Can supermarkets deliver? Ocado vs Waitrose – Service Smackdown

This is the first – in a series of completely unfair, no-holds-barred customer service evaluations of two similar providers based on recent experiences. First into the ring, Ocado, the pioneer online supermarket synonymous with Waitrose’s high-end brands. And leaping over the ropes, here comes – uh – Waitrose, the high-end online supermarket. Confused? This post won’t help – but might illustrate how to get some basics right in this highly competitive area. Seconds out, round one.Not sure where the WWE-speak comes from – although I was always taught that selling is more like a street fight – so the first low blow comes from me to Waitrose. Here’s something you could do right: arrive on time. Yes, this is customer service 101: do what you say you are going to do, so if you give a customer a delivery slot,do try to make it. In this case we had an 8 to 9 slot on a Saturday morning and the eventual delivery time was 9.30. Now in my part of SW London it’s not inconceivable to get snarled up in traffic at any time of the day so I know that booking a delivery time with anyone can be a triumph of hope over experience but there’s something that superior service providers do if they find themselves held up and that’s to set expectations. In this case, there was no call and no information on website other than that the order was ‘in transit’. On this basis, Ocado win hands down since they always ring to say if they are likely to be late or, in some cases, if they are running ahead. First round to Ocado.

Round two: human beings, being human. Superior customer service requires service personnel prepared to be pleasant, interactive and personable. On this front it’s a score-draw as both Ocado and Waitrose seem to employ people who talk to the customer and make the mundane experience of dropping off bags of groceries seem like a pleasant encounter. Oh, but in the recent case there’s a slip-up by Waitrose as they come out of their corner: no acknowledgment of the fact that they were half an hour late. Points victory to Ocado on the grounds that by setting expectations they make an apology less important – although they usually give one on arrival anyway.

So that’s it – I’ve stopped the fight after two rounds and am handing victory to Ocado. Delivery, service fulfilment, getting stuff to customers is the hard part of customer service. Getting it right is not easy, but recovery from getting it wrong is critical in maintaining your brand. In both cases, Ocado and Waitrose pride themselves on a high level of service. In this highly selective example, Waitrose still seem to be getting to grips with some of the basics and could run the risk of damaging their brand if they don’t get them right.

Next up – mobile mayhem with O2 and T-mobile…

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