When customer service isn’t

It’s time to write about something other than death. I’m not sure when this blog became a sad tribute to those we have lost, but looking back, I’ve realized that five of my last six blogs are all about people who have died. So, on to other topics.

What I’d like to talk about today is customer service, or the lack thereof. From about 1988 straight through until about three years ago, so a solid twenty-four years, I was involved either directly or indirectly in providing service to customers. I was in retail camera sales, I worked for a small photocopying and print storefront, I addressed letters directed to Columbia House, and I worked both on the phones and as a manager to those on the phones at TELUS. I’ve trained people in customer service, and I’ve coached them.

All to say, I know what good service looks like, and I know what bad service looks like.


We’ve had our ups and downs with Home Depot, but for the most part, they’ve been good. We’ve likely spent $15K with them over the years, from purchasing appliances, to the supplies to complete our basement, to services like getting our garage door replaced and our roof done.

About eight years ago, we paid a sizeable sum for them to replace the shingles on our roof. We were provided with a 10-year warranty on the labour and 25 years on the shingles. It was noted that we also had protection on our shingles for up to 115 km winds.

Back around mid-November, we experienced heavy winds one day and I was dismayed to find a couple of shingles from our roof sitting on the grass, obviously torn loose the previous night. We figured we’d have to go through home insurance, but pulled out the paperwork from Home Depot and reread the coverage. When I saw the wind thing, I went back and looked up the windspeed for the night in question. 82 km. Great, I thought, we’re covered.

So I called Home Depot’s customer service and explained my issue. At the same time, I figured I might as well get someone to check my eaves troughs for replacement. I was told that was two separate things, and that I would hear back on both within 48 hours. Of course, I heard back on the sales side in less than 24. He came, he quoted. Again, a couple thousand dollars, and I told him I’d discuss with my wife and call him back.

In the meantime, I waited for Home Depot to call back about the roof. Silence. After three days, I called again, explained the urgency about it, as a section of my roof was bare to the elements. The person acknowledged that, empathized, and swore someone would call within 48 hours. Four days later, I called again. Same acknowledgement, same empathy, same promise. Then it snowed. Fantastic. At that point, I took to Twitter and Facebook, outlining my issue.

It's sad when you have to shame a company to get them to respond to you.

It’s sad when you have to shame a company to get them to respond to you.

Within four hours, I’d gotten a call back. Funny what a public shaming will do, huh? Anyway, the guy was nice, and asked me to scan the docs and send them over to him. He called back the next day and the conversation when something like this:

HIM: So, I checked with someone else who knows more about this than me, and I’ve got an answer. It’s not often I win one of these, but this time I will.

ME: Okay.

HIM: The wind guarantee on those shingles is only five years. So, unfortunately, we can’t help you.

ME: But the paperwork says ten years.

HIM: I know. But if you go to the website for the shingle manufacturer, you’ll see, it plainly says five years. And since yours are eight years old…

ME: It may say that on the site, but wouldn’t I go by Home Depot’s paperwork?

HIM: No, we have to go by the manufacturer.

ME: Okay, well, I guess I can’t argue with you, can I?

HIM: Not really. It is what it is.

ME: Fine.

HIM: By the way, you aren’t going to write something else on Twitter or anything, are you?

ME: I guess not.

So now I had to contact another roofer, which turned out to be another Herculean task in Itself. In the end, it was the nephew of a writing friend that came and helped me out. It cost me $200. He was fast, he was courteous, and most of all, he gave a shit. And this wasn’t even his profession, he just had some skill, as he’d done it previously.

And those eaves troughs? Yeah, for the sake of a $200 repair, Home Depot lost that $2200 job, as well as all future business. No more appliances, no more home repair services, nothing.

And it wasn’t necessarily of hewing to the manufacturer’s warranty. I don’t necessarily like that, nor do I agree with it as it’s not spelled out (at least that I can find) on the paperwork.

No, the thing that will stop me from ever spending another cent with Home Depot was the statement, “I don’t normally win these things.” He looked at his company NOT helping a longtime customer as “winning.”

He’s got a skewed, fucked up idea of what the two words “customer” and “service” mean when pushed together.

Congrats, buddy. You won.


On the Saturday before Christmas, I checked online and found out Future Shop opened at 8:00 am. Fantastic. I had some running around to do, and had to be somewhere by 10, so I rushed over there, arriving at 8:12. Surprisingly, for the last Saturday before Christmas, the place was quiet. All the better.

I walked purposefully over to the Apple section and found the computer I needed to buy. Then I looked for a salesperson to help me. There was no one.

I walked into the next section. “Can you help me?” I asked. I was told that laptops weren’t his section, and he went back to whatever he was doing. No offer to find the right person. I went back and fiddled with the laptop for a bit, figuring someone would show up to see if I had any questions.

At 8:20, I went over to the service counter and asked if there was anyone working in the laptop section. I was told Jeff should be there. The woman I talked to at least offered to find him. So, I went back to the laptop again.

At 8:25, I went back to the service counter again. “Jeff still isn’t there?” she said. I told her he was not. I told her that the easiest $2000 sale they were going to make that day was going to walk out of the store in two minutes if someone didn’t show up. The other guy behind the counter said he’d help.

I showed him the computer and he retrieved it. As he was about to punch it in, a guy I could only presume was Jeff came waddling up, coffee cup in hand, in absolutely no hurry, even though he’d left his entire area of business empty for almost a quarter of an hour. He couldn’t have been on break, because the store had only been open for a half-hour. “Guess I got here a little late,” he said.

“I guess you did,” I said. “I was going to walk out.”

So, now the sale was turned over to PolkarooJeff.

Polkaroo! Where are you?

Polkaroo! Where are you?

He then tried to sell me an extended warranty package that was about 20% of the cost of the machine…on sale. I told him I didn’t think so, but that I knew the drill and had 30 days to get it after the purchase. He told me that wasn’t the case anymore, that the warranty had to be on the same receipt as the purchase. So it had to be purchased now or never. I said, fine, forget the warranty then. I’d already had a bad experience with a previous Future Shop warranty that ended up costing me $700, so I figured I’d take my chances.

He wrung up the purchase, I paid, and he handed me the receipt. Then he said, “Make sure you hold on to that, because if you change your mind about the warranty, we can return the purchase and then just re-sell the laptop with the extended warranty anytime within the next thirty days.”

“So you totally lied to me earlier when you said it was now or never,” I said.

“Well, no,” he said.

“Well, yeah,” I said. “You show up late, almost lose the sale for the store, get someone else to do the work, then lie to the customer, then collect your commission.”

“No, that’s not…”

“I’m done with you,” I said, and walked out of the store.

The sad thing is, I can’t even go to Best Buy, because they’re owned by the same damn company. And I won’t even go into the bullshit we went through with them last Christmas.

But I’m done with Future Shop. I’ll take my business to any other electronics place I can find. Again, a customer that’s likely dropped in the tens of thousands of dollars with your company.


On January 1st, our modem died, taking away all internet to our house. I called Bell customer service, who took me through some troubleshooting steps that I’d already told him I’d gone through, but, no big deal, I get it. He has to do his due diligence. He quickly determines that the modem is dead. “Okay,” he says. “We’ll send you out a new one.”
“When will that get here?” I said. “Because both my wife and I work from home, and we rely on the internet, so we really need it up and running no later than Sunday.”

“It will get there tomorrow, Friday, January 2nd,” he says.

“That seems awfully quick, especially at this time of year,” I say, but he assures me it will be here by tomorrow. Fair enough.

At two o’clock the next day, I phone Bell and tell them the modem they promised for today has not yet shown up. The person then runs me through the exact same troubleshooting on my modem as the person did yesterday. I put up with it. Then I give them the tracking number for the new modem and they tell me it will be three to five business days, which means somewhere between Tuesday and Thursday of the following week. I explain that that’s not acceptable, based on what I was promised the day before. I can almost hear the shrug of her shoulders all the way from India or the Phillipines or wherever the hell she is. So, it’s left up to me to then do the problem solving. I suggest that they can perhaps use a different courier and overnight it? No, that can’t be done. I suggest we can go to the nearest Bell store and pick up the modem, and bring the other one back when it’s received. No, that’s impossible.

How is that impossible?

Anyway, she’s doing nothing for me, except shutting me down, so I hang up. My wife says, “You want me to call? Wanna sic the pitbull on them?” I agree, then leave the room, because I’ve seen her in action. She’s not mean with the agents, as she understands they’re often handcuffed by procedure, but she’s tenacious, and it’s often painful to watch as she lovingly flays their logic, strip by strip.

Almost two hours later, I finally hear her hang up. I go back up, and she relates the entire sordid story. She moved up the chain from first level care all the way to Executive Level complaints. She had a manager actually hang up on her partway through the ordeal.

It really is

It really is

And this is what I need to point out: the ordeal. A company’s product doesn’t work. A promise is made to replace it within 24 hours, then that promise is rescinded and the customer is told there’s nothing the company can do. My wife heard that comment several times through the two hours.

Interestingly, as she was telling me all this, the phone rings. It’s a woman named Asia from Bell and she’s calling to set up a tech service call for tomorrow, Saturday. Did I want it between noon and six, or six and ten? I chose the earlier one, and didn’t say anything about how my wife had suggested this very solution quite a while ago and was told it was impossible. I did ask if this would cost us anything, and was told it would not. I confirmed that again.

The next day, at 11:00, so even earlier than promised, a great tech guy, nice as anything, showed up, replaced the modem, improved the connection, and left me with a smile.

So, why did my wife have to argue, berate, badger and beg for two hours, only to be told it was all impossible, when it obviously was possible? That’s the problem here.

And in the case of Bell, don’t get me wrong. Overall, Bell is a pretty good company. And I can’t say I haven’t experienced a similar level of frustration with my own company at times. And, of the three examples above, only Bell stepped up, clued in, and fixed the issue. So, good for them.

My point here is, outline a process for the agents to confidently make decisions on the company’s behalf to keep the customer happy while not giving away the store. I know customers still run on the misguided and completely erroneous guideline that “the customer is always right.” That’s bullshit. I know customers will often try and take a company for every penny they can. But an agent should also be able to look at a long-standing customer’s file, their purchase history (are you listening, Home Depot?) and make a quick, educated decision on whether that customer is trying to soak you, or they are simply frustrated and trying to get some answers. I don’t care if it’s Home Depot, Future Shop, Bell, TELUS, or any of the other customers that want your repeat business.

I mentioned I used to do training for customer service. One of the first questions I asked my agents was, who are we in competition with? They would quickly answer all the other companies that share our particular industry. I would tell them there’s more. Who are they? Eventually, I would give them the answer. As a company that offers customer service, we are in competition with every single other company that offers customer service. Banks, car dealerships, phone companies, furniture stores…all of them. The ones that do it well will win the loyalty of the customer. The ones that do it poorly will lose it.

It takes years to build loyalty. It takes one bad experience to lose it.

Interview with a dickwad

Wow…there’s lots of stuff pissing me off lately. But none more than this:

A few days ago, my daughter got called to a job interview. Fantastic. She was very excited and spent a lot of time prepping both on her own, and with me.

A little about me. I held a position for quite a while where I would go out to universities and interview candidates for co-op roles, summer roles and permanent positions. I also helped students get ready for interviews through mock interview sessions. As well, I also did a lot of interviewing for new hires into a call centre, etc., etc., etc.

If I had to guess, I’d say I’ve done more than 3000 interviews in my time. I’ve coached many others on how to do interviews, from both sides of the table. So, I know the interview process fairly well. On top of that, the Wife has done a ton of interviewing as well. Between us, we have decades of experience.

I’ve found the biggest mistake people make is trying to anticipate the questions that could be asked. There’s millions, so don’t even try. You’ll always get zinged. You need a better process.

So, I took the Girl through the process I suggest for anyone preparing for a behavioural interview. It’s the one I’ve used for several years and it’s rarely let me down.

Step One: The Skills

The first step is to write down what you think (or, preferably what you can pull from the job description) are the top skills you’ll need in the role you’re applying for. So, as an example, communication skills, conflict negotiation, and time management. Obviously there are tons, but we’ll use these to illustrate.

Step Two: The Examples

When you’ve got a list of seven to ten, then you want to find examples for them. So, at first, just think about a time when you performed that skill amazingly well. Jot it down so you remember it. Then think of a time when you completely boned it up badly. Did you learn anything from that? Good, jot it down too. And keep doing this for each skill.  By the end, you should have 14 to 20 examples for each of those seven to ten skills.  One good and one bad.

Here’s a great side benefit to this.  Let’s say you have 14 examples.  In reality, most behavioural-based interviews probe for maybe five to seven (and that’s a long interview) skills.  Those 14 examples you have?  Those weren’t a single skill done in a vacuum.  If you had a conflict with a coworker, for example, you likely used communication skills, negotiation skills, decision making skills, possibly leadership skills…

My point is, you have 14 very flexible answers that can be used for probably 40 or 50 questions now.

Step Three: The Format

So, now you want to work them up into good, solid answers.  You’ve likely heard of the S.T.A.R. format, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result.  Personally, I use B.A.R. which is Background, Action, Result.  Toe-may-toes, toe-mah-toes…same difference.

Either way, you want to come up with a very short (note the emphasis) background to the example.  Next, you want a nicely detailed stack of the actions you did, and cap it off with a short result.  Notice where you’re spending most of your time…in the actions you took.  Most people make the mistake of thinking the result is the thing.  It’s not.  You’re actions are what sell you and tell the interviewer you do possess the skill they require.

Think about it.  Let’s say your example is about having to fundraise $10 000, and it was a struggle to meet that goal, but you did it.  Is the fact that you raised it as important to a prospective employer as the actions and strategies that you performed to raise it?  Right.  It’s the actions.

Step Four: Observable Behaviours

Ever had problems in an interview walking that line between sounding conceited or sounding so humble that it seems others did the tasks for you?

When you’re putting those examples together, take all emotion out of the answers (and, as a side note, any employer that asks you how you felt about something isn’t playing fair).  If you stick to observable behaviours, that is, if someone was following you around during the time of that example, what would they have seen?  Granted, you need a little leeway on that one as they wouldn’t be able to hear your thoughts through a decision making process, but that’s it.  Talk about the observable behaviours.

Keep the emotion out of it.  Keep your opinions out of it.  They have no place in an interview.

The side benefit to this?  You won’t come off sounding too cocky or too humble, because you’re relating what anyone would have seen.  Did you get a commendation?  Great, talk about it…it’s observable.

Step Five: Research

Let me ask a question here…how much time did you take researching and preparing for your last vacation?  Probably a fair amount of time, between checking out sites, reading reviews, talking to friends, etc.

How much time did you take researching the company for your last interview?

Yeah, thought so.  Here’s the deal: It’s very easy for employers to gauge how motivated you are to work for their company based on a single, simple question.  “What do you know about my company?”

I think the most pathetic answer (besides, “I don’t know anything.”) is the guy that told me he knew we had two main competitors, both of which he’d worked for, so we were “next on the list.”

The internet is a wonderful thing.  Use it to research the company.  Hell, at the very least, set up a Google Alert to deliver the information straight to your inbox.  Research at its laziest.

Step Six: Tell Me You Love Me

This is the second hardest thing to put together.  The hardest is still to come.

After you’ve done your deep dive into your skills, then a deep dive into the company, you need to be able to articulate very clearly why you want to work for the company.  The interviewer knows you’re interested, because you applied.  But now you need to be able to explain the why.

Here’s the really bad analogy I always use:

The Wife: “Do you love me?”

Me: “Yes.” (easy answer, right?  Consider this the application you sent in)

The Wife: “Why do you love me?”

And here’s the uh-oh spot for the interviewee that hasn’t thought this through.  Because many interviewers will say something like, “Tell me why my company is the right fit for you,” or, even simpler, “Why do you want to work for my company?”  See why Step Five is so important now?

Here’s why…because if I came back to the Wife and said, “I love you because you’re female, you have brown hair and nice teeth,” she is so not going to feel very secure.

And yet, the answer I mostly get is something like, “You’re a large, successful company with lots of room for growth.”  Big deal.  So is Google.  So is Facebook.  So are a lot of other companies.

Get this one right, people, it’s a dealbreaker for me.

Step Seven: Unique

This one always seems to be the toughest one to answer, and it can also be tossed out in an interview so subtly that you don’t even realize it.  Think about this…what makes you unique?  In other words, what can you say about you that very few other people can say?

It tends to be a stumper, and usually, after a few minutes of thinking, I’ll get something like, “Well, I’m a quick learner.  I know others can say that, but I really am.”


Here’s what you should be thinking about: think about all the experiences you’ve had at previous jobs, or through extracurriculars, or hobbies, or traveling, or volunteering, or on boards…anything.

There’s never going to be just one thing that makes you unique.  Right now, Paul McCartney can’t say, “I was a Beatle,” and be unique.  There was three other guys, and one of them is still around.

But you can build a stack of experiences up that makes you unique.  Of course you can.  Everyone can.

The interview

So this was everything I took the Girl through–no small task on her part, let me tell you–and she then went off and worked it all up into some fantastic answers.

Then she went to the interview.  Anne Rice could have written the book on it: The Interview With a Dickwad.

The guy essentially ignored her resume (though he had a copy to review when calling her, and requested another be brought to the interview), except where he wanted to refute things.

An example?  “This place is fast-paced.  I don’t think your previous job was fast-paced.”  If he would have asked a question about it, instead of passing judgement, he would have found out it was, in fact, quite fast-paced.  So he did this a few times.

He also told her he figured she’d get “tired” of driving from her home to work and back.  Yeah, ten minutes is a hell of a commute, let me tell you.

He actually berated her for her choice of schools for post-secondary education.

And then he did the unforgivable (in my book).  He took a personal call on his cell phone, cutting her off in the middle of one of her answers.

Okay, when I’m interviewing someone, no matter how well or how poorly they are doing, they are the only person that matters for the duration of the interview.  I expect that courtesy from them, I extend the same courtesy to them.

So, basically, this asshole made the Girl do this “long” commute that he thought she would soon tire of, to essentially bring her in, pass incorrect judgement on her resume, not discuss the role whatsoever, not probe or check on any of her skills, pass judgement on her education decisions, then show her that any old phone call was more important that a possible new staff member.  Seriously, he really puts the “mental” in judgmental.

Honestly, I’d love for this guy to call her and offer her the job.

Because now I’ve coached my daughter on her response and now she can be quite emphatically clear when she tells him exactly what he can do with his job, his company and his offer.