full price.  That is an easy decision.  

    If I’m a local florist delivering on behalf of ftd, neither the buyers or the recipients will end up holding me responsible if ftd is the source of the purchase and the service is lousy.   If I’m making ftd deliveries I’ll take down the name and address of every one of those customers who were serviced by an ftd user….and later I’ll market to them.

  8. Greg Sterling says at

    I mostly agree with what you’re saying. Not using “arbitrage” as a positive word. Think it squeezes the local merchant who doesn’t have the resources to compete for visibility with the national brands/aggregators.

  9. Dave says at

    Greg:  I have  a hard time accepting the word arbitrage, specifically as it relates to this industry and how it affects customers and local florists.

    Here is a reference to the Dean’s situation from late January, this year with a screen shot of a search for Deans from a desktop:

    https://plus.google.com/111190898924390669688/posts/8Ypd3A9Wf9m

    The ad, approved by google, is BUILT to deceive.  No other way to describe it.  I thought I had a screen shot of the same search via a  mobile.  In some ways that was worse.  Via an apple screen all that was initially visible was the ad for a competitor referencing Dean and the map section of the Knowledge Box.

    So really what you had was a phone bank florist and google working together to “deceive” customers.  Now on top of that you have ftd and any other internet florist, essentially in the same role as the online travel agents;  their sites outrank the local smbs.   (the analogy to the hotel business is somewhat stretched….couldn’t Hilton and other big brand hotels mount massive seo campaigns unlike the capabilities of local florists?)

    It seems to me consumers lose. local businesses lose, google wins, internet “plays” win.   “internet arbitrage” or “search arbitrage”.   I think those terms mask a process that is consumer unfriendly.

  10. Greg Sterling says at

    Fair enough. I withdraw the term 🙂

  11. Dave says at

    Greg:  I went through your entire story.  Also reviewed Miriam’s comments.  Really makes one rethink the value in FTD.    I don’t think I’d touch them.  Miserable customer service example.  It must have been frustrating.

  12. Greg Sterling says at

    Yes.

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