My TiVo is finally on a truck headed my way, but the buying process was filled with a lot of conflicting information and mismanaged expectations. Instead of making this a big anti-TiVo rant fest, I want to highlight lessons that any company could learn from. Some of these might sound nit-picky, but it's important to always give the customer a clear and consistent message and it would certainly cut down on support costs if buyers weren't in the dark. Support costs money and a lot of it could be avoided by making small changes in email and web server programming.
- Mistake: Tivo.com stated the Series 3 would ship in 1-2 days on day of launch.
Lesson: Your store has to be inventory-sensitive. Not a lot of e-commerce sites excel at this, but it's worth tying your store backend to your inventory, or at the least, doing a little bit of math on the server side. I bet TiVo had 5,000 units ready to ship within two days, but got 5-10x that number of orders and swamped the system. A savvy developer could write some logic that displayed 1-2 days for the first 5k orders, then shift that to 3-4 days for the next 10k orders. After that, put 5-7 days for the rest on the first day.
Apple does a great job with this (after a history of bad product launches). If you check out a product on the Apple Store on the day of launch, the shipment time will change as the day goes on, depending on order volume. The key is keeping your customer expectations in line with reality. For the past two years, Apple has been great for me, always delivering a day or two before they say, which keeps me happy.
It sucked to spend $1100 and hear nothing about shipping for over 48 hours, but I ordered late morning Pacific time, or about 6 hours after the first orders trickled in. I wouldn't have minded if it said it'd take a week by that time.
- Mistake: TiVo sent a "whoops" email 2 days later, promising next-day shipment with email that never happened
Lesson: Admitting a mistake early is great, but not following up on the promise killed any help it offered. When you sell way more than you expected, it's great to let people know there will be a slight delay and that they'll get free shipping as a result (everyone loves a bonus for a waiting customer!). The problem here is when you make a promise that everything will ship by the next day and the customer should see an email about this, it has to be absolutely true. You've already delayed the customer once -- when you give them more information, make sure it is 100% reliable because you don't want to delay them again.
At this point, I setup a CableCard install, knowing I'd get the box on Saturday or Monday. I had to delay it on Monday for an additional week (next available slot), since I didn't know when it would ship.
- Mistake: Order Confirmation emails going out with old addresses
Lesson: Always reference the original order info, not what you have on file for the customer. I never got the promised shipment email on Friday, but on Sunday afternoon I got an order confirmation email that listed the billing and shipping info for a place I lived in three years ago, back when I used to be a TiVo customer. I moved twice since then, had DirecTV then Comcast, but I used the same email when ordering the TiVo that I used to have a TiVo account with. I didn't want my $1100 package going to an old apartment so I called customer service on a Sunday night (couldn't be cheap for TiVo to maintain staff at that hour) only to be told it was going to the address I put down on my order, where I currently live.
This happened to others as well, and the conflicting information just created more customer support issues.
Another nit-pick, but the confirmation email said my order was placed on 9/14, not 9/12 when I actually ordered it on the website (I suspect the date is when TiVo put it in the confirmed system -- don't expose that to the customer).
- Mistake: Shipment email has conflicting info
Lesson: Always give the customer consistent information. I got my final shipment email this morning saying I ordered UPS Ground shipping (instead of next day air) and it shows my total order doesn't include the 3-year pre-paid service. I understand TiVo doesn't actually ship 3-year service in a box, but it says "ITEMS ORDERED" and it is left off. Call it "ITEMS SHIPPING" instead because that reflects what you're really describing. Also, if every shipment needs to be UPS Ground in the system to process it as free, tack on a note saying that Next Day orders will arrive quicker.
I'm happy that TiVo's Series 3 sales exceeded expectations and this happens with any highly-anticipated launch (see also: xbox360, Playstation 2, iPods), but I think there are a few small changes that could have gone a long way towards keeping everyone happy and up to date. If the website said "shipping in 5-7 days" and the confirmation emails had information that reflected my order, I'd be a happy camper waiting for my TiVo to arrive sometime today, instead of reading posts on other blogs saying TiVo lied, don't buy from them, and I would have had an easier time lining up a cablecard install appointment.