Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Further Adventures in Customer Service

I've raved before about the decline of customer service. Back in the day, I recall items such as doormen, floor walkers and restaurant hostesses, people who politely provided assistance to customers. These positions were considered a courtesy to shoppers and diners, to help guests locate a particular item or a seat in an ideal location.

Today you are lucky to find a cash register (aka service desk) randomly placed in a department store so that you can make a purchase. Many restaurants have signs near the entrance encouraging hungry customers to "Seat Yourself."

Calling a bank, credit card company or insurance provider can be a nightmare. Better not be in a hurry; you are bound to be put on hold. Some businesses provide an answering message that actually announces how long you will be waiting before speaking to someone. "Currently customers are experiencing a wait time of XX minutes."

Yesterday I received customer service among the best ever. Perhaps there is still hope.

For many years I have purchased apparel through certain mail order clothing companies, two in particular. When I first moved to the East in 1990, I needed clothing items which I hadn't needed while living in the desert -- long underwear, weather-tough outer shoes -- and the most convenient process was to order them. The design quality was unwaveringly high. The fit was perfect. The material was top notch. Plus I didn't have to go anywhere to get them and the items arrived in a couple of days. I was hooked.

I continue to order from these two companies, one store more than the other now. Products from my preferred provider are traditional and timeless. The second company has begun to appeal to younger shoppers. In either case, I know that if a product is less than expected, customer service can help.

Several years ago, I bought wool trousers which were comfortable, stylish and wore like the dickens. Once while phoning in a new order, I mentioned to the customer service lady that the lining in a pair I previously purchased had not held up and was torn and uncomfortable. "Send them back," she offered. "We will replace them." "But I've worn them a great deal," I said. "Doesn't matter. If you are unhappy with a product, you can always return it." I sent the pants back and received a new, identical pair at no charge.

A few years later, I took a nasty fall on the job and ruined a rather new pair of chinos. The knee was torn and damaged. I called to order a new pair, expecting fully to purchase them myself. When I told the order desk what had happened, I laughed at how badly I felt because I loved the trousers. "Send them back," he offered. "But the pants weren't damaged until I fell," I said. "Doesn't matter. If a product is unsatisfactory, you can always return it. I sent the pants back and received a new, identical pair, again at no charge.

Yesterday, my brother casually remarked about how some jeans he had ordered last winter (from the same company) were too short. "I think they must have shrunk," he said. "I'll put these in the donation bag." He was holding the jeans along with the original paperwork. Looking at the order form, I said, "These were ordered in February 2012. I'll call and see if you can still return them."

I phoned the company and spoke to a soft-spoken customer service rep. He said that he was looking at my brother's order history and identified that particular order. "Can he return these?" I asked. "Of course. If at any time a product is unsatisfactory, we hope you will return it. We want satisfied customers." He then said, "Those jeans are now on sale at $10 less. Would you like another pair in a longer length?" My brother said, "Two pair." "Your order will be there in a few days. If you want to return the old pair, you will be credited with the original price. Is there anything else I can do for you today?"

I was shocked. "I must say your company provides extraordinary customer service. Thank you so much." Suddenly I felt a glimmer of hope for the future of shopping and business in general. To think that someone (1) listened to my story (2) suggested a solution and (3) did so quickly and politely is remarkable.

As long as there are companies such as this who continue to value the customer, I will not give up on civilization as we know it.

Shop on!

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