This morning’s blog post started out as a cheerful little ditty about my cat and the mouse carcasses left at my back door. But then it took a screeching sharp turn into customer service hell, and I now present you with a diatribe on What Is Wrong With America Today. Maybe I’ll tell you about the mice carcii tomorrow.
Let me preface today’s rant with the simple fact that I excel at customer service. I began working in customer service in a stationery store that my family owned in New York City. I was 9 years old. I learned how to check in shipments, rotate stock, do exchanges and refunds, and count back change properly – a skill I can promise is a lost art. I’ve worked in other stationary stores and retail jobs, and I’ve also done child care, managed a small residential building near a large college campus, been a travel agent, a sales support agent, an office manager, and a roller skating waitress at a 50’s themed diner.
I rant not from a point of privilege or entitlement. I rant from a sense of loss. The world I grew up in, the America where people took pride in the way they presented themselves and the way they treated one another professionally and personally – that world seems to be gone.
When I was growing up, grocery baggers took pride in balancing bags so that no one bag held all the cans and the other the bread and potato chips. All items were evenly distributed so that anyone could carry them, so that they didn’t over flow, and so that the cookies didn’t get mashed under the 6 cans of soup.
When I was growing up, a delivery date was a promise, a contract. That promise was kept. Deliveries were on time and accurately filled.
Maybe it’s because people were once upon a time paid a living wage and cared about keeping their jobs, or moving up. Maybe working conditions were different. Companies no longer want to foster loyalty in employees, it means those people will want raises and additional vacation time and other benefits in return for doing a job well for a long time.
Without that loyalty, there is seemingly no reason to care. Without a living wage, and a gold watch at the end of twenty years service to look forward to, the prevailing attitude seems to be “Why bother?”
A friend tried to order a custom hot tub last year, was given a delivery date and paid her deposit. That delivery date passed, was rescheduled only when my friend called to inquire about the status of the hot tub, and then the delivery date passed again. And again. And again until she cancelled the order and had American Express refund her money so that she could purchase a new hot tub elsewhere. (The lesson there is American Express still provides quality customer service.)
I went to a seminar wherein quality was discussed as an ineffable essence that one only can recognize when it is either absent, or glaringly present. There is no clear definition of quality in interactions or items or thoughts. One either can see it plainly, or one is painfully aware that it is lacking.
America used to strive for quality. As a country, we prided ourselves on workmanship, accomplishment, integrity. Workmanship and durability were the foundation of the company-customer relationship. Things were “built to last”. The lifetime of a refrigerator was 30 years. We expected to have only three of them in our lives; the one we grew up using, the one we bought with our first home, and the one we had in our retirement. It is still the one item that is not assumed to be included with a home sale because we believe we will take it with us to our new house.
Yet in the present day the “lifetime” of a refrigerator, as defined by the manufacturers, is 10 years. That’s it. There are possibly understandable reasons for that, such as government mandates requiring appliances to consist of parts that are recyclable and whatnot. That’s not my complaint.
My complaint is that when one buys a new appliance, one is being forced to spend an exorbitant amount of money. A basic fridge starts at just under $1000.00. Mid-line fridges range from $1500-2,000.00. If I have to spend close to $200 a year on an appliance, I expect it to show up at my door shiny, clean, free of scratches and dents. I’m shelling out hard earned money, and in this economy that means something.
This morning, that expectation was shot all to hell. Earlier this week, we received our new refrigerator, while still frustrated and unhappy about what we believed to be the early demise of the previous one. It arrived, or was delivered, with multiple scratches on the doors and handles.
In preparation for this delivery, we’d eaten as much as we could out of the fridge. We’d also thrown out close to $200.00 worth of food that had spoiled when the freezer ceased functioning. The remaining food was hastily packed into coolers when the delivery driver called to say he was 30 minutes away. We were invested. Committed. We had to accept this new appliance.
The drivers did not ask me to inspect the fridge before they brought in. It was upon installation that I noticed the damage to two of the three doors. I was told, clearly, that I had the option of ordering a new fridge to be delivered, or requesting a damage rebate. We opted for the new fridge. The driver further elaborated that what would happen is that the new delivery personnel would simply take the better doors off the new fridge to replace what was in my kitchen with those. They wouldn’t have to trade out the enormous unit, and force me to wait for the thing to cool to the proper temperature all day. Great! I also wouldn’t have to repeat the emptying of the fridge song and dance.
It was to be delivered this morning.
Unlike the first delivery, we received no phone calls. No scheduling of a delivery time. No 30 minute notice. I called to find out when the delivery might be, as I had plans in both the morning and afternoon and would need to know what to reschedule. I was told delivery was scheduled between 7am-11am. Perfect, my morning appointment canceled. Then the doorbell rang, and the refrigerator was here. I informed the delivery man that I had received no phone calls regarding delivery times so I hadn’t put the dogs outside, and warned him that the big one would jump all over him in a friendly way.
It turns out they had (“they” being gawd only knows who in a system that has no accountability) more or less made up a phone number for me, in spite of the fact that it was correct on the first delivery form. The new number was also a disconnected line. No one along the chain of command had thought to look into that. They are lucky I was home.
I recounted what I was told by the first delivery driver, about simply swapping out the doors. I was told that the entire refrigerator had to be replaced so I would, indeed, have to empty it again. So – with no warning at all, I was expected to have an empty refrigerator? In response to that news, I asked that they let me see the unit before it was exchanged. I’d be damned if I was emptying everything out again if it was another damaged unit.
Which was a good thing, because the second one was scratched worse than the first one. How the hell do these get out of the factory? Delivery guy told me that I can request “white glove” service, to have them inspect it before they deliver it. Seriously? That’s a special request? Give us $2000 and hope it shows up intact. Or, request a special service that no one has mentioned at any time during this entire transaction until 2 units have shown up damaged and the customer is getting cranky. That’s brilliant. That wastes no one’s time or energy or gas or goodwill at all.
Except for everyone’s.
The driver told me he was going to mark the ticket “refused” and call GE, and I should call the number on my copy of the ticket as well. This seemed simple enough. At this point, the husband and I were willing to consider a scratch/dent rebate, and the driver said that this could be arranged over the phone. And then he drove away.
When I called the service number I was advised:
– they did not do scratch/dent rebates at all, ever, never had, and never would
– they would continue reordering refrigerators for me until one arrived without scratches or dents for as long as it took. (See above wasting of time, gas, goodwill.)
Well, that’s just a grand offer and all hunky dory and all, but I don’t want to spend my life waiting for appliance deliveries. I might want to go to work or class or my son’s jazz recitals or maybe dinner and a movie with my husband. I might just want to have a life devoid of appliance delivery guys. I know that’s crazy talk, but that’s how I roll.
“So you’ll just keep delivering refrigerators over and over, even if it takes 71 of them before one finally shows up unscratched?”
She responded by pointing out my exaggeration.
30 years of customer service experience, remember? Just nod and smile. It costs you nothing. Pointing out the customers flaws will cost you goodwill, patience, and a pleasant interaction with said client. Not that anyone cares. They seem to just assume all customers are histrionic with no good reason for having a complaint or getting angry. There is no sense of responsibility either to the customer or to the employer upon which this attitude ultimately reflects.
I was told that she could not order the replacement. Only “they” could order the replacement.
I asked, “Who is ‘they’?” and was told it was the delivery guys.
The ones who drove away 20 minutes ago. The ones who left no numbers or names.
Okay – so – she can’t give me a rebate and she can’t order me a new fridge. That’s a whole lotta “can’t” and I really don’t like “can’t”. Why am I talking to you, and what can be done to remedy this situation?
Call the store where we purchased the refrigerator. (Who the hell am I talking to, anyway?)
Why didn’t the drivers know this? Why did the drivers give me four different stories, none of which had anything to do with reality? Why does “the buck stops here” seem like a term that is completely devoid of meaning, because no one is accepting responsibility and no one knows what is or is not allowed to be done, or who can authorize it or how.
At this point, I pretty much threw the phone across my office, scaring the cat and sending the dogs flying out the back door at near light speed.
I called the store and relayed the story to the woman who answered the phone, in 3 part harmony (please, I’m no Arlo Guthrie) with an offer of 8X10 color glossies of the damage with a … and she told me she had to transfer me. Hubby and I had meanwhile decided that we would order a new fridge if the rebate was anything less than $150.00, if a rebate is at all possible, which is still unclear.
I was put on hold while she contacted the correct department. Five minutes later, the same woman answered the call as if I was a new caller. She then put me back on hold to call the appliance department again. 2 minutes later, the same woman picked up the phone to inform me that no one was answering in the appliance department. (Really? Are you sure? I hadn’t noticed. I thought I’d been talking to a nice guy named Joe who had promised to replace all the parts and weed my garden to make up for my trouble, and maybe even wash my car and teach my kid how to sell appliances at a big box chain hardware store.) She asked if I wanted to hold again.
“No. I’ll just bring my angry ass right into your store, thanks.”
Yes, I really said that. And then I hung up on her.
Not that hanging up on a person has the same effect that it had 25 years ago, when you could hear the receiver slam into the cradle and your ears rang for 20 minutes. I pushed the hang up button abruptly and with much derision. Grabbed my purse, sent a text to the hubby to secure bail funds, and headed across town.
Of course there was no one in the appliance department. Why would anyone be in the appliance department when I have a problem? When we were buying the damn thing, the department was overflowing with experts on every conceivable appliance ever dreamed of on this or any other planet. But when there is a problem … ghost town.
I located a young man who was returning “from plumbing”. (I hope that wasn’t a euphemism.) I began my entire story from the beginning, and he focused in on …. the incorrect phone numbers. How exactly is this solving my problem?
He made some calls. He figured out the wrong number doesn’t even exist in their system, and where it may have come from, as I grit my teeth and remind myself that prison time will destroy my chances for securing the job of my dreams in the future. He made another call. He was put on hold. He made some more calls. He had the phone to his ear, I was sitting at the desk, when the lovely lady from customer service (remember the woman from customer service who told me no one was answering and offered to put me on hold for a third time?) walked up behind me, bumped into me as she leaned over the desk to place a message, and asked the young man if he’d returned the call to the person whose number was on the previous note. As if I was not there. Not once did she say “Excuse me” or acknowledge in any way that he was with a customer, much less that she had bumped into me in her hurry to leave him another message.
I’ll let you fill in a bunch of similar asshartery for yourself (be creative and feel free to curse) and cut to the chase.
After 40 minutes on hold with a company that has been in business longer than I’ve been alive, that recently brought it’s manufacturing back to the USA so they could proclaim how awesome they are, and whose company name consists of initials, the supervisor offered me $75.00.
“I guess you will be ordering me a new refrigerator with white glove service,” I said with the tone of, “Thanks for nothing and good bye” and then suddenly she could offer $150.00. Deal.
The check’s in the mail.
Where’s the tequila?