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.

Lunching on dogs and foot-in-mouth

Many, many years ago, I worked for Arby’s, the fast food place.  Long story short, my post-secondary education plans fell through and I needed a job until I figured out what the hell came next.  I never realized it would lead to me saying the stupidest thing at the most inappropriate time ever.

And believe me, I’ve said some stupid things.

Arby’s was going to be a quick thing, but somehow it didn’t work out that way and they kept promoting me.  One of the promotions was to Second Assistant Manager, which meant at the time (and I can’t speak for them now, as it’s been thirty years) that I got the shit shifts and the crappy jobs.  Oh, and the pay was spectacularly bad, but I didn’t know that at the time.

Anyway, I was about a year in and they decided to send me for a week of Management Training down in Atlanta, where the head offices were.  The training was a joke, but Atlanta was cool.  Of course, at the time, I was maybe twenty or so, very insecure and feeling highly intimidated by the older guys, and it really seemed to be all guys, in the training with me.

Anyway, I did my best to try and fit in, though I never really felt like I did.  My roommate was an older, married guy, and we had nothing in common, so that was a bust, and, because we were from the first Arby’s stores in Canada, everyone else in the training was American, so it was a little harder for a sheltered geek like me to talk to them as well.

But on the first day of training, as we were learning all about fast food management, someone brought up The Varsity, which was, by all accounts, an unbelievable fast food establishment.  I watched as guys from around perked up and paid attention.  Was I the only guy that hadn’t heard of this place?

It’s important to remember that there was no Google back then to quickly check anything out on.

They promised to take us at some point through the week, and on the Thursday, they made good.  At lunch, we loaded up a few cars and drove the short distance to The Varsity.  Now, bear in mind this is all me running from thirty-year-old memories, so I may bugger up some of the facts.  From what I remember, The Varsity was across from Varsity Stadium, hence the name.

There was so much that made this place impressive, starting with the sheer size of it.  It had its own helicopter landing pad (that they called the Lunch Pad).  I think they went through something like a ton or two of onions every day.

What did they sell?  From what I remember, burgers and dogs, but I might be wrong on the burgers.  Personally, I ordered two chili dogs, a Coke and fries.

Now here’s one of the other impressive things… When you talk fast food, I can still expect to go through a McD’s drive-thru and expect to be parked and the food come out to me.  I can go through a Tim Horton’s drive-thru and expect a line of ten to fifteen cars ahead of me and a five to ten minute wait.

The Varsity averaged seven second service.  Nope, not kidding.  Seven seconds.

I will say they had a separate line for women and children simply because those two groups are slower.  And no, I’m not going to apologize for that one.  Where I’ll slap a five dollar bill down for an 87-cent charge, I’ve watched my wife dig for what felt like fifteen minutes to dredge up the change in her purse, only to come up short, then slap a five dollar bill down for an 87-cent charge.  So, nyah.

Anyway, another thing that’s totally different from your average McD’s or Arby’s or Burger King or whatever…the guy that took my order and how he was positioned.  He was a large, intimidating man behind a counter that–I kid you not–was level with my neck, so he was way above me, like a judge in a courtroom.  And he was making this very strange noise over and over.  It sounded like “Whoodnyaaaaah, whoodnyaaaah, whoodnyaaaah, whoodnyaaaah…”  I found out later he was actually saying, “Whaddya haaaave, whaddya haaave, whaddya haaave, whaddya haaave…”

Anyway, I also got a good lesson in proper ordering etiquette when a guy a few spots ahead of me in line had the sheer audacity to walk up.  The dude is doing his “Whoodnyaaaaah, whoodnyaaaah” thing, and the customer says, “I’ll…have…uuuuuuummmm…”

At which point, counter dude stops, leans way over the counter so he’s nose to nose with the customer and, harshly and loudly says, “I SAID, WHADDYA HAVE?”

Ah, okay, that makes sense now.  “Whoodnyaaaaah, whoodnyaaaah…”  is actually, “Whaddya haaaave, whaddya haaave, whaddya haaave…”  But back to the customer.

The customer, taken aback, stutters and sputters, but doesn’t get an order out.  “BACK OF THE LINE!” counter dude yells, and points his arm at the back of the line that must have a hundred guys in it.  The customer meekly and dutifully heads back.  In five minutes, he’ll have another chance.

When I go up, I have my money out and my order memorized.  Counter dude ain’t gonna rip me a new one.  I order my chili dogs, fries and Coke, give him the money (which he scoops into a hole in the counter) and he fairly throws my change at me as the food is set in front of me.  If it took five seconds from start to finish, I’d be shocked.

I head off to where my fellow trainees are sitting and we eat.  The food is nothing to write home about, but it’s really all about the experience.  And really, it’s a cool experience.

Now, this is where it gets interesting.

We eat.  I pound back two chili dogs.  Mash some fries down on top of it and drown it all in Coke.  We sit for a while as this stuff brews in my gut.  Then we clamber back into the cars and head back to the office.

As we enter the building, I notice two stunning young women heading toward the elevators as well.

I’m going to take a moment to remind everyone that, at this point, I’m twenty, and I’m essentially a walking erection, as most males at that age are.

So, yes, I notice the ladies.

We all get into the elevator.  Maybe five guys, and the two women. Someone presses our floor.  One of the women press a floor below ours.  I’m staring at the short skirts and the long legs and the hair and the entire package.  Once again, I’m twenty, folks.

Then, we reach the women’s floor.  The elevator kind of bounces a bit and all that brewing stuff rolls over and threatens a quick, gassy exit.  But I’m young and I’ve got control.  I clench and hold it in, but the effort diverts my attention momentarily.

I rub my belly and say, “Oh man, there go those two dogs!”

Just as…

The two women…

Leave the elevator.

One of the guys sputters out a braying laugh.  I look at him, then follow his gaze out the elevator doors to the two women, now turned, are giving me the nastiest hairy eyeball ever sent from one gender to another.

I throw my hands up, perhaps as a gesture of placation, perhaps as a ward to the hairy eyeballs.  And I say, “No!  No!  That’s not….”

The elevator doors, deaf to my plaintive cries, close before I can get out the explanation.

The last image I have of the two women?  One is flipping me the bird, the other is doing the full palm in elbow, forearm flipped up.

And inside the elevator, two of the guys have slid to the floor, faces red, bellies clutched, tears squirting from eyes, laughing themselves silly.

All because of two chili dogs.

Damn you, Varsity.