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.

Customer Service…and fun

This is the second in absentia blog I’m posting.  Our regularly scheduled blogs should recommence tomorrow.

But I had to take a moment to show everyone that I’ve been a smartass a lot longer than just the past month.  It goes back years.

I used to work for Columbia House Canada back in the day.  You know…the 11 CDs for a dollar deals you got in the mail all the time?  So I was initially put in the role of answering the letters we’d receive from our customers.  Yes, real, Honest to God paper mail.  Then they promoted me to supervisor.  So that meant I got the “escalations” or the ones that were a little outside the norm of the everyday CSR (Customer Service Rep).  I never really minded.  Let’s just say I like a challenge and leave it at that.

So, to my point, I love to have fun with whatever I’m doing.  When someone else comes along to help make it fun, I appreciate that and respond in kind.  So, when one of my reps came up to me, paper thrust out in front of him, saying, “How the hell am I supposed to answer this?”  I knew I had a challenge.  When I read it, I knew it was going to be fun.

So, here’s the letter we received.

June 5, 1998

ATTN: Pam Marshall – Membership Director

Columbia House

PO Box 63003 STN BRM B

Toronto, ON

M7Y 3B3

Dear music membership marketers,

Words cannot describe my elation at receiving your personal congratulations that I was selected to be a member of your prestigious organization. I was absolutely thrilled at the sight of my name on my very own blue and white membership card. And when I realized the deal that you were offering, I just about went berserk! “Where do I sign up?”, I screamed as I ripped into your package of reading materials and unfolded the stamps showing album covers from your fine selection of music. If I had been a dog, this would have been my day! However, after poring over your personal invitation three times, my stomach knotted up really tight, and a fear grabbed at my heart that never seemed to let go. Your club seems to cater only to people with CD players!

This would not be a normal obstacle to most of your clients, but being a devout Seventh Day Mormon (a conglomerate sect), I am not allowed to entertain myself with the more modern conveniences of today. Therein lies my problem. I own numerous record players and eight-track players, and so the excitement of updating my record collection sent me soaring. But lo and behold, newfangled shiny discs prevail over older, vinyl ones. Can you help me? Do any of your selections come on LP or 45? Can you possibly have an 8-track or two in your new releases?

Or, can you please write back with some reasons for purchasing a CD player and signing up with your club right away? My business (polyester suit renewals) provides me with enough income to buy hundreds of compact disc players, and Heaven knows your personal letter is tempting enough to disregard my religion and join your worldly ranks. Please respond as soon as you can, and if possible, could you send me a Columbia House t-shirt (XL)? I’d be most grateful!

With two turntables and a microphone,

Dairn M Peters

How the hell am I supposed to answer this indeed…  And here’s my response.

June 22, 1998

Re: CDs versus LPs/8-Tracks

Dear Dairn;

Thank you for your letter of June 5, 1998.

We appreciate and rejoice in your elation due to the arrival of our offer of application and we do also share in your pain and discomfort at the lack of selections in 8-track and/or vinyl format. Unfortunately, due to the “rule of majority”, demand for these forms of musical preservation have unfortunately gone the way of the dodo or (in more recent memory) the fine Pacer automobile. Take heart though, as the VW Beetle seems to have made a resurgence!

Though I am not familiar with the Seventh Day Mormon religion, I am sure if they do permit the prevailing technology of the Seventies to be utilized for your personal gratification and edification, surely you might be able to sway the decision makers of this particular religious sect. Perhaps including the following arguments may help to soften the impact of newer technology:

Unlike LPs, 45s and 8-Tracks, CDs don’t produce music through the physical touching of the components, but through an incredible “laser” technology. (If you have seen “Star Trek” it is similar to their fictional “phasers” but with much less destructive force. A technology used for the greater good of man, not evil. Does your religion permit the viewing of television?)

Also, CDs carry all the music on only one side of the shiny disc, so there is no more annoying “ka-CHUNK” of an 8-Track changing channels, or the constant 20 minute trip to the turntable to lift the LP, flip it 180 degrees, clean the dust motes and continue the playing of the second side.

As well, with our wonderful CDs, you can forever kiss goodbye those aggravating hisses, pops and squeaks of a record with too much dust. CDs are also much more resistant to warping, so it’s much safer to transport them in your vehicle of choice (a good feature for those remaining AMC Pacer owners – the sheer window space of this car is enough to drive one mad due to the unencumbered view of the outside world rushing past!).

As a further enticement to your religious elders (if I may be so bold), you may wish to offer them some sort of bargain on some of your fine polyester garments. I am sure you would be safe in assuming the loss would be quickly offset by the incredible bargains offered through our Music Club. I am sorry we cannot send the requested Columbia House T-shirt, though you do seem to be in the advantageous position of possibly designing something along that line yourself out of polyester!

In closing, I hope this missive answers the many questions you seem to need education on. I will take the liberty of enclosing another application in hopes that you may wax eloquent enough to bring the power and pleasures of the 90’s to all the Seventh Day Mormons in Burnaby, nay, the world!

Musically (and technologically) yours,

Tobin Elliott

Supervisor, Customer Service

Ya gotta have fun with it sometimes.  Had my boss at the time seen this, he likely would have fired my ass, but enh, what the heck.  This was one of those times I just had to go with it.  It was that frustrated writer coming out in me, clearly.

Anyway, my point is, have fun with whatever you do…otherwise, what’s the point of doing it?  My reward?  The letter writer stating, “This is easily the best response I’ve ever received.”

And thanks to Dairn over at D Mail.  The blog isn’t active anymore, but it’s still a hoot.