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Companies Ignoring the Social Fallout of Bad Customer Service
Will Find Themselves at a Competitive Disadvantage



I didn’t set out to write 3 blog posts in 24 hours, but what’s that expression about “striking while the iron is hot,” especially when the subject is trust?

This afternoon one of my sons and I headed out to run a few errands. First stop was Verizon Wireless to inquire about my data plan. There was no wait and customer service was fast and knowledgeable. Kudos to Verizon. Maybe Wednesday afternoons are the best time to visit!

Next we headed over to the home improvement store. Think The Home Depot or Lowe’s and my luck abruptly ran out. First stop was the door and window department. I needed to order a few window screens and brought the old ones with me to ensure the right purchase. Upon completion of the $70.00 order I politely asked the employee to discard the old screens. And then I heard one of my favorite lines, “Sorry our policy doesn’t permit it.”  The employee turned his back and walked away.

We proceeded to finish shopping.  I carried the screens (one was 6 feet long) while my son flat bedded 8 bags of mulch, and then off to checkout where I asked the checker whether there was a suggestion box in the store. “Suggestions? They must be made online and instructions are to be found on the back of the receipt.” She never asked if she could help me, and apparently had no interest in hearing my story, but I told her anyway.  Her response, “Customers always try to hand off all sorts of trash to store employees.” According to the checker, if the store took the garbage that all the (evil) customers brought in the door, they would have to raise their prices. She then completed the transaction, handed me the paperwork for the screens I had ordered, along with a separate sales receipt and commented that she would be happy to attach them, but the store did not provide staplers at checkout… something about a policy. As we were leaving the store, my son asked me why I had even bothered to engage the checker in a conversation.

Moral of the story… I have no loyalty to this store. My experience today was pretty typical. Next time, I’ll just shop at their competitor a few miles up the road. And all because store #1 would not discard my screens, which might  have been the right thing to do, policy aside. And finally, just a few years ago, a consumer facing a customer service issue had only a few avenues of recourse-  a letter, a phone call or a glass of wine. Now the customer has an additional opportunity  to report their story on social media, “outing” the offender should they choose to do so.

Companies recognizing that good customer service is an important component of a trustworthy organization build a competitive advantage called loyalty. They bank trust with their customers. They don’t have an intern standing by on Twitter to send a stock “I’m sorry” response when something goes wrong. They don’t need to do that. They have happy loyal customers and they have staplers.

Those interested in reading more about the history of customer service at both The Home Depot and Lowe’s, might want to read this great article from Babson.


Please share your comments and suggestions! Email: barbara@trustacrossamerica.com

Barbara Brooks Kimmel is the Executive Director of Trust Across America-Trust Around the World whose mission is to help organizations build trust. She is also the editor of the award winning TRUST INC. book series. In 2012 Barbara was named “One of 25 Women Changing the World” by Good Business International.

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5 Responses to “Sorry, Our Policy Doesn’t Permit It”

  1. Bill
    July 5th, 2014 at 12:42 | #1

    The fact that you got good customer service at Verizon should have been the sign that all was not right in the universe.

  2. July 5th, 2014 at 16:27 | #2

    As I said in the post, maybe Wednesday afternoons are the best time to visit Verizon 🙂 Regardless, this time they got it right.

  3. July 9th, 2014 at 11:34 | #3

    You, my friend, got “Processed and Handled,” which is the lowest level of acceptable service quality their is. Their systems and procedures worked quickly and accurately and the transactions themselves went relatively smoothly. THAT is all these companies want — keep actual costs of all things at a minimum.

    That means, keep salaries low, keep systems simple so extensive training or exception reporting is minimal, keep prices low because people shop ONLY on price.

    I think Lowes does a little better job of this than Home Depot. I think they pay a little more and keep a few more people on the floor. My purchases at Lowes went smoothly and their request for my phone number — refused — was handled nicely by the guy.

    Process and Handle is the first step. IF those systems work well, then one can move to SATISFY, which is to simply meet customer expectations. YOU had expectations that they could have met if they chose to. They did not care. You got P+H’d.

    The highest level of service is where they strive to EXCEED expectations and develop relationships. You will not see much of that these days — an occasionally exceptional employee who will bend the rules and work with you, like leaving their post to show you the merchandise or similar…

    We are getting what we are paying for, actually. We choose to do business with the CVS and Walmart and similar companies who offer minimal service with little customer care. (Or, employee care, and it is hard to care for customers if you don’t feel the boss or company cares for you.)

    Have fun out there.

  4. July 9th, 2014 at 11:48 | #4

    Unfortunately Scott, the P&H mentality has infiltrated other industries as well. The first one that comes to mind is the “practice” of medicine.

  5. Brison
    July 17th, 2014 at 23:56 | #5

    I had an opposite, but odd type of “disposal” service at one of the major, big-box home improvement stores.

    Like you, I brought my sample in to the store (an ultra-long burned-out fluorescent light tube) to insure that I was buying the correct replacements. The light tube instructions required that they were to disposed of using `Hazmat` methods.

    After some very attentive customer service and helpful advice from the floor sales assistant, I asked how to dispose of the light tubes according to the Hazmat standards. He very kindly told me that they handle that for their customers. I was very pleased, and asked, “What is the store’s recommended method for disposal?”. So, he demonstrated by spear-chunking the tube into a near-by trash can. Apparently, the methods of Hazmat disposal can be open to individual interpretation. Meanwhile…. civilization has been chunking florescent lights into the city dumps for decades, our food supply isn’t yet totally poisoned, and the world is still successfully spinning on its axis for …..a few more years.

    I benefited from very helpful customer service, and pondered the fact that Armageddon probably won’t be by improper rubbish disposal, but more likely by a meteor or a nuclear bomb in the hands of terrorist wiping out us earthlings.

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