Point of View: This is Customer Service?
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Point of View: This is Customer Service?

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Sometimes I can be a little opinionated, and sometimes I can be a little cranky. Today is one of those days when I am both. I am a simple consumer: I am a BIG fan of GREAT customer service and I HATE BAD CUSTOMER SERVICE.

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I recently tested the customer service-ability of one of the Big Box electronic companies. My family had purchased a $99 iHome for my son’s iPod and, big surprise, it stopped working correctly in less than three months. Actually, as the story from my 14-year-old unfolded, the volume control quit working after three weeks, and only worked on VERY LOUD. Four more weeks passed before he told me about it. From that day forth, I tried to get him to wrap it up so we could take it to the Big Box store to exchange it. On a good day, my son does not like to shop, leave the house, or go anywhere that does not utilize a scooter or bicycle. But on this day, this Sunday, I made him go with me to the store, broken iHome and all the wiry components clasped lovingly in his arms. As a last thought, I asked my other son to round up the other electronic equipment we had purchased over the last 18 months, including two digital cameras, a digital video camera and more… All told, we had spent more than $3,500 at this place in a short period of time.

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We approached the “Customer Service” counter with our broken iHome and asked if we could exchange it. Store clerk: “Do you have a receipt?”

Me: “No, but I bought it around April 18” (knowing that with any electronic purchase, the information is stored on their computer system).

Her: “Let me check our system. Yes, you bought it on April 18. I’m printing your receipt now.” Time passes as the receipt prints.

Me: (Thinking) If they know I bought it here, why do they need to waste time/paper printing the receipt? Her: I’m sorry, that’s out of manufacturer warranty. Did you buy the extended warranty? Me: No. I think if I pay $100 for something it should work longer than a few weeks and I shouldn’t have to pay even a penny more for it to last a while.

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Her: It’s out of manufacturer warranty and we can’t exchange it.

Me: When did the warranty expire?

Her: Yesterday.

Both of my sons took a look at my face, cringed and took two steps back. I think at that point I may have raised my voice a little.

Me: You mean that you won’t take back something that broke within three weeks of use, because the warranty ran out YESTERDAY, and I’m returning it today?

Her: I’m sorry, that’s corporate policy. Once it’s out of manufacturer’s warranty, we can’t take it back. Me: (This can’t be really happening.) This cost me $99, I’m fairly sure it cost your store somewhere between $35 and $45 AND YOU CAN’T EXCHANGE IT? May I see your manager?

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Her: I am the manager.

OK, so long story short, even after I told her and showed her that we were loyal customers, having purchased almost $3,500 worth of stuff from them in under two years, she stuck to the party line and did not budge. I give her a lot of credit, she remained professional throughout. But, store manager? She’s about 22, her name is Kristi (no last name, company policy) and I’m certain she dots her “i” with a heart! She made the wrong decision.

Me: I can’t believe that a company this size does not allow their store manager to make the decision to keep a customer happy. I have spent more than $3,500 here in the past 18 months and you won’t exchange a radio that costs less than $100? May I have the name of your CEO?

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Her: I don’t know his name, but you can call 1-800-WeLuvCustomers.

Me: Thank you, buh-bye.

How would this scenario have played out at your business? Do you honestly take care of your customer or do you toe the company line and hide behind “policy.” If your product or service has a dollar value, then you should have the integrity to stand behind it. Your people, whether they make minimum wage or $25 an hour, should be allowed to make the right decision to keep customers happy. I’m not saying anyone should be a doormat to their customer, because the customer is not always right. But I am saying this, because of this so-called manager’s decision, I will NEVER buy from this place again. They have just created a new customer for their competitor around the corner.

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Other takeaways: My kids learned that it is OK to ask for better service when you feel you are not getting it. They asked me if I was embarrassed to talk to a total stranger the way I did. Absolutely not! Again, it doesn’t matter if I paid $100 or $1,000, we all work hard for our money and want stuff to last. That iHome went directly from the box to my kid’s bookshelf — there was no reason in the world it should not have lasted five to 10 years! Look around your home or office, I bet you have plenty of things that cost less than $50, but are more than one year old. (I think immediately of my $19.99 alarm clock that still works after three years and I didn’t buy the extended warranty, go figure.)

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Think about your own “policies,” but more importantly, think about the freedom you have to do the right thing and make sure your enterprise understands your philosophy on customer service. It can make the difference between a one-time customer and a customer for life.

And by the way, guess who’s getting a broken iHome mailed to the office for Christmas? That’s right, Mr. CEO at the Big Box Electronic Store.

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