Service of Ordering Online During a Pandemic

May 18th, 2020

Categories: Customer Care, Customer Service, Flowers, Greeting Cards

Photo: Greymount Paper & Press

Chances are you may have ordered something online during the pandemic even if it’s not something you normally do.

Small Business

Photo: Greymount Paper & Press

I wanted a special card to send a college grad and liked one I saw on a Greymount Paper & Press sponsored Facebook ad [photo above]. The well-designed website was promising.

I prefer feeling the paper and ensuring that the printing is crisp, but these days that isn’t in the, uh, cards. I took advantage of a promotion and bought four. They arrived promptly from the artist/owner of the press, Carlene Gleman, along with a professional invoice with a cheery handwritten note on it and two bonus surprise cards.

Photo: Greymount Paper & Press

I dashed off an email to thank Carlene and tell her how much I liked the cards. She responded: “It’s always lovely to meet a fellow quality-aholic. Thank you for your kind words! Customers like you are one of the reasons I get out of bed each morning with a smile. That, and my sweet little family who are currently trapped in the house with me for Week #4,900! Ha. From one upstate New Yorker to a downstate New Yorker, stay safe and be well :-)”

I forwarded this note to a friend who also loves–and sends–the best cards and she said she ordered some from Greymount too. I gave Carlene a heads up, said that my friend had recently been furloughed and she wrote “Thanks for letting me know about ___, I am going to sneak a few extra goodies into her package as a cheer-up.”

Big Business

In contrast, a friend’s experience ordering flowers from 1-800-Flowers on May 4th for delivery Mother’s Day weekend was inexcusable. Not once did the company update her. She had to waste her time tracking them down in countless follow-ups.

The arrangement was meant for her best friend and her friend’s mother, who is deathly ill. Hers was a hard deadline, possibly more imminent than Mother’s Day, which she made clear each time she called customer service as each subsequent promised delivery day came and went. The upshot: In spite of her diligent surveillance the flowers never arrived, the company returned her money and she ordered a bouquet from a local florist. During her last conversation a 1-800-Flowers customer service supervisor told her the delay was because of Covid-19. If a company has no mechanism to update customers and if they cannot fulfill an order they should not accept one.

These examples of a generous small business that nurtures customers and an overwhelmed big business is statistically insignificant. But I wonder if such differences in customer service might augur the future of success of the retail landscape during the pandemic–what do you think?


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18 Responses to “Service of Ordering Online During a Pandemic”

  1. Helen Rabinovitz Said:

    I’ve discovered something about people during many calls to customer service to many different companies. Sometimes the person on the other end of the line is very formal and not easy to talk to UNTIL I break the ice by saying something funny. Occasionally it’s a loud scream from my parrot Georgie that breaks the ice. Whatever it takes I’m committed to being the customer they’re happy to help. Times are stressful and the person on the other end of the line may have problems if I like to think that being nice is contagious. their own.i think a little kindness and a sense of humor helps me as a customer as well as helping the customer service representative on the other end of the phone.

  2. LL Said:

    LL on Facebook: I agree…albeit a small entity can always move and adapt much more swiftly in general and same is true now in pandemic.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I agree! And I also know that the beleaguered customer service person can do nothing to get the rest of the company to do what it should such as fulfill an order, change an invoice etc.

    And humor also works until it doesn’t. When I lived in a house in the middle of nowhere without phone service for three weeks with a very sick, elderly husband–and mobile phones didn’t work there–one night I drove down the road to where I could call, pleading with the voice on the phone to put my repairs at the top of the list and was suddenly overwhelmed and broke into tears. What good did that do? Nothing.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    What you write is true for retail and many other businesses as well–such as PR–but some people feel more comfortable working with giants. With a small agency an account will most likely be handled by seasoned account people if not the owner while if a company represents a small fee its work will probably be the training ground for a newbie at a large agency.

  5. BC Said:

    The ones with a solid cash flow will survive.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    If word gets out that a company consistently drops the ball it won’t last long. Had the customer for the flowers been told before the Mothers Day weekend that they couldn’t fulfill her order she would have had other options. In addition to disappointment she was angry and maybe embarrassed. She’d alerted her friend about the Monday delivery that never happened, and then the Wednesday and Thursday ones she’d been promised, both MIA.

  7. ASK Said:

    For me, much of this has to do with customers willing to pay for service, which in my experience you get when you trade with a smaller business. A perfect example is the small convenience store in my co-op. The owner of the business charges more for canned goods, paper and cleaning products, frozen foods, and a limited selection of health aids. He accepts no coupons and will deliver to bed-ridden residents.

    So far, he has run out of nothing…even toilet paper was available at the height of the hoarding frenzy. He charged $.25 more per roll than a supermarket for basic, one-ply toilet tissue. I overhead one customer berate him for charging more. I politely reminded him that this was a “convenience” store and he was paying extra for the convenience AND the availability.

    That said, perhaps your friend should have ordered from the local florist first instead of 1-800-Flowers.

  8. Anonymous Said:

    Sometimes it’s the luck of the draw as to what representative you get on the phone when dealing with large outfits. All should be polite, courteous and knowledgeable, but alas! this is not often the case. When dealing with a small shop, your chances of gettiing consistantly good service are much better. But I’m definitely going to check out Greymount Paper & Press!

  9. BEK Said:

    BEK on Facebook: For anyone who feels secure with a deliver deadline during these difficult times, I have a lovely bridge I can sell you. It’s very easy to say, if you can’t fulfill don’t take the order, but pretty much nothing is working as it should these days, and it is a time to be sensitive to the stress being put on delivery services these days. Staffs are stressed to the max and complaints could very likely cause layoffs. I would not want that on my conscience. If it is that important, save your money and make a call.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The woman who ordered the flowers in the example in my post has learned her lesson and will start with a local florist next time, most likely, which is what she ended up doing in the end. She was diligent in following up; the reps were not forthright in promising deliveries on three subsequent dates, meeting none of those deadlines and expectations.

    Many businesses indicate that items are back-ordered or unavailable. Seems like a simple way to keep customers informed and expectations in check.

    The communications tools that the small letterpress had are available to corporations with deep pockets. In any case, as always, customers will decide.

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:


    True though the customer service reps can only be as good as the information they have. And if they are told to “yes” customers and make promises helter skelter they are put in a position to create bad blood for the business they represent.

    A business that is hamstrung at this time should take great care to accept only the number of orders it can handle. Many food delivery services tell customers to expect orders in five business days or more. With that kind of warning someone waiting for the food had best have backup plans until the order arrives.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your convenience store sounds remarkable, management is thoughtful and service-minded and well worth what appears to be reasonable surcharges. The problem with the grocery chains near my apartment is that they have increased their prices to stratospheric proportions and their offerings are standard. They can do it because the nearest competition is between nine and 11 blocks away.

    As for ordering flowers that I don’t often do, what you suggest is also my strategy. If I’m lucky and know someone who works or lives near the recipient of the plant or flowers, I ask for a reference. If not, I noodle around on line for a local vendor and cross my fingers.

  13. Lucrezia Said:

    Displeasure with 1-800-flowers goes back decades. I got badly burned in the mid ’70s, the first and last time I used them. They must have done something good since they’re still in business.

    Principles when buying on line should be no different during a pandemic. One should only deal with known and trusted businesses and not respond to uninvited “deals” no matter how good they sound. In short, behavior need not change, as long as one proceeds with usual caution.

  14. Jackie Morel Said:

    Jackie on Facebook: I like 1-800-Flowers and have sent gifts from their sister companies…almost always with happy recipients.

  15. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I am happy to hear that. It had to be OK for many customers for a company to stay in business as long as it has.

  16. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You are right. I took a chance buying greeting cards from Greymount Paper & Press but my friend who subsequently ordered from the company didn’t. If I were to spend a lot and I’d never heard of the company before I’d check around to see what others’ experiences have been or if there were complaints online. I would only buy appliances, computers and such from known vendors.

  17. LG Said:

    I love this post and I am going to order some cards from Carlene. We’ve been ordering some unique things from small businesses. My favorite is a hand crafted birdhouse from a small business in Long Island.

  18. Martha Takayama Said:

    I am not totally comfortable with buying on line, or rather I wasn’t much of a fan until the lock-down. Now I am much less interested in acquiring much of anything. I was used to trying on clothes and shoes and don’t like the responsibility and bother of returns by mail. I enjoy browsing througha bookstore even though they are few and far between. The Booksmith in Brookline, MA is an independent bookstore, a small business, with incredibly gracious customer service and guidance. It is much more charming then ordering on line. Telephone shopping in general is unpredictable. Word of mouth, especially from friends from satisfied customers rather than on artificial online reviews about businesses big and small is still very valuable. In general polite, courteous treatment and product quality offered by a small or large corporation are equally important. Hopefully the Pandemic will teach us to be more thoughtful and service oriented.

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