“Paging Customer Service. Are You There?”
“Can I help you, Ma’am?” or “Right this way, Ma’am.” Whenever I heard those words in my 20’s, I used to cringe. ‘Me? A Ma’am? Can’t be, I’m not old enough to be referred to as a Ma’am, am I?’ Of course back then, it was all about me and the insinuation of my ‘elderliness’ was all that I focused on out of those two statements. ‘How dare someone refer to me as old? I’m just a young buck.’ At the time, I put no value on the rest of the words in the questions being asked of me, which from a consumer standpoint, are kind of important. Ahhh…the naive 20’s. To have that naivety back again might not be so bad actually. In fact, it could be a saving grace in this day and age where time and time again I find myself frustrated at not only the lack of those kinds of concerning questions, but also the missing basics in what I would deem to be an inherent part of serving others. And, it’s not just limited to various stores and/or restaurants, wherein I am sure that there are names of places which immediately pop into your mind because of their poor service, or lack thereof. Now I am not a pessimist by nature, but it seems lately that in many situations my husband and I find ourselves ‘giving up’ on any sort of expectations that we will actually get what we have paid for and/or receive the proper help/assistance that is required. I mean, how long has it been since you have heard the aforementioned phrases that I began this post with when you have been out and about, or on the other end of the phone? Or moreover, when was the last time that you were fully satisfied with your customer service experience or the workmanship performed on something of value to you?
Now, let me preface this post with a couple of important things that you may be thinking, especially if your job has something to do with customer service. First of all, I am NOT in anyway proposing that there are not good places or people out there working their tails off to deliver on the founding principles of their company/business/store, which usually revolve around the importance of serving others. Secondly, unlike others who like to criticize when they know nothing about the reality of the field at all, I was in Customer Service for seven years. Albeit, I will admit that that was many moons ago now, but I do have some basis for what I am talking about in addition to the fact that I have some good friends whose jobs are based here. Last, but not least, I am one of the first people to recognize someone on a job well done and as a result, I have written my share of letters, spoken to managers and made phone calls to this effect. So, if you are thinking that I am negatively skewed, uninformed or unwilling to look at the good, you are mistaken. I have no problem admitting my faults or weaknesses, and I am not proclaiming that I am an expert by any means, but my decades of personal experience are the basis for this post, particularly the last decade to half-decade.
Let’s begin on a positive note. Just within the past couple of weeks, I have taken the opportuity to compliment two businesses after having had a good experience. The first was with a glass place which helped to repair a rock chip on my windshield. (As an aside, I made it fifteen months in my new truck before getting the infamous chip that would have cracked right across my line of vision…of course, right? Anyway…) I had called a certain location within the glass business to book an appointment, in which instance the lady on the other end of the phone assured me that their locations commonly service walk-ins and that there was really no need to book a time. She insisted that I could ‘Come on over’ whenever convenient, as it would only take about fifteen minutes or so for the job to be completed. Having learned this information, I found a locale closer to our house, and decided to head there the following day. Upon arrival, I was told that they were fully booked for the day, and that I would need to book an appointment. At first, I will admit that I was a bit annoyed and disappointed as I explained to the receptionist what I had been told the day prior, but I also knew that I could not blame her for what another person had said. (See, I told you that I was a reasonable person.) While trying to book my appointment for the next day, I casually mentioned that I had driven a fair way to get there on the premise that walk-ins would be accepted and that I wished I’d have known ahead of time as I would have scheduled something. Realizing that I had driven out of my way, she glanced at the clock and told me to hang on as it was almost lunch and she would see where the guys were at. A minute later, she came back to say that they were just backing a vehicle out of one of their service bays and that they would be able to ‘fit me in’. ‘Wow!’ I immediately expressed my gratitude for not having to make the trip back the next day, and within minutes, my truck was in the shop, the chip was repaired and I was told to collect my keys. I once again thanked the lady behind the counter, as well as the young gentleman who did the work. Would I recommend them to others and would they see me again, if the need was there? Absolutely!! Those are usually the two distinct goals of a business, right? My second case in point to the plus side of things was the restaurant that we went to last night, actually. The service was good, but the food was excellent! Some of the ‘best eats’ that I have had in awhile, and certainly the best that I have had at that particular location. Thus, in spotting the manager who had been asking others about their dining experience, I made a point of telling him how much we enjoyed our food, and that he should be sure to pass along to the cook staff what a great job they were doing and to keep it up. Needless to say, it was smiles all the way around for him and us! Would I go back again and would I tell others? You bet.
Now, for the bugaboos of this blog. Just between my husband and I in the past year or so, there have been three distinct cases, major examples really, where the service was either non-existent, poor and/or the workmanship of the product was beyond terrible post-purchase. In each of the three instances that I am about to discuss, the items/services were ranging from hundreds of dollars to several thousands of dollars; thus, I am not even addressing the day-to-day examples that have come up in these regards. Here’s the disheartening aspect of it all: We work hard for our money, as do most, and when we finally decide to put our hard-earned dollars toward a purchase, I think that it’s safe to say that we invest in the product/service because we like it and we expect it to fit a certain need/want. Most of us also know and understand the unwritten rule that ‘you get what you pay for’, so it’s safe to say that in each of the cases to which I am referring, we either chose what we felt were reputable companies or quality products based on a fair amount of research (thanks mostly to the efforts of my diligent husband).
In the first, most lengthy, example which I will cite, we had been on quite a painstaking journey of furniture store shopping in search of the ‘just-right’ dining room set that would fill our empty ‘dance floor’ space, as we often referred to it. ‘Painstaking?’ you may ask. ‘A little overboard, perhaps?’ Well, we are a bit OCD maybe, but painstaking isn’t what we had in mind when we began the process. Needless to say, we weren’t just going to settle for anything and though we were in need of a table set, we were not desperate to buy something–two assets for us as consumers, for sure. After relentless trips to various stores over the span of a couple of years (crazy, I know), we finally decided to revisit a store and a set that we had spotted early on. While we really liked the look of the country-inspired table and hutch for our home, we initially thought that it would be too large for the space. However, upon further examination of the dimensions and some careful measuring, we came to the more-than-satisfying realization that we had indeed found our dream set. Furthermore, my husband had made a previous purchase from the well-known company, though years and provinces apart, and so we left the store feeling really good about our newly ordered and soon-to-be delievered purchases. Little did we know at the time that it would take us ONE FULL YEAR and seven scheduled deliveries, two of which were cancelled, before we would finally end up with the set that we had been promised. While the store manager himself seemed like a decent guy and gave us what we thought was a reasonable deal, the customer service department was abhorrent. I have NEVER in my life been hung up on by a service agent prior to this incident and after umpteen tries to resolve the issue over the phone, the time finally came. I was basically told, after many prior promises of resolution, that we had no recourse and the message that I was getting was that we just needed to ‘suck it up’. I must admit that that idea didn’t sit well with me after spending the kind of money that we had, months later, still awaiting the delivery of a proper set. As a result, I was a bit short on the other end of the line…not rude, just matter of fact. I guess the representative didn’t like it. Later, it would be concluded that we had been given numerous rejects, most likely from other dissatisfied customers, and it took visiting the store manager twice, with whom we were told by the CS department had no power in the situation, to acquire our beloved set. After picking up our items from the warehouse (since we had vehemently sworn that we would not accept another botched delivery attempt), we reluctantly went to the store for a final time to request a lofty discount after all of our time and trouble. Therein, I expressed my frustrations with the way in which things were handled once our money had been deposited in their account. Clearly, we were not the first unhappy couple to adorn their step asking for compensation, as it took little argument before they offered us the exact amount of money that we were hoping to get back out of the deal. The step-in manager at the time agreed that we should not have endured such troubled waters in pursuit of a simple diningroom set, for which acknowledgement we were grateful, but I also made clear that because of our unspeakable experience, we would never return as customers again or make referrals to our family or friends (which should ultimately be their goal). In our closing words to her, for future customers and possible sales, I kindly suggested that they take a serious look into how their company handles their existing post-shopping customer service experience, as ours was far from satisfactory. In observing her defeated body language, I got the distinct feeling that she had heard those words before. To this day, I only shudder to think about others before and after us who have had a similar dealings, and I honestly wonder how businesses like theirs can have such blatant disregard for potential return customers. I mean, how are they still in business? As for the overall quality of the product that we received? Well, let’s just say that it isn’t much better. Does it look pretty though? Hmmm. For weeks afterward, I couldn’t even have responded to that question as I did not dare to cast a glance in the general direction of our set (almost avoiding it like the plague really), until we finally sat down to a proper holiday dinner a couple of months later. While it brought us great pleasure to seat our families comfortably around the same table, something that I had never been able to do in a place of my own before, it came with slight pains in thinking about all of the hassles that we had been through. The truth of the matter is that we had to remind ourselves that in the overall scheme of life we were talking about an inamimate, replaceable object which definitely helped us to gain a proper perspective on the whole situation. Has it softened our view of the company? No, it hasn’t and I am thinking that we are not alone. Having shared our frustration with others along the way, it became clear that while they had not necessarily dealt with the same company, they could recite their own stories of poor service and/or product quality from similar furniture companies. So, the question for all of us becomes, ‘Where does one shop?’ if this is what is commonly out there. Maybe what we should be asking is, ‘Do we know of anyone who can make or build furniture?’–you know the saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”–a little extreme of a comparison, but you get the point. I wish I could say that I was handy in the carpentry sense because there is undoubtedly some money to be made at being able to deliver on a quality built product. Perhaps, I should think on that one…meanwhile….
My second, less than adequate experience, came from a service provider with whom I had had a previously good relationship. However, four years into the term, a change in underlying providership came about and the service literally became next to non-existent. The difficulty that I had with the situation was that I had been out and out lied to several times, over the span of a half-year or more, about when things would be up and running properly. I spent hours and hours on the phone listening to one agent after another tell me that ‘things would be rectified shortly’, ‘to hold tight while updates took effect’, and ‘to bear with them, as they tried their best to accommodate their customers’. All the while, they were happily taking my credit card payment, which I had mistakeningly authorized at the start of the agreement. After many failed attempts of achieving any sort of solution, and three requests for them to suspend my payments until the issue was resolved, I ended up having to get my bank to cancel my card and mail out a new one. Suffice it to say that I have no intention of ever setting up pre-authorized payments again, let alone taking in their service again. And, when challenged with their lack of follow-through and service, the argument that I had received from the company in the end was that it was not their fault that the other party in the providership had decided to decommission the existing program. What they chose to disregard was that it also was not MY fault and that it was their business who was still charging my card for a service that I was not even receiving, after me telling them repeatedly NOT to do so. YIKES! I thought that my request to withhold charges was a more than fair request, and had they done so, I was prepared to figure out a new plan under their revised system. But, because of their negligent dealings with me, I told them that they had now lost a loyal customer forever. When asked how they felt about losing a longtime client, there was no apology made, no acknowledgment given for mistakes made on their part and my patronage over the years was quickly cast aside by the seemingly dissinterested phone agent. ‘Really?’ In their start-up phase and quest to gain a decent customer base, I believe that things would have been handled much differently. So, what has changed? Too full of themselves? I am not sure, but clearly they seem to now feel that they have enough of a following that retaining previous patrons isn’t necessary. Sad, but likely true. Other companies, maybe even of the airline variety, come to mind in this case as they, too, seem to have evolved to a level wherein they do not feel any sense of obligation to the people who got them to where they are at in the first place–US!! Sound familiar to any of you? The trouble is that many of these outfits KNOW that the majority of their consumers do not have the means or influence to impose change and/or they are unwilling to boycott them due to wants/needs. And so, there you have it–not much motivation for businesses to change their declining practices, is it? Ironically, it is the all-mighty dollar that drives them to increase profit margins at our expense, yet faced with even higher-priced or not as convenient competition, it is that same dollar that affords us what they offer, like it or not. And, this past while, it seems to be more often not.
In the other instance of customer service gone drastically wrong for us, is another case scenario which also spans more than a year of time spent trying to get the company to deliver on the product that was promised to us at the point-of-purchase. Truthfully, we had our first hint of things to come at the final signing of the paperwork upon acquiring our first travel trailer together. The salesman refused to acknowledge the lowered sale price, after my brother spotted a change of price tags one week after we signed the initial agreement. In fact, the party in question went so far as to remove the advertised sticker from the side of the trailer in the showroom to avoid losing the extra thousand dollars in commission. Right then and there, we should have walked away…but the want for our perfect trailer took over and we caved. Wrong choice on our part!! We literally spent the next year trying to get aspects of the trailer fixed, before warranties expired (maybe their hidden agenda in stretching it all out?) in one of the most defunct service departments that I have ever seen in my whole life. I cannot even begin to tell you how many phone calls and visits to the said dealership that we endured to try to get a working fridge and a proper table, two of the main issues, which made up half of the space inside our tiny 23-foot trailer. And, both items very important to the overall camping experience, I might add. The constant excuses, the blame placed elsewhere, the disorganization, the lack of communication, the continual delays, the shoddy workmanship over the course of twelve months all proved to be a little much for us. My husband and I literally had to take turns in our dealings with them, so that we could get our trailer back in good working order. Once we finally got things sorted out, it felt as though we had achieved nothing short of a miracle, which, when you think about it, is just plain ridiculous. Again, what I want to know is, ‘How do those people stay in business?’ Honestly. Then again, the likely answer to that is something that I ashamedly admitted to a few sentences ago, which is that the overall allure of wanting/having is more powerful. WE literally ‘bought into it’. Worse yet, in our situation, we were suckers for punishment in that we relucantly made a second purchase with the same company last year (after swearing off of them until Kingdom come), as they were the only Alberta dealer who carried our fifth-wheel upgrade. Luckily, however, we have had a great deal of support from the manufacturer of our new trailer (the reason we went with them) whose owners built their company on the premise that their overriding goal was/is to deliver a quality-built product with customer service being their top priority; so much so, that the brothers and owners literally phone and email regularly with their patrons when issues arise. To revisit my earlier notion that I like to give due recognition of a job well-done, I subsequently emailed our trailer line’s manager to thank them for striving to do what no other RV business seems to want to do–put their customers first–from which I received an immediate response and show of gratitude. Now, that’s how it should be done!! (And, yes, I intend to add their hyperlink at the end of this blog for those of you who might be contemplating a new camper of sorts.) This RV outfit’s founding principles are not earth-shattering really, yet seemingly impossible to get these days. Once again, as with my first example of our furniture faux-pas, my husband and I have said that if you can build an entrepreneurship based on the principles of simply looking after the consumer, you will have it made without a doubt. It’s just that hard to find!
I guess what I would like to surmise out of all of this is that WE are what drives the rapidly growing market and WE, myself included, need to think carefully about where we put our dollars, as it is our choice to spend that dictates how things go. If WE stick together and willingly share the good, bad and ugly, WE will be able to help further those people/places that deliver on their goods/services versus those that don’t. Perhaps, if WE discriminate more and want less, WE can help to get back some of what has gone missing, including the basic character traits of empathy, compassion, integrity and understanding. It is no secret that our technology-based, money and power-driven world is threatening our rooted need for human connections and relationships, which is what separates us from the rest of animal kind. Is it reasonable for me to draw comparisons between the superficial aspects of ‘things’ and the innate needs of people given the nature of this post? I’ll leave that for you to ponder, question or disagree with-so, please feel free to leave me your comments. I would love to hear them.