I recently had a couple of customer service experiences that made me step back in awe at the sheer stupidity of the retailers supposed ‘policy’, and their treatment of the customer.

The remote for my vehicle was in need of a replacement battery and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to open it to see what battery I needed so I wandered into the automotive department of a local hardware store reputed to be leaders in auto repair and service, among other things. After waiting in line for a few minutes a gentleman waved me up. I told him my remote wasn’t working and I thought it needed a new battery but I couldn’t figure out how to open it. He very nicely said “Oh we don’t do that here, but go on over to customer service, they’ll take care of you.” So, I did, and after waiting in another line I was finally face to face with the Customer Service Manager, (according to her badge) but she looked all of 15.

I explained that I needed help with the battery replacement in my remote and had been referred to her by the automotive department. I barely got the sentence out when she started shaking her head and said “Sorry, we aren’t allowed to do battery replacements, we just sell the batteries.” I explained to her that I wasn’t able to get the remote open which is why I came to the hardware store that specializes in auto service and repair. (If I could get it open I wouldn’t need them, I’d do it myself) “Sorry” she said, head still shaking. “It’s company policy”.

Still digesting this new information, I said, ok, can you at least tell me what kind of battery I need and I’ll try to find someone to help me get it open? “No”, she said. “We’re not allowed to advise on that.” (the head is shaking quite vigorously now) “You have to open the remote yourself and tell me what battery you need.” Now I debated reiterating to her again, that the reason I came to this national auto service and repair store was because I couldn’t get it open, but I knew it would get me nowhere and I was afraid if I asked anymore of her, her head might fly right off her body, so I wandered back to the automotive department thinking I’ll ask them to get it open, then I would come back to buy the battery from this Bobble head.

Back I go to the line in the automotive department. When it’s my turn, I explain to a nice young fellow that his colleague, and I pointed to the gentleman beside him, had referred me to customer service for my battery replacement but they were unable to open the remote for me to see what kind of battery I needed. As I opened my mouth to continue, I see his head starting to shake. “Sorry” he said, “we’re not allowed to open remotes.” It’s company policy.”

I’m stunned into silence now. Is there a cameral hidden somewhere here, cause this can’t be real? Eventually I manage to explain again, that the reason I came to the (self-reputed) ‘leaders in auto repair and service’, was because I wasn’t able to open the remote and I needed their help. (these people remove entire transmissions, but they can’t open a remote?) “Sorry lady”, he says, “we’re not allowed to open remotes”. If you can’t do it yourself, you should go to the car dealership”. Ok, now my head is shaking because I can’t believe the sheer stupidity and complete lack of customer care that runs rampant in this store.

I realize there’s no point in pursuing this further so I prepare to leave, still stunned by the experience, and as I turn to go he cheerfully says, “Is there anything else we can do for you today?”  (he really should’ve just shut-up)

“Anything else?” I ask incredulous. You haven’t done anything for me, other than waste 30 minutes of my day.” Looking totally unconcerned, he shrugs, and motions to the next person in line. I left.

I did eventually get the battery I needed (not there) and my husband fixed the remote, but I just couldn’t get past the customer service (or rather, lack thereof) I had experienced.

But wait….this gets better.

After the holidays, as I was taking down my tree, I noted several lights were out on most of the strings. Not wanting to tinker with each individual light, I decided it would be easier to replace the lights for next year, altogether. They were several years old and I got my moneys’ worth from them anyway. Reluctantly I drove to the same hardware store, only because they carried a wide selection of holiday lights, and replacement bulbs would be easy to find here down the road. As I scan the shelves trying to decide what to buy, I see a red note posted that advertises ‘All holiday decorations must be returned or exchanged by Dec 24/17’. Makes sense to me. I can’t imagine someone buying decorations for the holidays, using them, then returning them after the New Year, but I guess it happens, so I gather up my 6 boxes of lights, pay, and head home.

Before putting them away for the year, I plug each one in to ensure they work, and lo and behold, one does not. No problem. I grab the receipt and drive back to the same nationally renowned retail company which sells and services a wide range of automotive, hardware, sports and leisure, and home products. (from their website home page) I get in line at customer service anticipating a quick exchange. Eventually, it’s my turn and an expressionless young man motions me up. (must be Bobbleheads day off)  I hand him the lights, my receipt, etc, and explain that I need only to exchange the lights. “Sorry Maam”, he says, “we can’t accept any returns on holiday decorations after Dec 24th”, and he smiles stiffly as he pushes my package back across the counter.

“If you look at the receipt”, I reply, “you’ll see I only purchased them here this morning, Jan 3rd, so clearly that policy can’t apply”, and I slide the package back to him.  He looks startled but determined, and I’m shocked when he says, “sorry Maam, that’s company policy”, and he stares, motionless. “Think about it”, I said, trying to reason with him, “How can I return something 10 days ago that I only purchased today? I’m pretty sure your policy applies to merchandise purchased before Dec 24th, yes?” He looks momentarily confused. (where’s Bobblehead when you need her? At least she was animated)

After a slight hesitation, he advises that he will have to call a manager and I hear collective groans from customers behind me. I cannot believe the lack of common sense and shaking my head, I prepare to do battle, cause one way or another, I am not leaving without a new set of lights.

Eventually, another baby faced young man arrives (do they recruit these people in kindergarten?) and after debriefing with the customer service clerk, he points out the discrepancy of the dates to him but it falls on deaf ears. The kid just doesn’t get it. Looking at the line up behind me, the manager turns to me and says “do you wanna just go get another set of lights and we’ll exchange them?” So I did, and they did, without further incident, but I was disappointed at the lack of apology; the lack of acknowledging their error in the situation. And they just don’t care.

If you really think about it, good customer service is quite rare, and it appears to be heading to extinction. Retailers spent the last 20-30 years ‘conditioning’ the public to serve themselves. Self-serve check outs, online shopping, do it yourself set ups that were once complimentary; even banking, all have taken the place of good old fashioned customer service. Twenty five years ago the push was on to get people out of the bank branches and retail stores. Customers were strongly encouraged to bank by phone, then eventually online; shop by phone, by catalogue, then online, and they eventually listened. Retailers offered sale prices exclusive to online shoppers, and banks claimed customers could save on service charges with self-serve banking. (ok, this one is lost on me cause I’ve yet to see a reduction in service fees, but I do note the reduction in service….)

Then the banks and retailers realized that with no traffic in their storefronts there was no way for them to up-sell and cross-sell additional products and services…………..well cry me a river! (Guess the billions they make in profits annually aren’t enough anymore) So now they’re back-paddling to do whatever it takes to get people back in for face to face sales. Retailers have ‘in store’ specials, and the minute you set foot in their doors you’re swarmed by any number of sales staff offering personal assistance. Banks aggressively solicit their clients by whatever means; phone, mail, email, whatever it takes to convince the customer to come in for a ‘face to face’ meeting to ‘review’ their finances and when they walk out of that meeting they have a host of new credit products they probably don’t need.

The only thing neither offers is good old fashioned customer service and while the shopping public has come to accept this DIY concept, it has come at a high price for retailers. We’ve educated ourselves on our rights as consumers, and if you’re not going to provide us with quality face to face customer service, we’re going to simply take our business home where, thanks to call display, you can’t reach us.

Will retailers rethink their strategy? Maybe, but I doubt it, because in this ever growing digital world, I suspect we’re in for a future of contactless, self-serve shopping, and customer service, as we knew it, is gone. The retail world is catapulting through technology air space and the ‘customer’ is just another source of now faceless potential profit. It is what it is and we have to accept it as such.

So I note and appreciate those rare occasions when a sales clerk provides me with genuine, quality, customer service, because I know they will eventually be replaced with self-serve kiosks and 800 numbers. I worry about the job loss and the lack of ‘personality’ that made shopping fun, and until such time as we lose it altogether I will continue to enjoy face to face customer service, such as it is, for as long as it is.

In the interim, please don’t smother me when I walk through the storefront, wait for me to tell you what I want or need. Don’t push product on me and listen to what I’m saying, really listen, cause now that you’ve educated me on options for my shopping needs, I may just opt……….. to boycott you.

customer service

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