Customer Service, where has it gone?

Last year my wife and I bought a new couch from a major department store on a credit card promotion that was no interest no payments for 18 months, they told us it would be four to six weeks for delivery, and as I expected it was just about six weeks.  I was home alone when they delivered the couch and being a “man” I didn’t notice that it was the wrong color, but the second my wife got home she noticed.  So I called the department store and advised them of the situation, and the girl on the other end of the phone seems less than concerned, I pictured a girl with her feet on the desk, reading a magazine and chewing her gum, pretending to listen to me, with an occasional “uh huh”   to make sure I thought she was listening. She unenthusiastically said they would make us another couch which would be delivered in four to six weeks, no apology, nothing, no personality at all, just a robot going through the motions and telling me it would be four to six weeks for the couch to be built and delivered.

Just about six weeks later that our couch was delivered and  this time both my wife and I were home and we told them to not take it off the truck until we looked at it, we went down to make sure it was the right color and sure enough it was the wrong color again.  Not only was it the wrong color it was the same wrong color as last time.  So we refused delivery,  and I called them back and told them that it was again the wrong color and that I wasn’t waiting another six weeks to get the couch we ordered, we already waited three months I think that’s long enough I told them.  The woman on the other end actually suggested in a condescending tone that maybe we ordered the wrong color and that is why the same color kept being delivered.   So this is my fault? Really?  I assured her that we know what color we ordered and there was no mistake we even had the receipts given to us at the store.  So I told her we were not going to wait another six weeks to get our couch, and that what I wanted was $500 off the price of the couch and we would just keep the one that we had.  She told me that she couldn’t do that, we could just order another couch, I told her that was unacceptable and I asked to speak to her supervisor, and without so much as a single word I was put on hold and a couple of minutes later a supervisor was on the phone.  I went through the entire situation with her and told her what we wanted and I thought this was fair, she said that wasn’t fair because the couch we bought was already sold to us for less than the full price due to a store promotion.  I told her that has nothing to do with this, and that we have waited for over three months for our couch and because the company kept screwing up the order we have the wrong couch and that my wife doesn’t want to wait another six weeks so I wanted $500 off.  She told me the best she could do was $200, and that I should be happy with that because she really shouldn’t even be doing that.  Now here is where my real problem with this company is, it’s not just what is being said, but how it’s being said, she was very snide and she talked to me like she was doing me a favor and that I was wrong to even ask, I mean after all it’s not like I am the customer who just spent a couple of grand on furniture in your store on top of what we paid for the couch.

So I told her no thank you, and I went online and I started to research until I found the phone number for the executive offices of this company and I called them and I spoke to some assistant to the President of the company and I explained how we had been treated and I explained the treatment we had received from this company so far, and that I wanted $500 off the cost of this couch and I was not going to take no for an answer.  She took all of my information down and said someone would call me within the hour; and sure enough they did, a very polite gentleman from the customer relations department called me and I explained to him what had happened and I said it was bad enough that you screwed up my couch, but then to get such subpar service is inexcusable in my opinion, and he agreed, and apologized and said he would have a check to me within a week for $500, and gave me his direct contact information and said I should call him should I ever need anything in the future.

My purpose in telling you this story is because this is not an isolated instance and it should be, and I am not talking about the fact that the order was screwed up, that was human error, even the second time, it happens and anyone in business has had mistakes in the past, I know I sure have made my fair share of them, but to talk to me like I was a nuisance and to treat a customer with such disdain is inexcusable; I had to jump through hoops just to get someone to talk to me with respect and treat me like a valued customer.  It was not even about the $500 I asked for, because maybe, just maybe had the first person had just a semblance of a personality and acted like she actually cared about what I was saying and the issues we were having, maybe she could have both saved this company $500 and a customer, because even though the end result turned out ok, it is doubtful that I would ever go out of my way to shop here again.  Customer service should be one of the most important aspects of any company, your customers are your bread and butter, without them you are nothing, and you will cease to exist.  I agree that there are definitely some customers that are unreasonable or just cannot be talked to, but I have found in my experience that if you talk to someone with respect and actually show them that you are listening, it goes a long way.  I have seen irate customers call and at the end of the call, even though they did not get what they wanted due to company policy or some other situation, still left feeling good about the company, all because the customer service agent did a good job listening to them, let them vent, and then showed empathy towards their situation creating an invisible bond.  This is what customer service is all about and this is why some companies go out of their way to create a customer service experience like no other.

Customer Experience Management (CEM) is a tool to measure what makes a customer happy and what makes them unhappy; it allows you as a company to find out what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong and getting this information from the most valuable source that you have and that’s the customer themselves.  CEM can be done internally or a CEM expert can be hired to create a system of evaluating your customers.  This is done in a variety of ways, but the most common is a survey that asks predetermined questions about the service that they have received and about the employee that helped them and this can be done via email, through an automated phone system, etc.  This doesn’t and shouldn’t be a onetime evaluation it should be an ongoing evaluation allowing you to consistently take the temperature of your customers so to speak.

Customer service used to be the forefront of every transaction and interaction with a customer, and it seems some of that has gone out of style like so many fads of yesteryear and while technological advances in business has allowed us to take great steps forward some companies need to take a step backwards to embrace the values they seemingly left behind.