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.

Sears left me searingly angry

Listen up Sears Canada, I have a fantastic idea for you.  You can increase customer satisfaction, and it’ll likely cost you less than $10000 annually.  Seriously, you should consider this.

Let me back up and give you the sad, frustrating story.

The Girl decided to redo her bedroom, which meant new paint on the walls and new bedroom furniture.

Truly don’t know why she’s not satisfied to continue using the bedroom furniture her mother bought thirty years ago…kids these days, huh?  It’s okay to listen to thirty year old music that sucked thirty years ago and sucks even worse now that the cast of Glee has decided to put their shitty little spin on it, but when it comes to furniture, well, geez, let’s get a little more 21st century, huh?

By the way, in case you missed it, that last paragraph was sarcastic in regard to the furniture, but I meant every word about Glee.  Hate that damn show.  But alas, this is not a Glee rant.  Back to Sears.

She picked up a couple of pieces from Ikea that we took home and put together.  Gotta tell ya, say what you want about Ikea, but they have their shit together for the most part.  We had no problems picking the items out, no problem picking them up, no problem putting them together.  Exactly what you want.

The Girl also ordered a couple of pieces from sears.ca.  We waited about three weeks for them to arrive, but when they did, all seemed in order.

I attacked them last Friday evening, starting with the chest of drawers.  Now, I’m really not the type of personality to follow instructions, however I’ve learned with this stuff that everything goes a lot smoother if you pull all the pieces out and organize them.  This includes all the little plugs and screws and connectors as well.  So I’ll indicate this right up front, that’s what I did.

Then I proceeded to build the whole thing.  All went really well until the last of the six drawers.  Turns out I was shorted two very small but very important items.  I know I was shorted them because I sorted everything up front.

I have no idea what this damn part is even called, but it looks like this.

I was missing two of them.

This meant I couldn’t put together the last drawer, because now I had to keep one more back to stick in my pocket for the search.

I didn’t think it would be a big deal, so I just shot over to the local hardware store.  When I held this little grommet up and told him I needed two of them, he shook his head sadly.  “Ikea?” he asked.

“Sears,” I answered.

“Ah,” he shook his head again.  “Try Canadian Tire.”

So, I tried Canadian Tire.  They had them, but they all seemed far too large for my purposes.  I bought the ones that seemed closest.  Only $4.09 for four of them.  Wait?  A buck each?  Shit.  I bought them anyway.

Brought them home.  Sure enough, too big.

No biggie, I thought.  I’ll just give Sears a shot tomorrow.

So I did.

Let me set the scene.  I went to the Sears Home store in Whitby, not far from Thickson Rd and the 401.  I walked into the store and, in walking from the front to the back, I saw at least three signs or posters highlighting the 24 hour ease and convenience of shopping via computer at the sears.ca site.  They truly seemed to think this was a good thing.

So then I got up to the customer service/catalogue order desk and a somewhat friendly woman offered her assistance.  I held up the damnable grommet, explained I was shorted two of them and did they have any kicking around.

“Did you buy the furniture here?” she asked.

“No,” I said.  “My daughter ordered it online through sears.ca.”  I waved vaguely at the sign just to my left that again trumpeted the benefits of Sears on the internet.

Her response?  A downturn of the mouth, and then she said, “Foolish girl.”


Now, I’ve worked for a lot of places in my time, and not all of them were the most amazing places to work.  In fact, there’s two off the top of my head that I’ll happily rip into for their unbelievable management practices, asshole managers and ridiculous working conditions.  But I’ll also do that because both of them are no longer in business, as they deserved.

I was brought up to not slag the place that you work for.  It may not be the best place, but dammit, if they’re employing you, if they’re paying your wage, you don’t cut them up.  Or, put slightly less delicately, you don’t shit where you eat.

This woman was happily crapping on her own dinner plates.

Anyway, instead of showing the requisite empathy, even a simple “I’m sorry to hear that” in commiseration, she tossed that to the wind.  Granted, at no point was she rude to me, that must be stated.  And she also did go into the back to see if “the boys” had any spare parts, coming back, unfortunately, empty handed.

She handed me a brochure with the customer service phone number on there and told me to give them what for.  “You know what I’d, do,” she said.  “I’d demand they send another chest of drawers!”

“But I just need two connectors,” I said, showing her once again, the pitiful little piece of cheap metal that had be driving from Bowmanville to Whitby.

“Still,” she said.  “They didn’t deliver what they promised.”

“So, if I call customer service, they’re going to have to mail them out, right?  I’ll have to wait a few days…” I said.

“Well, you could try going to one of our competitors and…you know…bend the truth.  Tell them you bought it there.”

So now she was sending me to the competition, where I, quite frankly, wished we’d done three weeks earlier.

I left the store, casting a final rueful glance at one of those sears.ca posters.  Then I went to Home Depot and Rona, only to strike out at both stores.

So, not wanting to wait, instead, I went home, pulled out the drill, widened the holes and used my Canadian Tire grommets.  It’s not pretty, but it did the job.

Now, back to where I started this.  Everyone I talked to at the hardware stores says they have people coming in constantly for this stuff.  I’m sure it’s not just from Sears, but still…

Here’s my idea.  Most of the screws and plugs are standard issue that can be bought anywhere.  But the special stuff, the connectors I was looking for and their accompanying specialized screws and the like…I’m guessing at most they’re costing you five to ten cents each.  Hell, let’s go high and say they’re twenty cents each.

Let’s say there’s ten different types of various grommets and doodads and thingamabobs for the furniture.  At twenty cents each, that’s $2.00.  How about you keep a running stock of twenty of each them per store.  10 x 20 x 20 cents.  That’s $40 worth of inventory per store.  Times about 150 stores, that’s $6000 to cover Canada.

Granted, that’s the initial stockpile, and you’re going to have to replenish every once in a while, but still, shouldn’t take much.  It’s a small price to pay and it would make your customers a hell of a lot happier.

Of course, putting the right number of damn parts in the furniture would help more, but I know that’s not always in your control.

What is also in your control is having employees who will empathize with you and not slag the company they work for, even if it is subtly.

Honestly, the whole situation soured me on a company that’s been around over sixty years.  There’s a lot of other companies out there vying for my money who’ll treat me better.

Ikea, for instance.

My Daughter, Madison

“All my little plans and schemes,
lost like some forgotten dreams.
Seems that all I really was doing
was waitin’ for you.”

The Beatles – Real Love

I don’t think I could ever have imagined this day.

But still, here it is.  Today, my first born, my daughter, my baby, turns eighteen.

Today, my little girl is an adult.

When did this happen?  How did eighteen years go by so quickly?

I can still remember living in our two-bedroom apartment in a not-so-nice area of Oshawa and my wife telling me that, after months and months of trying, she was pregnant.  I remember, I had just turned 30 only two days before, so I went around labelling this as “my last productive act of my 20s.”  I remember telling those that I worked with that my wife and I were going to have a baby.  I remember one of them coming back with the perfect response to the question of what a child of ours would be like.  “Big feet and an attitude,” was the answer.

Eighteen years later, I can say they weren’t far off.

I remember all the walks down by the lake as the day came closer and closer.  I can remember Karen having to swear off coffee, a substance she had been addicted to prior to the pregnancy.  I remember her consuming uncountable tons of cucumbers in the months leading up to delivery.  I can remember us going to buy a crib and Karen bemoaning the fact that she “didn’t look pregnant.”  I can remember two weeks later, Karen upset at “how fat” she was getting.

I remember that last month, when Karen had a daily hankering for Dairy Queen Peanut Buster Parfaits.  I remember hoping the baby would come before we gave the last of our money to DQ.

I remember packing her up and getting her up to the hospital early on a Saturday morning in June for her to be induced.  Apparently our baby was quite comfortable where she was and didn’t necessarily feel like coming out into the world without a bit of a push.

I remember going through the entire Saturday, watching other couples come in–many from our Lamaze classes–have their babies and leave.  And there we sat.  I remember all the wonderful nurses at Oshawa General coming in and doing everything they could to make us comfortable.  I remember them all looking at how Karen was carrying, at the fetal heart rate, at all these signs and telling us we were having a boy.  Karen was pretty adamant that it was a girl.  Nurses told us that, in ten, fifteen, twenty years of nursing, they’d never called it wrong.

I remember those nurses pulling a recliner out of their private area so I could stay in the room and try and sleep.

And I remember, finally, late on Sunday afternoon, almost exactly 36 hours after we arrived, watching the birth of my daughter.

Yes, all those nurses got it wrong.  A girl.  My little girl.

And that was the first of many times when she confounded everyone’s expectations.

I remember being shocked at how big she was.  I remember them swaddling her up and laying her on Karen’s chest.  I remember when Karen looked down and talked to her, our baby actually opened her eyes and tilted her head up to look at her mother.  I remember being so…overwhelmed doesn’t cut it, it’s far too small a word for what I felt, but it will have to do…being so overwhelmed by this little living being that we had made.  I remember Karen, dry and thirsty and only allowed ice chips, looking at me and saying in a dry whisper, “iiiiiiiiiccce, iiiiiiiiiice,” and me, goofy and stupid, saying, “yes, she does have beautiful eyes.”

I remember us looking at her and trying the name that we’d had for years on her.  “Does she look like a Madison?”  “Yes, she does, she really does.”

I remember in the weeks afterward, my life taking on a clarity of purpose that I’d never felt before.  I remember being terrified of the responsibility of having this child, but also feeling so absolutely blessed and lucky to have been given this chance to do something right in my life.

I remember taking her to Niagara Falls when she was only weeks old and being told over and over again what a calm, placid baby she was.  One waitress referred to her as a “restaurant baby” because she was so good.

I can remember Madison constantly surprising us with how neat she always was.  With how sharp she seemed to be.  With the depth of her thinking at an early age.   I remember getting out of the car, preoccupied with something, and locking the door, only to have it shut on its own, with both the keys and my baby girl still inside.  She was strapped into her car seat.  It took twenty minutes for a tow truck with a slimjim to show up and get the car unlocked.  I made funny faces through the back window at her to keep her occupied.

I remember her singing the Little Mermaid song, Part of Your World.  And I remember especially the two lines

I’ve got gadgets and gizmos aplenty
I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore

She’d always say that last word as “gah-more.”

I remember standing in a Home Depot and the last single ever released by the Beatles, Real Love coming on over the speakers and Madison, all of three years old, swaying along with the music, singing her little heart out.

In those middle years, I remember being proud of choices she made.  Of how empathetic and ethical she was.  I remember all those dance classes and sitting through two hours of dance recitals for five minutes of watching her dance.  It was always worth it.

As she grew into her teens, she amazed us even more with the choices of friends she made, with her responsibility, with her dedication to her school work and to her goals.  I remember her earning her Canada Cord from Girl Guides and what a proud moment that was for both her to receive it and her mother to award it to her.  I remember her falling in love with THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK.

I remember talking to her in the car, her screwing up her courage to drop off her first resume at the library in Bowmanville.  I remember how nervous she was, but that she had to be the one to do it.  And she did.  And we drove around most of Durham Region, hitting every library and her being so at ease with it by the end of it all.

I remember Karen and I prepping her for that first interview.  I remember her telling me that she got the job.

I remember taking her out just a couple of years ago to start driving, finding an abandoned road and her first time behind the wheel.  “Just take your foot off the brake, honey.  See how the car will just roll forward?”  “WAAAAAAAAAA!”   “What?  What’s wrong?”  “We’re going so faaaaaast!”

I remember all those homework assignments.  I remember talking to her about THE LOVELY BONES as she built her book report, teasing observations out of her.  I remember all those times talking about different stories and plays and books and the wonderful conversations we had.

I remember last year, my first real taste of letting her go.  Of holding up and being strong as she waited to get on the bus with all the other students, then, as the bus pulled away to take them to the airport and, ultimately, to Europe for almost two weeks, me breaking down.

I remember all of it.

And tonight, as I talked to her about going off to Ottawa to study Journalism at Carleton, I saw the dichotomy of my daughter.  How, while she’s grown into a beautiful, intelligent, witty woman and a lovely person, she’s still tenuously hanging on to her childhood, wanting to be carefree and to just have fun.  Apparently our baby is still quite comfortable where she is and doesn’t, at times, necessarily feel like going out into the world without a bit of a push.

She’s always made me proud, she’s always had her father wrapped around her finger.  Yes, I’m aware enough to cop to that one.

But she’s also so much stronger that she knows.  When I look at her, I see, not just the beautiful young woman she’s become, I see the potential in her for the future.  I see in her the ability to make the world open up for her and for her to take it on and bend it to her will.

I remember the baby, I remember the toddler, I remember the girl, I remember the teenager.  I see now the adult.

And, as much as it hurts to let you go, as much as it hurts to even type these words, I look forward to the future.  To your future.

I love you baby girl.

Happy birthday.