Saturday, October 27, 2007

Lessons from a Squeaky Wheel

I hate bad customer service. It's one of my pet peeves. Yes, I know that dealing with the public sucks, but if you must do so either do it properly or find some other job.

Yesterday I encountered the most obnoxious store manager ever after my 22-year-old daughter Jessica called me, frustrated and nearly in tears, to recount her experience at one of our local Halloween costume stores.

She’d gone there between classes and work to pick up an inmate costume for the downtown festivities we’re all going to tonight. Since the package said “One Size Fits All,” she plunked down her twenty bucks without trying the costume on. Once at home, she took it out to hang it so the wrinkles would come out and found a huge rip along one seam.

But when she called to let the store manager - a woman named Julie - know she’d be exchanging it, Jessica was told that All Sales Were Final. Arguments that the product was defective didn’t sway Julie. As far as she was concerned, Jessica was screwed.

So Jessica did the smartest thing she could do. She called me, thus invoking the Maternal Power To Get Things Done. And since Hell hath no wrath like me when you’ve screwed with one of my kids, I couldn’t wait to get to work.

My first act, surprisingly enough, was to be merciful to Julie and give her the chance to change her mind. But I didn’t get any further with her than Jessica did, even after explaining to Julie that her rudeness to my daughter was likely because her store was so swamped and she was so stressed. But the soft touch did not work. Julie not only repeated the All Sales Are Final sign, but told me that customers are told that after October 17th no returns can be accepted.

“I understand that,” I said. “And if my daughter had bought the costume at the first of the month, damaged it and now insisted you take it back, I wouldn’t be helping her. But she bought this costume an hour ago, it’s defective and you should stand by your product.”

Julie began talking over me, her voice raised and shaky. I could tell she was a lost cause, but I still gave her once last chance. “Am I going to have to call corporate?” I asked her. “Because you don’t want me to call corporate."

"Fine, call corporate," she snapped.

"I will then," I said. "And I guarantee you that by the end of the day you will exchange that costume. Now what's the number for corporate?"

That's when Julie hung up on me.

But no worries. I've been hung up on before. I called back, and while her associate manager refused to put her back on the phone, he did give me an 800 number which - after a forty minute wait - directed me to one of three beleaguered customer service representatives who promised me that a district manager would contact me within ten hours.

As if. Like I was actually going to wait for some district manager. Pfft.

Instead, I called the Internet customer service line, explained the situation, and asked if they had another number. I found out that the costume store chain was owned by Spencer gifts, so I got their corporate number. It was now quarter till five, and time was running out as I listened to a list of departments. When I got the option for “Legal,” I chose it and got - lo and behold - one of the company’s corporate lawyers, a really nice guy named Vince.

I explained to him that while he may find it odd to have a disgruntled customer calling, I felt he might want to know what was going on in this particular store. Within five minutes I had him nearly as mad as I was. He looked up the store’s number and told me to sit by the phone while he had a word with Julie.

Three minutes later he called back and told me Julie was prepared to exchange the costume, and asked that I accept an apology from him on behalf of the company.

My daughter’s friend Stephen was already in the parking lot with the costume, and I got a play by play from him via cell phone as he swapped out the costume. Julie was apparently quite pissed, and too stupid to realize that her anger only made my little victory even sweeter.

Later, Jessica said her friend wanted to know how in the earth I pulled everything off. The answer is quite simple. Never accept ‘no’ for an answer from someone not qualified to give you a ‘yes’ in the first place. Years as a working reporter have taught me that the less significant the peon, the less willing they are to work with you, for they have less at stake. The higher up one goes in a company, the more of a vested interest they have in that company’s reputation. And the more willing they are to correct mistakes.

The problem with most people is that they cave too quickly when they are told ’no.’ That’s a mistake. A squeaky wheel doesn’t have to make much noise, it just needs to know how to roll.


thimscool said...

Like a steamroller!

I've gotta friend that runs an ecommerce site for costumes. He had to answer 350 emails yesterday. I thought I had it bad.

No baby yet, so I went ahead and started a fireplace repair project. Nicole thinks it should take 5 hours, or nothing, but it must be done asap! She is in hyper-nesting-mode.


I'm off to lay on the second coat of stain now, for the surround. Ever used a biscuit joiner? Sweet.

Morgan said...

The best way to bring on a baby is to tear out your mantle.

A biscuit joiner? Is that some sort of new Lamaze technique? Somehow I doubt it.

And yeah, given how busy the costume industry is this time of year I am really surprised I was able to get anyone on the phone.

We went out tonight and I got to see Jess in her new, rip-free costume. Mama was proud.

Tell Nicole I'm sending Easy Labor vibes her way and am praying for the best for you and the whole family. Let me know as soon as she pops.

laughingwolf said...

nicely done, ma! jess is proud, i'm sure :)

we have second hand clothing chains, one called 'frenchy's', for obvious reasons, the other, 'value village', where everything is on hangers or piled on tables, for close examination... many top-of-the-line brand names sell for $5 - 10, instead of $300, cuz of some small flaw, mostly unnoticeable or easily repaired

with a little alteration, suitable costumes are attained

Morgan said...

Indeed, Wuff, and I put together costumes for me, Larry and the younger kids this year. But Jess' schedule is such that it's easier for her to get something ready made. Unfortunately, the quality of the costumes at Halloween costume stores is probably inferior to the second-hand merchandise you mention. Me, I'm a total bargain hunter. I hate to pay full price for anything and regularly hunt for stuff at thrift stores. I get really nice name-brand and/or designer jeans at Goodwill for about $4 a piece.

laughingwolf said...

sorry hon, did not mean to imply you were not a bargain hunter... and can understand why young ladies are in a hurry, my daughters are almost 25, and 23, so have been there ;)

Morgan said...

No offense taken. I'm just the antithesis of a shopper. I was looking at Jess' costume last night and felt bad for not finding the time to make her something. I mean, I could have made her something much better than that inmate costume, which wasn't worth what she paid - even without the rips. But those costume stores aren't selling quality, they're selling convenience which in our busy society always has a market.
Luv ya, Wuff!

Jana said...

You make me proud and I have been the mother-on-the-phone to the corporate before, and should it happen again, I'll push the legal button!!!
Never take no for an answer from someone who doesn't have the authority to give yes for an answer!!! Priceless, that needs to be a placque!!!

Morgan said...

It's words to live by, Jana, to be sure.

thimscool said...

The easy labor vibes worked! Rosemary Ella was born last night at 11:55, less than two hours after we arrived at the birthing center.

She is precious.