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Des Moines, Iowa
USA

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Customer Service and The Web: KEEN Footwear

Geoff Wood

Nothing irritates me more than poor customer service, probably because it’s so easily correctable (see my thoughts on the Airline Customer Service).

Here’s a situation that I’m currently going through with the KEEN Footwear Company. Personally, I have never owned any KEEN merchandise but do know that they have a reputation for quality sandals and I’m interested in purchasing a very specific pair.

The Situation: KEEN Footwear
The story starts nearly a year ago when my wife and I participated in a nearly 500 mile bicycle ride across our home state of Iowa called RAGBRAI. One of the women on our team wore a neat pair of KEEN bicycle sandals called “The Commuter” that were built to work with the SPD pedal system on a bike (shoes that clip into the pedals to give you maximum  efficiency in pedaling). At the time we were cycling newbies and hadn’t installed SPD pedals on our new road bikes. We quickly learned that we should have bought them before the ride and vowed to do it before the start of this upcoming cycling season. Most cyclist wear shoes in that clip into their pedals but sandals are key for RAGBRAI because of the uncomfortable nature of wearing wet socks on a day long ride(1).

Several weeks ago we started to hit 50 degree temperatures here in Indianapolis so I decided it was time to get my bike ready for the season. I had purchased some SPD pedals in a sale over the winter and decided it was time to get the Commuter sandals.

As any good member of the Internet generation would do when seeking information, the first thing I did was check the web to figure out where I can find the sandals. Luckily for me, KEEN has a GoogleMaps mashup of retailers that carry their product at their website. I picked one of the first, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and drove over to buy the shoes. After getting to the store I was informed by a less than helpful staffer they do not carry the Commuter sandals.  That was a wasted trip.

Direct Attempt 1: E-mail
Rather than waste another trip only to leave disappointed, I decided to check with KEEN to find out which retailers actually carry the sandal. I went back to the website and found an e-mail address for consumer inquires and, as a consumer, quickly sent off the following inquiry:
Hello,

I'm interested in purchasing the Commuter Bike Sandal and would like to know what retailers carry it in the Indianapolis, IN area. I've bought one pair online and had to send them back because the size didn't work out. I'd like to buy in a store instead.

Thanks.

A few hours later I received the following reply:
Hello Geoff,
 
Thank you for supporting KEEN.
 
You can go to find a dealer on our site and enter in your zip to find KEEN dealers near you.  We are unable to tell you what retailers have for inventory though. 
  
Best Regards,

As you can guess I was not pleased. I had asked a very specific question and I received a general answer that was in no way helpful (the KEEN customer service representative should have assumed that I was aware of the website since I had their e-mail address). So I sent their representative a reply:
Can you tell me which dealers actually carry the Commuter bike sandal? I went to one (Dick's) and they did not. I'd rather you tell me where to buy your product than I have to do a bunch of research to buy your product.

Thanks.

I admit it’s a little snippy but I was frustrated. In return, he reiterated that he was not going to answer my question:
Hi Geoff,
 
As I mentioned before, I can't tell you what retailers have the commuter sandal.  Our system isn't set up where retailers can report to us with what there inventory is. 
 
Thank you for supporting KEEN.

Best Regards,

I should note that in neither e-mail did I ask about inventory – such as which retailer has the Commuter in stock. Instead, I asked about their distribution – which retailer carries the shoe.

Attempt 2: Twitter
My next step was to try Twitter. Knowing that many brands had adopted Twitter as innovative means of interacting with their customers – I was hopeful that whomever is manning the @KEENInc handle would answer my question.

I sent @KEENinc the following direct message late on Tuesday night:
I'd like to find out which local (Indianapolis) distributors carry the Commuter bike sandal - can you help?

On Thursday night I received this reply:
Hi! Dealer locator is best resource:http://bit.ly/gMLgI Otherwise can buy online:http://bit.ly/MoQrH Select size and click to see options :)

On Friday morning, I then replied:
Thanks. Dealer Locater doesn't tell me which products are carried in each store-how can I find that out?

I have not received a response. The lag time between replies from @KEENInc  is actually worse than the fact that they didn’t answer my question (which I know was a long shot based on my previous interaction with the e-mail customer service).

Attempt 3: Telephone
It’s a little old fashioned, but I decided to try the telephone. I called the number listed on the website for KEEN Footwear and was told through the third medium that I could check the dealer locator on their website for retailers but that they had no way to tell me which ones actually carry the $115 product that I wanted to buy from them.

Takeaways
As one of MBA professors likes to say: “What are the Takeaways from this case?

I have four:

One: If a customer (or potential) reaches out to you in a forum you provide with a direct question, you need to answer it. I understand that the customer service desk may not have a system to easily access which retailers carry which products but the ease of finding the answer is not an excuse for not providing it. Also, I’m sure that someone at KEEN has the information, such as the shipping department; I’m sure the answer could have been found

If there was truly not a way to find the answer internally at KEEN HQ, then at the very least the customer service group could have called the 30+ retailers listed in their own dealer locator web application for Indianapolis to do the research on my behalf. After all I’m trying to buy their product, it makes sense that they would want to make it as easy as possible for me to do so.

Two: Consumer/brand interaction flows one direction. A website is a good passive information source, however, once the interaction has moved beyond that – through e-mail, Twitter or the telephone (or, in my case, all three) – the brand cannot direct the consumer backwards. “You can find the answer at our website” should never be the answer to a direct consumer interaction. 

Three: If you’re going to play in the social media space with your brand you better understand your audience. I applaud KEEN for using Twitter, however, waiting over 48 hours in replying to my direct messages is inexcusable. By looking at their public Twitterstream I can see that they were active with the platform – they may not have realized it but they were in fact ignoring me. Social media is intended for conversations and a great way for a brand to interact with its customers; however, if not done well it can harm the brand.

My guess is that KEEN is involved in Twitter because of its hype rather because it’s part of a larger social media strategy and that’s unfortunate.

Four: I still don’t know where to buy my shoes.

(1). There’s a tendency for slip ‘n slides to show up along the RAGBRAI route and it’s tough to pass that up in the heat of July day in Iowa.