Friday, May 13, 2011

The Rise and Fall of Customer Service

I was ready to seize the day. My mission: To stop procrastinating and start checking tasks off my never-ending to-do list.

Task #1: Pull Christmas lights down

I'm kidding but my inability to make things happen lately leaves me with a car full of store returns, clothes to have cleaned and projects to complete. In order to prioritize, I combed through the endless errands and focused on those that are really important -- like replacing the two front tires on my car. "Easy enough," I thought. (I should have known considering this post I wrote in 2009)

Back Story: In 2006, we purchased a car with "Pax" tires -- said to be Michelin's technological breakthrough. They were quoted as saying "We haven't been this proud since we invented the radial tire." Little did they know, they'd be under fire for tires that don't last, cost several times more than regular tires and facing a law suit. Long story short... it doesn't give us many options when it comes to finding a tire shop with the equipment and experience to swap them out.

So I call over to one of the recommended dealers and I'm told to come right in. I walk in the door and see one of their employees on the phone at the counter (let's call him Steven). So I wait.... and wait... and wait. I realize that he's not doing all that much talking and, when he is, is mumbling things like I know. Yup. Okay, we'll talk. Mmm hmm. You could see the conversation quickly turning him from a grown man into a cowering puppy dog.

It kind of irks me this guy is on a personal call and won't even look up to acknowledge me. Another customer walks in and waits behind me. Then another. Are you kidding me that this guy is just continuing his phone chat and completely ignoring us? I try to calm myself a bit, looking for a good reason for his terrible customer service. Maybe his wife is having a hard day (he has a wedding band on). Maybe her mom is sick... or the kids are driving her crazy. Poor guy is just trying to be a good husband, right?

Finally, he mumbles "hold on" into the phone and puts the receiver down. "I'll be right with you," he says to the growing group of tire shoppers behind me. Then he walks out back, where I can see him through the glass, and picks up another receiver to continue his conversation.

I walked out.

I get in my car and do a search for another local dealer. Oh good, this one looks like it's independently owned - I love supporting mom and pop shops. I pull in to the last available spot in their lot and head in. The very large, hairy man behind the counter is talking to what looks like a customer who is just finishing up. Bass... rod... bait... fishing terms are being tossed around as the men chat like they're out on a boat with no care in the world. As I stand at the counter waiting for service, one of the tire techs comes out and also waits for Big Hairy Boss. The men continue telling stories of their fishing expeditions. I would think that they might not have seen me but the customer had looked over a couple of times, noticing my obvious confusion that my presence hasn't even been addressed.

I walked out.

As I am heading back to my car (with tires balding by the minute), the tech guy runs out. "He was going to get to you next," he says apologetically.

Two strikes forces me to head on over to the dealer. It's funny how car dealerships get a bad rap when it comes to service. We hear stories of customers being overcharged and up-sold on unneeded parts and services everywhere. But as I pulled up to talk to them about my tire situation, Louis was right there with a smile and ready to work with me. He was totally patient when I told him about the issue, called Michelin to get my 25% discount they were offering and even agreed to my gentle suggestion of a free oil change. Sure, there's a leader board on the wall, evidence that the dealer is looking more at the bottom line than customer service, but I guess I lucked out and found a service guy who was more interested in helping me than the monthly contest.

The thing is, in a time when businesses are closing their doors, with more and more store fronts remaining empty in locations that used to be hustling and bustling, I would think customer service would be more of a priority for companies and their employees. I know that even the grocery chains have stepped up the personal service, constantly offering help (although, I think I'm okay to carry the gallon of milk to the car on my own, thanks)... and ready to locate a product when you've gone up and down every aisle looking for it. Even our local Culligan company volunteered to lower our rate when I called to pay our bill recently. But I guess the news of the bad economy hasn't hit the tire shops yet.

I wonder what Steven's wife would say if she knew he lost a sale. I wouldn't want to be on the other end of that call.

Let's hear your customer service stories -- good and bad! 


Lindsey said...

Customer Service seems to stink lately. My husband works for a car dealership and is a Service Advisor, these guys have families to support too, if you are a "good customer" and always take your car to them and no one else then I could see the free oil change. My husband will do anything for his "good customers" (he bought one elderly lady a battery, another an oil change since she was having hard times, and even took an old man who lives in assisted living type place a new pair of shoes because when he came in the ones he was wearing had holes in them and I have even purchased a few of them Christmas gifts for being so loyal to my husband. One woman actually brings him bday, Christmas, and Father's Day presents and cookies every visit inbetween.) I don't know your relationship with this dealership or Advisor, but if he gave you a free oil change, you may want to stick with him, he sounds like he will take care of you and give you deals or a break when he can (not always, but he will try) and he will never screw you over. he sounds like my husband :) Glad you got your tires taken care of!

JoAnn in VA said...

If you didn't send a copy of this to the two offending businesses, you ought to- and address it to whoever owns the place, because he needs to know why his business is falling off.

Carolyn Todd said...

I can't help but wonder if it was a male standing there waiting for the idiot to end his phone call, rather than a female, would the service be better? I don't know. The problem with your experience is that you're a sample size of one. So it's hard to know, statistically, whether this is a trend or whether you were just the unfortunate victim of stupidity by service personnel who don't have a clue as to how important service is.

KJ Dell'Antonia said...

Good for you for walking out! That's so mood-dependent for me. I might have left, might have skulked in line and might have been really, really nasty--and totally ended up feeling terrible about myself. You just took yourself and your $$ elsewhere. (You're lucky to have so many options--one problem with life in a small town is that we don't! Plus, I probably live down the road from our version of "Steven.")