Why Customer Service Matters: My Quest to Find a Washer

With stories of poor customer service experiences coming from every industry of late, and my experience in the retail industry for years, I don’t have a super high expectation of customer service. I’ve noted in the past that as we move solidly into the digital sales age, customer service seems to be a bit of a thing of the past. Honestly, I don’t think that is such a bad thing.

But customer service isn’t dead. It is simply taking a different form, one that might seem more subtle than the typical expectation of a friendly greeter in the department leaping to assist you (or, hovering obnoxiously, desperate to get that commission-based sale. Yeah, I hate those people.)

There is more to customer service than a knowledgeable staff member pushing sales to bolster the bottom line. Customer service isn’t even “The Customer is Always Right” motto that was often touted in my years in retail. Customer service is creating reasonable expectations for your customer, and then following through with that experience.

That was really driven home for me the last few months as I ventured into the aggravating task of purchasing a new dryer in February, and a new washer this month.

We bought our dryer from Lowe’s the end of January when our previous dryer suddenly bit the dust. It was a “meh” experience, because no one wants to drop several hundred dollars on a tool to do a task that is the bane of most households.

But Lowe’s was efficient. I think it took us about 40 minutes all in all, as we hadn’t done any research beforehand. During our search up and down the aisles, no one stopped to check in on us, offer assistance, or make a recommendation. When we were ready, we found the sales clerk in the department organizing shelves. She stopped and set up our order, asking the typical questions about delivery, hookup, haul away, and told us it would be delivered on XXX days within a 4 hour window. It was delivered by the end of the week. The delivery men were courteous, calling me about 15 minutes before arrival, and arriving in the early part of the 4 hour window the store promised. We didn’t pay for hook up, but they did do the haul away. They offered again to hook it up, but didn’t press. In and out in 15 minutes.

Then in March we went to buy a new washer because ours has been threatening a violent death. (Possibly caused by my wanting to wring it for not wringing the clothes properly on the first run randomly, and at the most inconvenient times, forcing me to run it through the spin cycle over and over!) This was a planned purchase, and we did much more research and planning than we did for our dryer.

My husband, the savvy internet shopper, found an awesome deal on a washer that was the size I wanted, and was on sale at Home Depot. I was a bit leery, because many years ago we had a rather horrible experience with the HD and I haven’t shopped there since. But at half the cost we were looking at for other stores, it was kind of hard to pass up. We went in to check it out. (I’m tactile, and need to see and feel a thing before I commit.)

It was a crazy night. We waited almost 2 hours as there were several other people there and (this really should have been our first clue) two were doing exchanges. I knew in about 10 minutes that we wanted to go with the deal we’d seen, the rest of the time we just waited.

The gentleman working was a wonderful and pleasant man, offering great “customer service”. He offered warranties, talked about how great the washer was, and let us know that they didn’t have any in stock, but would be able to deliver to us in two weeks. We felt good about it.

We had quite a hassle getting the discounts when we went to check out at the front. We figured it was because the cashier was new as he kept having to call another person over to confirm stuff so he got it right. We’ve all been there, so we cut him some slack, quite happy to leave the store when it was over.

Then arrival day came. No call the night before, as the paperwork assured we would receive. I waited and at the tag end of the delivery time, I decided it was time to check my order online.

Delivery estimated for 5/16…. What? I called the store to find out what had happened. After being bounced to two different departments, I ended up with Receiving. The man who answered (and never identified himself) took my information, said he would look into it and give me a call back in 15–20 minutes.

An hour later, I had not received a call back. I called again, explaining my situation and getting bounced to two different departments before I was forwarded to inside sales and had to leave a voicemail.

Two hours later, no calls back from anyone. I was one hot mamma. My husband and I had unhooked our washer the night before, and it was blocking the hallway. I couldn’t do laundry, or get to 1/3 of my house to do chores. Never mind that I wasn’t able to do call work because I didn’t want to miss their call.

This time I asked for the store manager. The man I spoke with tracked down the store manager, and I could hear their conversation. The store manager asked who was calling and why through the guy who answered the phone. I explained to the guy why I was calling, and he relayed my story to the store manager, who told him to look up my information and “deal with it.”

Seriously.

When someone complains that not only did they not get contacted about their delivery that was supposed to arrive that day, but that none of their three calls to the store have been answered, a good business person doesn’t decline to take that call. This store manager did.

So this poor clerk listens to my tale, looks up my order to help me figure out what’s going on, and doesn’t even know where I am seeing the delayed delivery date. Poor employee training there. Finally he is able to see what I’m seeing and he says “That’s a manufacturer delay.”

Shifting blame is not good customer service.

“Why is it delayed?” I thought it was a valid question. “And why wasn’t I notified?”

His response… “Uh…. I will have to call them to determine that. Would you like me to call you back?”

I couldn’t help the snark, considering I’d already told him about the lack of response so far from their store. “No, I would rather hold. You guys aren’t very good about calling back.” Imagine my shock when I was only on hold for 2 minutes. 2 minutes to get an answer to my question on why the delay. But I had to chase them for more than half my day to get that answer!

The manufacturer was backlogged, and there was nothing to be done. Well, I wasn’t going to wait another month for my washer. I explained to him that I couldn’t wait that long. Was there nothing that could be done?

Crickets…

My problem-solving skills kicked in. “Can I exchange it for something that you have in stock that is comparable in size and features?”

“Oh, uh… hang on…” At which time some manager somewhere apparently deemed that it was now appropriate for them to speak with me, or at least I assume he was a manager. He once again did not introduce himself, and did not explain why I had to share my story with him now…

This gentleman said that they would be happy to do a comparable exchange. I clarified “And not just price-wise, because we got this on sale. We can get something of comparable features at the same price, correct?”

“Absolutely.”

“And who should I ask to speak with when I come in to do this exchange?” I asked. He said to speak with the gentleman who sold us the washer. “And you are making a note of this on our account so we can get the exchange?” I asked. Crickets. “Ok, and may I get your name?” first time a name was given, and he only gave me his first name. Fortunately, it seemed a unique name so I figured we’d be fine…

We spent another hour at the store, trying to get the exchange worked out. The gentleman we’d ordered from knew nothing about our needing to do an exchange, and when I explained the comparable features, he said he would need to get approval. I pointed out that they had another washer in stock that was the same size and features, and only a little more expensive and he went to hunt down the manager who I’d spoken to earlier.

He was able to get that approved, but we would have to arrange delivery… because standard free delivery doesn’t come from the store, but from somewhere else, apparently. I asked how long we would have to wait for delivery of this washer that they knew they had in stock? That would have been another two week delay… and $75…

As I tried to negotiate, my husband’s eyes glassed over. He walked away. When the clerk we’d purchased from went to negotiate with the manager, who wouldn’t come out of his office to speak to me directly, my husband came over. “Hon, Lowe’s has the same washer for the same deal, and it’s in stock. Let’s just do our return, and go there.”

It took us 10 minutes at Lowe’s, and we got it $35 cheaper, because it was the display model, last in stock, an hour before the sale ended. We also got haul away. What we had considered a “meh” experience in buying our dryer was absolute and utter bliss this time around, and the best customer service experience I’ve had in a long, long time.

What can businesses take away from this? If you run a tight ship, have your ducks in a row, and can deliver on your promises, then that right there is great customer service.

Heidi Angell is a bibliophile, lexicomaniac, and wordsmith. She spends most of her time talking about books, with a dash of marketing and business sense, and an occasional dabble into societal issues. Learn more at www.heidiangell.com