Thursday, December 23, 2010

Customer Service

Since this is the season for shopping and buying more than we can afford, I got to thinking about what a pain in the ass it can be to go to a store and buy something. I hate it when a store gives me a hard time about taking my money.

I included the cartoon I did about my grandmother buying a toaster since it illustrates a rare pleasant buying experience.

I read an article in the paper about how companies like Best Buy and Compusa were having trouble competing against online electronics and appliance stores. Best Buy’s plan was to offer something to customers that they can’t get online. Namely, real life customer service and technical expertise.

Really? I wonder where Best Buy is going to find people adept at customer service and technical expertise to work in their stores since I’ve never found evidence of them being there in the past?

Way back when the economy was doing great and before the internet or housing bubble had burst, there were endless news articles about the outsourcing and sometimes deliberate death of customer service by large companies. Customer service has always been a problem for companies because its something they can’t directly charge the customer for. Companies know customer service is important, but they refuse to pay for it unless their very survival depends on. And sometimes even when they are drowning because they don’t provide sufficient support for their products, they still refuse.

The one time I was able to get a salesperson at Best Buy to actually speak to me, I asked him what he could tell me about a videocamera I wanted to buy as a gift. He read the outside of the package for me. Now I could have done that myself, but I wasn’t a technical expert like him.

Compusa was known for having the worst in store customer service around. The employees seem to take sadistic joy in being rude to customers with questions. I can’t believe they still exist.

If Home Depot hadn’t destroyed most of their competition, they would probably have gone out of business long before Arthur Blank had a chance to retire and buy the Atlanta Falcons. What is ironic about Home Depot is that they brag about great customer service. Let me give a personal example to prove that’s just not true.

My wife and I were adding a master suite to our house. We wanted a special size bathtub and went to the store to order it and make sure we were getting the right thing. We asked a salesperson how we would go about doing this. He became arrogant right away and insisted that we first needed to make an appointment to order something like that. The more we tried to question him about how this process of making an appointment was supposed to work and could we do it today, the more arrogant and unhelpful he became. He said we couldn’t order the tub today because we didn’t have an appointment. We couldn’t talk to the man who ordered the tubs because his schedule was full of previous appointments. Finally, we ignored this salesperson and went to a different salesperson sitting at desk not two yards away and asked him if we could make an appointment to order a tub. The second salesperson said we didn’t need an appointment, that he’d been sitting there with nothing to do all day and which tub were we interested in ordering? Since the first salesperson we spoke to didn’t have a note attached to his nametag explaining that he was an idiot and we shouldn’t believe a word he said, we assumed that he was a representative of Home Depot.

Later, I asked a builder if Home Depot floor walkers only ran and hid from customers they knew weren’t builders so that they could concentrate on those who knew the building products as well as they did and wouldn’t have to waste time explaining something to a novice? The builder assured me that the Home Depot floor walkers treated everyone, even builders, as if they had the plague and could become infected if one of use got within breathing distance of them.

I didn’t realize how bad the economy had become until the day I walked into a Home Depot (which I did only because I wasn’t close to the Lowe’s I normally go to) and a salesperson walked up to me and asked if I needed help. As it so happened I did, and the salesperson actually took me to the right aisle. I wanted to tell the salesperson to hang in there. Soon the recession would be over and she could go back to ignoring customers again.

There are so many companies that deserve mention for horrible customer service, but the one company that amazes me more than any other that they are still in business is Blockbuster. Their salespeople’s knowledge of movies seemed non-existent and they were consistently rude. But the worst thing about Blockbuster was that they stole from their customers with bogus late fees. I got to the point where I stopped using the return slot. Instead, I handed the movie to the person at the front desk and then demanded that they give me a receipt that proved I returned the movie on time.

If companies treated customers badly in the past, then they shouldn’t be surprised when customers abandon them when a better choice comes along. Places like Home Depot, Best Buy, Compusa, and Blockbuster didn’t have as much competition as they do today. Like most large companies, they were shortsighted. They forgot that something better is always around the corner. Maybe they don’t want to pay for good customer service, but in the long run, it always pays off.


Anonymous said...

And then there's "Scuba Poo." When I tried to buy a "Scoop Your Poop" sign for the front yard (and dogwalkers, since dogs probably can't read) and the saleman kept repeating my phrase "Scoop Your Poop" as "Scuba Poo?" No wonder he couldn't find the damn sign.

Maybe he was dog?

Mickey Dubrow said...

I didn't know scuba gear could defecate.