Monday, February 23, 2009

ArtFire: Outstanding or outragous?

Strange things happened to me today on the Internet. I hear people are talking about it, so I want to make everything clear and put it into proportion. These are the facts.

I have online shops at two venues - Etsy (where I sell my puppets and crafts) and ArtFire (where I sell my art). The ArtFire shop is two months old and I didn't have a single sale on it so far. For those of you who are not familiar with how it goes - on Etsy you pay a listing fee (0.2$) for each item plus a 3.5% commission on each sale, and on ArtFire you pay a 7$ monthly fee which includes everything. This means on the 2 months I am a member there, I paid 14$ for what I would have paid 2$ for (listing fees for 10 items) on Etsy.

So, this afternoon I this on my Twitter "I think it's time to drop out of ArtFire. Zero sales and 14$ fees?! This is unacceptable to me".

A while later, I get a message from someone, assumingly on the ArtFire team, saying "did you read the so and so sellers guide?". I was busy with work, so I didn't reply at the time. Then, a while later, I see emails from ArtFire saying my subscription was canceled due to lack of funds on my Paypal or per my request. So I ask myself "can it be that ArtFire person did something without telling me?? Nahhhhh" and go back to work.

Then I get emails from Paypal saying the same. So I reply to the ArtFire service asking "did you do something to my account based on what I said on Twitter?" feeling mighty paranoid and stupid.

Yes they tell me. The ArtFire president, Mr. John Jacobs saw your Twitt and decided to give your two months free of charge on ArtFire and we canceled your Paypal subscription so you are not charged to pay for these months by mistake.

At this point I almost exploded.

Now. What can we say on this, which is positive (and I hear there has been a debate on this on the hours I was offline between work and getting home):

  1. Mr. Jacobs is undoubtedly a nice gentleman with excellent intentions.
  2. This was done with good intentions.
  3. My subscription was not really canceled, the payment was.
  4. I got two months free of charge.

People say I should be happy with this, and that this is outstanding customer service.

For those of you who don't know (probably 98% of my 26 or so readers) I have been in the technical support and customer service industry since 1994. I managed several international support centers in my time and worked with plenty of fortune 500 American customers as well as your everyday end users. This is, by far, something I would never have done. And this is why:

  1. The savior complex - during the years, I attended and gave several outstanding service classes, during which I warned about this complex. It comes with all the best intentions - you think you know what should be done to make your customer happy, and so you do it. Without asking. You just go ahead and do it. That is paternalistic, antagonizing, and outrageous - to assume you know better than your customer what is in their best interest. You never do anything directly affecting your customer without asking for permission first.
  2. Paypal does not know what is going on behind the scenes, Paypal is a robot. It told me I have no funds, and I almost got a heart attack at first.
  3. Twitter is a blog. A silly tiny blog, but a blog non the less. For a company I am a customer of, to take action on my account, based on a thought I expressed on Twitter?! That is unacceptable. My Twitter is mine, at least I thought so. Yes, this is the Internet, where privacy is an old joke, and writing on such a venue, obviously I take into account I have no control on who reads it. But if I write my Chevrolet sucks and I can't stand it anymore, does it give General Motors the right to get into my garage, take my stupid old Cavalier and replace it with a shiny new Aveo?? I think not. Because it is MY car and MY garage, and I decide when the car goes and with which company's car it will be replaced.

Whether I want to leave ArtFire, or stay (and why) is my business. Had Mr. Jacobs, or one of his employees, contacted me and said "we read what you wrote by chance, and we would like to discuss the reasons with you and maybe make you an offer.." then I might have said "okay, I don't feel comfortable with how they use Twitter, but I know it is a popular business tool, and this is a nice offer". But going behind my back and making decisions for me? I am sorry. That is totally unacceptable in my book.

What will I do next? I don't know yet, but it definitely not something people should care about too much, I am one person and I have my own views and standards. What is important to think about, and what bothers me most, is the way information we put on the Internet is used by commercial and other forces, and how and if we want to share our minds in this format. Cause today it is the nice people of ArtFire, but tomorrow - who knows.

Update (25.2.09) - I will probably be closing my shop, due to what I have learned about ArtFire's operation. I am not 100% sure yet, so I deactivated my items for the meanwhile till I am sure I want to close shop.

Update (26.2.09) - Disabled comments for this post, cause I got tired of repeating myself to people who obviously don't read (or comprehend) what I am saying.

For the last time - Thank you to all the nice ArtFire people who took the time to comment here. I deleted my ArtFire comments on Twitter, as an act of courtesy.

This issue is getting old, and the last few comments I got are too silly. If you don't like it, you probably won't like the fact I am Jewish either, or don't eat dairy, or use Pantene and any other issue on which we don't see eye to eye. So go byte a kite.

(which reminds me I have a really nice bagel waiting on my desk).


gush4plush said...

I agree with you! Do what is best for you and your business. ArtFire over stepped in my opinion.

Best Wishes,
Gush4plush ♥

Anonymous said...

wow. wow. wow.

i think i would have been just as upset. it's a shame that the best of intentions can make a situation worse.

all they had to do was DM you. and ASK what you wanted.

Sharona R. said...

I keep recieving direct messages on Twitter from their support, which are deleted by them almost immediatly. They mainly said it is all a coincidence and that nothing happened based on what I Twittered.

Do they realize I have the deleted messages on my email even after they delete them?

I think they need to do a little house cleaning.

Art Fire said...

Let me first say that I apologize. It was certainly not my team’s intent to upset you. Our President has sent a new standard for customer service here. We have expanded our customer service beyond traditional means to include any problem brought up by anyone on the Internet. With most companies today you are unlikely to get much help even if you call or email them. We feel that the ability to search the internet with new technologies means that the responsibility for good customer service has shifted to the company.
For the ArtFire staff we are expected to proactively go out and try to solve problems, address concerns and reinforce positive experience wherever it happens online. Earlier today I read a frustrated post on a glass works forum. I signed in, asked a few questions and was able to solve that issue and create a new programming solution for that group in 24 hours.
John is very sensitive to the blogosphere and concerns about our firm. If he sees dissatisfaction he tries to address that not just with words, but with action. I think this case is more akin to a small business owner overhearing that you were unhappy with your purchase at a local café and mailing you a refund and replacement the next day. It is small town personal service at a global level.
I realize that such action may seem extreme. But maybe it is the lack of personal service expectation that makes it so. We will certainly learn from your experience and concerns and add them to our training and evolution of total service. We can learn from mistakes even if they are made with the best intentions.
I sincerely thank you for your business, and your feedback. They both serve to make the ArtFire community better.

Warmest Regards,
Tony Ford

Sharona R. said...

Thank you for taking them time to read, and reply.

I have to say this is a very interesting lesson in global customer service. I am satisfied you learned something from my experiance as a customer, and will certinely consider your application of personal service in a global online envrionment as a professional lesson for my career.

The ability to provide personal customized service, based on the online technologies and tools, is a serious one. Where is the line between providion outstanding customer service and invading the customer's privacy?

I think this will be debated in the buiness schools of the near future, since obviously the standards are shifting due to new technologies developing daily.

This reminds me of an idea I once had for a restaurant with telepathic waiters. My friends and I dicussed this hipothetical idea for a while, before we decided it will be imorral to open such a business.

BTW, from a practical point of view, two simple things would have resolved my worries, had they been taken instead of what actually did:

1. Issuing a refund instead of canceling my subsricption.

2. Contacting me before you took any type of action.

Art Fire said...

I agree that emerging technologies and capabilities raise interesting issues for companies pushing the frontiers of customer service.

I can tell you that we do have some guidelines we have been working under.

1) We only address issues that can be found publicly (blogs, tweets, forums etc. )

2) We don’t go into competitor’s forums or channels to address issues (although we may try to contact posters privately if an issue is raised).

3) We try to match the publication with response – e.g. a personal email would not be publicly responded to, but a public post would not only be personally responded to for the sake of transparency.

4) We do try to contact first before taking action. Sometimes the speed of the media cycle creates a situation where action/response cannot or does not mesh well with the needs of real-time brand management.

In handling public concerns the intent is two-fold. First we want to address the concern. Second, we want to demonstrate in the same public forum that the issue was initially raised that we are addressing the problem.

The availability of information today creates a situation in which companies that do not address concerns in a transparent and immediate fashion create a great deal of bad-will that is recorded forever on the Internet.

I think the lesson we have to learn is how to balance the individual with the public perception and how can we better mesh our media cycle pressures with personal service action timelines so that both the personal and the public are served.

These are all excellent points. Your final two points have been added to our discussions for the development of this program, I think they are right on point.

BTW if the waiter would be able to tell what I really wanted when I couldn’t decide, I would be up for it :)

Warmest Regards
Tony Ford

Craftiness said...


seababejewelry said...

Agree with Craftiness, wow!

Ooty said...

טוב, אז גם אני וואו!
ומקווה שלא נפגעת יותר מידי מהסיפור הזה וטוב שלפחות יצא פה משהו לטובה מכל הסיבוך הזה
שיהיה לך יום טוב מתוקה!!

Sharona R. said...

I wonder - Do I, by writing in a blog (or Twitter for that affect), dismiss my right for privacy and free self expression?

Is it legit for a company to take action on me, as a customer, based on what I write on my blog?

Are we going to have a "I allow my views and thoughts to be used for commercial purposes" checkbox on our blog (and similar) settings in the near future?

האמת שאני לא מרוצה בכלל. מדיניות השירות האיכותי שלהם, כפי שהם מתארים בתגובות, מפחידה אותי מאד כי היא עוברת את הגבול שבין שירות איכותי לריגול אחרי הלקוחות. פעילות שיווק פרואקטיבית על סמך בלוגים ופורומים באינטרנט?? קו אדום נחצה כאן

candleguy821 said...

It seems that Artfire is in the learning mode, that is good. Privacy is gone, there are cameras everywhere. Anything you say or do is watched. This is the 21st century or is it 1984. A person has to approach the internet knowing that "anything goes" well it does not HAVE to be that way. We are all individuals, maybe we need to police ourselves and learn some manners. Ask first it is only polite. Yes, it takes longer. SO WHAT! take a little time and "do the right thing" be nice. To much to ask, I think it is up to all of us to learn by Sharona's experience and by what she said. Sharona, thank you.

staceyrebecca said...

Regardless of how artfire decides to stalk its users, they need to allow you to express your concerns without feeling as though big brother is watching...or taking action on the account. This is not the first I've heard of artfire blunders. Granted, they're new, so some blunders are bound to happen, but the blunders I've heard of not only violate privacy, but insult members.

Sorry this happened to you, Sharona. You rock, you really do!

Shay Aaron said...

I must say
1. it is one of the creepiest threads I've ever read before...

2. You know that I love you.

kelsey_f (WorksInProgress) said...

if you don't want ArtFire to see what you write about them, don't mention them by name.

I hope you know that tweets are easily searchable by keywords...

and in my opinion you are lucky they did anything about your grumbles of no sales. or even cared.

they tried to help you. and maybe they went about the wrong way, but you even admit their intentions were good.

and I for sure would not issue a refund...

so to answer your question, "outstanding".

kelsey_f (WorksInProgress) said...

also, to what the second poster said, ArtFire could not have DMed you unless you were following them.

Sharona R. said...

Well, Kelsey, I was following them and was DMed by them after the fact.

I am glad you think their service is outstanding, cause I don't want them to go out of business. I do, however, want to have nothing to do with them - and if possible send them a message.

You see, this is my industry, and I know my way around it. If I Tweet about hating my hair, and then wake up in the middle of the night by my hairdresser coloring it blond, I can charge criminal offences against him. This is not the case here, since I was not phisically harmed. I can however decide, now that I know what their vision is, I do not want to be their customer. Simple as that.

If you are happy, good, but all of their customers should be aware of their service standards (perhapes they are, don't know if what Mr.Ford wrote is published on their website, though I expect it is, because they are proud of it and are doing it in good intentions).

Every once in a while, a person needs to take a stand for their ideals, and this is one of these times (smallish as it may be) for me. I will not support a comapny that violates its customers' privacy.

Sharona R. said...

Plus, the fact they have the best intentions doesn't mean what they are doing is good.

The road to hell, etc.

And I don't consider it lucky, cause if I had wanted them to take action, I would have contacted their customer service instead of venting about it on Twitter.

KleanKrafts said...

Sharona let me get this straight ... you mention on Twitter (out load in public) that you have not made any sales on ArtFire. They contact you immediately, upgrade your account, "comp" your account free, go above and beyond what Etsy would ever do and even have their President contact you directly to help... and you are bashing them? Are you nuts? Yes you should definitely leave ArtFire, you may want to just turn your computer off and find a tin foil hat too...

Sharona R. said...

I thank you Klean, for taking the time to write I am nuts on my own blog :-)

Now read what I wrote again (did you read all the comments?) consider the fact I managed customer services for several international high tech companies (mainly information security, BTW, which put this very interesting discussion with their managers right up my alley) and then rethink your "bashing" comment.

I don't really think I need to explain myself for the 14th time.

But I do LOVE funny hats, so you are welcome to make me a tin foil one (with little anetannas too, please!!) and send it over.

Sharona R. said...

BTW - Not ALL ArtFire fans need to comment here saying they think I am nuts for turning over such a gift. I actually figured not all members of the human race think alike.

BTW, all reseraches show the clear differences in customer expetations out of customer services worldwide.

For example - In Israel, a professional answer from customer service would be "quick and to the point" while in the US professional usually means "courteous and helpful" (very similar to Asian-Pacific customers).

So there, another reason for differnces in views.

Tomorrow I will write a post about Xenu the intergalactic tirant using my tooth fillings to broadcast Twitter DMs to my brain. Maybe that topic will raise less rivalry.