Most Common FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS of Voltaire Cycles of Verona, During the Covid-19 Pandemic
Due to Covid-19 "Shelter-in-Place" restrictions, we are experiencing an unprecedented increase in volume of phone calls, emails, drop-off repairs, and warranty requests. We are doing our very best to meet the demand while also re-adjusting our promises and public expectations.
Here are the operational changes:
1. We have opened the shop and our small warehouse to a 7-day week schedule offering drop-off hours between 9:30 and 5:00 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Sunday.
2. We have hired 4 more employees to help manage service and communications with current customers and a small portion of new customers.
3. We have hired a full-time phone answering service and assigned 5 live receptionists to manage the increase in phone calls (please read the facts regarding our phones below)* This option has recently changed due to even greater volume of phone calls.
4. We have developed calendar-based consultation times for new e-bike buyers with available staff.
5. We have developed a trouble-shooting ticket managing system for questions regarding online orders, fulfillment and return or exchange requests.
"WHY WON'T YOU RETURN MY CALLS? I HAVE LEFT 3 MESSAGES OVER THE LAST WEEK AND NO ONE HAS RETURNED MY CALL?!"
We hear you loudly and clearly. You might not believe this, but we hear this from customers who visit our shop outraged and appalled at our customer service. How could we possibly be serious about running our business with such disregard for people's questions and messages. Our inability to answer phones, or even reply to multiple emails(!!!) is truly unacceptable.
We couldn't agree more!
"So why don't we return your calls?"
Here are some facts about our business which have not changed over the course of the past 2 months although the world HAS changed. As a business, we strive to be as courteous and as responsive to our patrons (and friends) as humanly possible. We attempt to meet every customer and every question head-on and to address our customers as if they were our own sister, brother, mother or father.
Not a single one of us saw Covid-19 coming nor did anyone we know truly realize how different things would become once people were forced to stay at home. Lots of things have occurred which put new strains on some businesses while at the same-time eliminating other businesses entirely. It's not as if anyone prepared us for this change, or prepared the world for what the world would need.
We are a small brick-n-mortar business with a successful track-record for identifying and meeting a growing industry in the sustainable energy space. In the past, on any given day of the week at this time of year, our average phone volume is between 6-8 calls per hour. For the entire day, we'd average 35-40 calls.
Since the beginning of the pandemic in early March of this year, our phone call volume increased dramatically. We hit an average daily volume of 100+ calls in mid-March. Every staff member was answering phones and putting people on hold the entire day. By early April, we were averaging a daily volume of 200+. This translates to about 25 calls an hour. That may not seem like much, but if you consider an average call is 2.4 minutes, it starts to look like we might have a problem.
By the end of April our average daily volume had tripled to over 600 calls on a given day. By mid May, we've tracked 700 calls in a single day. We aren't yet into our summer season or out of the Pandemic restrictions. This volume is way beyond anything we've ever experienced.
We are a small business and take pride in trying to meet the needs of this growing industry through our sales and services. At first, we attempted to meet phone calls and email messages head-on with all available staff, the owners, and even friends and family members lending us a hand. This solution quickly became untenable.
We then hired a professional virtual answering service to help us handle the volume. They assigned 5 receptionists to our account. By the end of their 2-week probationary period, we realized that they were capturing only 20% of the total call volume! With 5 receptionists, the volume was too heavy for even their team.
With so many phone calls, there are also phone 'messages' to answer. By April 15th, we were looking at message lists over 200 calls long for a single day. These calls compound each day. By week's end, there is a list over 800 long. Only a couple hundred of those calls were returned. Every call we returned, we made a priority to address their interests, and to fully answer their call either with a quote, a list of parts recommendations, or other information which we'd normally offer for any customer or interested person in our industry. We attribute the volume increase to an enormous number of families - especially in our area of the U.S. looking to stay healthy at-home by rekindling their love of cycling.
When phone traffic increased, we also saw a substantial increase in customer drop-offs of old bicycles needing repairs or restoration. Our warehouse storage facility quickly filled to capacity with both old and newer bikes requiring repairs, tune-ups and/or warranty service. Wait times for repairs has extended exponentially. Currently, anyone bringing in a bike for a repair will likely have to wait upto 6 weeks or longer before their bike queued.
These explanations are not meant to be excuses. They are intended for those of you interested in how our business could behave so poorly during this time of need. The answer is that we are trying but without either a complete change of our business from small neighborhood to Global Distribution Center with a 40,000 square foot warehouse and some 200 employees, we are woefully undersized to meet the current demand that is occuring.
There are just too many calls and too many visitors to the shop now to effectively meet the demand that continues to increase. Certainly, for any other business like ours, there is an abundance of opportunity here - to be extremely successful meeting a need that isn't likely to abate anytime soon.
Currently, we are working on solutions to manage this temporary increase in customer traffic while also lessening the load of frustration that many feel when they cannot get through to a live person. The following F.A.Q offers specific insight into how we are addressing an issue that you may be experiencing with us. Please bear in mind that in this situation, you should adjust expectations down. If you don't want to wait a week or longer for an item, don't order from us. If you can't find a supplier anywhere else, then we'd be honored to fulfill your purchase. You just have to be patient - and to appreciate that there are lots more people like yourself trying to get the same things.
Most Common FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS of Voltaire Cycles of Verona, During the Covid-19 Pandemic
"I purchased an Item on your website a few days ago, and other than the confirmation note, I have yet to receive any information on tracking or shipping. Can you please tell me what the heck is going on?"
All orders made through our website online will-be fulfilled in the order they were received. Given the increase in volume of orders and specific space limitations of our climate-controlled warehouse, we are limited to the number of people we can have working in the warehouse at any given time. Unfortunately, there are delays. We can't change this because both space and 'safe-distancing' is required in our work-space. The good news is that all orders come into our system highlighted and blinking. As an order is fulfilled, the item is pulled from stock, packaged, then boxed and labeled. When the label is purchased, our system automatically updates the order to "Fulfilled" and sends a confirmation to the email that was used on the initial order. It has been our experience that these confirmation shipping notices frequently end up in SPAM or JUNK folders. Please check your folder. On an average day (non-Covid-19 time-frame) we receive an average 10-15 orders per days. However, during Covid-19, our orders have increased to 30-40 per day. While this may seem like it's a windfall - please read the follow up question for more insight.
"I purchased this Brooks Milbrook Bag on your website last night, and this morning, I got a refund issued. I don't want a refund! I want the Bag. I tried ordering it again but it's saying "out of stock". Please inform me how I am to purchase this bag immediately. I need it for a ride I'm doing next week".
This is frustrating - we totally agree. Please accept our apologies first for showing that we had something in stock, and then - after you purchased the item - sending you a refund without an explanation. This is partly a program issue which we hoped we've fixed (with a new app). You should have received a follow up message explaining that the item has very recently gone out of stock.
This is also a byproduct of Covid-19 "Shelter-in-Place" activity. Online shoppers looking for specific bike gear has increased 10-fold during the Pandemic. We have heard from colleagues in similar industries that they are seeing the same trend. Our goal has never been to be the biggest e-bike and e-mobility retailer on the internet, nor the biggest e-bike retailer in the U.S.A. We aren't Amazon and we certainly do not advertise that can perform to that level. But for some, this is the standard by which all small businesses must be measured. And perhaps - that's a good standard to aspire to.
But that goal is impossible to attain on such short notice. FYI, gear, accessories, women's cruiser bikes, children's bikes, cycling components, and e-bike batteries are quickly running out of stock everywhere. In fact, we will be publishing an article on the massive rush on bicycle dealers and warehouses across the U.S.A. Many of the biggest brands in the industry are completely sold out of all of their 2020 models and ALL of their left-over stock from previous years.
While this surge of demand looks like a windfall for small businesses like ours, it's a very short-sighted windfall with a much bigger consequence in a few months. There is very very little product available for the remainder of the 2020 season. We are amazed at how even small replacement parts are now completely sold out from some of our biggest suppliers in the world. We can login to some of the biggest brand name warehouses and look at page after page of "0s" at all of their warehouses for available inventory. We haven't even officially started our summer riding season and already, everything is sold out.
Much of this product is manufactured and purchased from suppliers all over the world in large lots which are meant to be used over the course of an entire year. Now that all of this has been gobbled up in a few short months, we are left scrambling for solutions for the remainder of this year - and possibly through the next year. Manufacturing and importing for many of these supplies has ceased or is presently restricted due to Covid-19. This is going to be big problem for those of us trying to provide service repairs and warranty repairs. What does a small business do when there is no product to sell and no parts to perform services?
"Hi there, I purchased a Magnum Ranger E-Bike and an Evolve GTR Skateboard on your website last week order #800912020 and I still haven't received it. When are you guys going to ship it? Or are you scamming me????!!!!! I thought I was purchasing from a reliable dealer when I saw your reviews, but now I'm having second thoughts. If I don't receive both of them by tomorrow morning, I'm going to call my credit card to cancel the order and then report you to the BBB!"
We are definitely not scamming you. On the contrary, we are trying to fulfill your order as quickly as possible. With regard to E-Bikes, Scooters, and Electric Skateboards shipping protocols, we are required to ship those under Hazmat Regulations which demand us to label and package those items for ground shipping. We have published a whole page about this in our Shipping Policy documentation. But here is some more information to help further describe the process;
The normal "Retail Packaging" that many bikes or scooters are displayed in at a shop are NOT approved as Dangerous Goods approved shipping boxes. For most of those products, we have to repackage those items and then attach certain labels, packaging documentations, certification documentation, and insurance documentation. When we (as a dealer) purchase those items, we purchase in large lots which are fastened to wooden pallets and shipped in bulk. They are not individually packed and boxed for shipping domestically.
Not only does this take time, all Hazmat certified equipment must be delivered to residential addresses by Ground Freight. Obviously, Ground Freight is transported by "ground" which means the item is moved from distribution center to distribution center and moved on/off trucks and fork-lifts by hand. We've learned from personal experience that the average time for a Hazmat certified e-bike to travel from California to New York by Fed-Ex or UPS is between 5-6 days. Some points of the year, it's faster - sometimes 4-5 days.
Currently, we are seeing shipping from coast to coast as long at 14-16 days in some cases. It all depends right now on how much volume is occurring with the carrier and how much our package is competing against other packages for space and room on the truck. Personnel on the actual delivery trucks have a lot of say on when they will swing by to pickup an heavy Hazmat item, and also, when they choose to drop it off at the distribution center for the next guy to pickup.
Bottom line is that if you haven't received a tracking number from us, it's MOST DEFINITELY still in line with our packer and shippers at the warehouse. We take all order for e-bikes and scooters so seriously, that multiple print-outs of the order are made for the Technicians, for the Store Manager, and for the Packing and Shipping personnel. Every day, multiple times during the day, everyone updates their progress on orders that in queue for the next shipment. Your order isn't lost - not even close. It's in line with our other orders and being handles as carefully as possible - as quickly as possible. For e-bikes specifically, we are required to assemble, and quality check the bike before boxing and preparing for shipment. This adds an extra level of service on our end.