So today I’m going to sound off on a topic near and dear to my heart, having spent far too long (two months) suffering through a life of retail hell: customer service. I understand that actually having to deal with the common hoi polloi that inhabit this globe on a daily basis for no better reason than to keep body and soul together is a tragedy that befalls far too many people, but is it too much to ask that when your entire business model relies on people actually wanting to purchase your products, you maybe consider this to be something more than the awful afterthought that comes between “thanks for your money, sucker!” and “Welcome back, sucker, gonna give us some more of your money?”
A good example of customer service is Mattress Discounters. We bought a Temper-Pedic bed there. They delivered exactly when they said they would, and let me tell you, getting it into our bedroom at all was no easy feat. I highly recommend them to one and all. That’s great customer service, and it deserves to be rewarded.
Bad customer service, on the other hand, deserves to be called out in public, put in the stocks in the public square, pilloried and ridiculed, humiliated as they humiliate us.
As my case study, I will use a six month odyssey that recently befell my entire household. In order to avoid a potential lawsuit, the company involved will not be called on by name. I will simply mention that they are a retail home improvement store who rhyme with Beers and start with S. You may have seen their softer side in the Nineties. Anyway, my landlord prefers them for appliances (although I still hold out hope that this recent experience may sway him to consider changing to a more sane alternative. It’s not likely.) The whole story begins with the attempt to get the oven repaired. This required two trips, as the first trip involved finding out that the oven was, indeed, broken, but the repairman didn’t have the part with him. This trip took two weeks to arrange in the first place. The follow-up, with the correct part, took another two weeks. A week later, the oven broke again. This necessitated another two week wait, at which point we found out that the oven was, in fact, broken. This came as a shock to all and sundry, assuming that “all and sundry” is code for “only the Sbeers repairman.” He then informed us that the cost of repairing the oven at this point would be higher than replacing it, and I informed him that he could have come to this conclusion two visits ago. (Okay, maybe only in my head, but I thought it really hard.)
Believe it or not, this was one of the better interactions of our customer service experience with Sbeers in what I can only assume, from what you will see below, was a deliberate campaign of terror against us. Notice how he lured us in by being almost as helpful as someone who actually intends to be useful without actually making our lives better in any meaningful way. This set the standard for the following FOUR MONTHS. It all started with the new oven. The oven my landlord bought. I should note that my landlord lives in a different house than I do. This should come as no surprise to you kind folk, as I assume that all of my readers are intelligent, sagely, wise folk with reasoning powers that at least match those of gerbils. Apparently the same cannot be said for the people at Sbeers, who cannot distinguish between a billing address and a delivery address. This would be annoying once. It would be comical twice. It would be infuriating three times. Round about the fourth time in two months it got to seeming diabolical and deliberate.
What impressed me most of all was their utter failure to have any sort of coordination in their attempts to infuriate me, and yet they still did it with ease. It seems that nobody at Sbeers talks directly to anyone else, or even to the same customer more than once. I’m not entirely certain anyone in their customer service department works there more than once. After they got my street address connected to my landlord’s city and state, I found out that they didn’t even have one delivery company. No, Sbeers doesn’t deliver the stuff they sell, they subcontract it to people who are even more incompetent than they are.
This incompetence shines through in ways I can’t even describe, I can only report it. It begins with the first (yes I said first) attempt to install our new oven. After the oven was installed, there was a piece left. I wasn’t home at the time, so I have to rely on second hand reports from my wife, but as I understand it the conversation went something like this:
My Beautiful Wife: “Why is there a piece left?”
Installation Guy: “I dunno.”
My Incredibly Intelligent Wife: “What are you going to do about it?”
“Installation Guy: “I dunno.”
My Wonderful Wife Who Dealt With Sbeers Customer Service So I Wouldn’t Have To: “Shit.”
I may have gotten the details slightly wrong, but that was the basic gist of it. So for the next month and a half, we had a piece of oven sitting in our kitchen while my wife tried to get Sbeers to send someone out to correct the situation. This resulted in three aborted attempts, one because they were trying to go to the wrong state (again), one because they wanted me to pay for the visit(!), and then there was my personal favorite…
You see, the best the original delivery guy could come up with was that we had the wrong part for the oven. The part that came in the box. With the oven. That he had just installed. The solution of course was to simply deliver a completely different oven and install that one. Now, one Saturday (after they had rescheduled for the third time that week) I got a call from the delivery guy telling me he had an oven to deliver. I said, “You mean install, right?” No, no, no. They only deliver. The installation guy comes later.
I actually called bullshit on him, right there and then. And he, poor guy, had to have his supervisor call me, ’cause his job is just to drive the truck and drop off the appliances. And I called bullshit on his supervisor, too. When he asked me point blank if I wanted the oven or not, I asked him, “Would you want an oven sitting in your living room?” He had the grace to admit he would not. “Nor would I.” That pretty much ended that conversation.
And here’s how the story ends: two weeks later (after two more reschedulings), a guy came out to deliver and install the new oven… and he installed the “leftover” part correctly.
Son. Of. A. Bitch.
So yeah. Customer service. Just get it right. If you do, you get a nice blurb and a free product endorsement. If you get it wrong, you get a 1,000 word rant talking about how much you suck. And yeah, I’m talking to you, Sbeers.