The Customer Is Always Right

November 15, 2008

Social Networking

customersAccording to Efrainm Turban, “Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation.”

The Setup

I worked at home yesterday.  That is not the normal way I meet my executive’s expectations.  Instead, I was staying home to meet my family’s expectations. And so begins a trail of disappointment…

When we bought the house (over twenty-one years ago), it was a relatively new house.  And it had Anderson-built casement windows throughout the house.  Since the house is aging, we are starting to notice that some of the windows are starting to deteriorate.  And two casements in particular absolutely needed to be repaired/replaced.  So a few weeks ago, we invited a sales representative from Home Depot to our house.  Our desire was to have Home Depot replace the two deteriorating casement windows.

We chose Home Depot for two reasons.  First, the sell Anderson windows.  So we figured that they would be able to match the windows as closely as anyone else.  Second, we had some experience with Home Depot acting as our project manager on a small household project.  Last year, we had Home Depot replace the guttering on the entire house.  And they did an excellent job.  So when we determined that we needed to start replacing some of the 30-year old windows in the house, we decided to let Home Depot have a crack at the first few windows.

When the salesman came to the house, he measured the windows twice.  And he highlighted the window that would best match our existing windows.  This was critical as we weren’t replacing all of the windows at the same time.  So a close match was important.  He gave us a bid on the spot.  And it was a fabulous price.  So we accepted the bid.  When he left, we were feeling quite exuberant about the situation. And then the other shoe started to drop.

Within thirty minutes, he called to tell us that he had made a horrible mistake on the price.  He had charged us $900 less than he should have.  We gulped and then told him to come back so we could fix the situation.  I kinda thought that the original offer he made was a little low, but I gladly accepted a good deal.  Now, we had to decide whether or not to fight.  Since the salesman had made an honest mistake, we decided to accept the amended contract.

Once signed (again), the orders went into motion. We got a call from an admin assistant to the project manager.  She informed us about who they were subcontracting to do the installation.  And she told us about the amount of time we would need to wait since the windows were custom-sized to our household measurements.    Once we got through all of this, we had to wait – about three weeks.

Yesterday, the appointed day of installation arrived.  I took off work so I could meet the contractor and let him in the house.  I got the typical call from the admin assistant who informed me that the contractor would be late.  Since I always expect this, I wasn’t too upset.  However, I was a little peeved that I had yet to hear from the project manager.  After all, I was really paying Home Depot to be my project manager.

In this transaction, Home Depot arranged financing, hired the contractor, managed the manufacturer and scheduled the project.  They got a very handsome premium for performing this service – and I got the luxury of trusting a professional to manage the project.  This is the kind of project that either my wife or I should be able to handle in our sleep.  But we didn’t want to.  We both work hard at our jobs.  And sometimes, it’s nice to pay someone else to do the management for you.  Well, my cautionary tale to everyone who reads this is to never let someone else do something that you can do by yourself.  But that is water under the proverbial bridge.

When the contractor measured the first window (to validate it), he realized that the window was the wrong size – it was an inch too big.  When he told me this, I started to get a little frustrated.  This should have been handled by the project manager who is responsible for ensuring that the manufacturer produces a product to our specifications.  The PM failed.  Fortunately, the contractor noticed this before he removed the original window.

So the contractor and I tried to get in touch with the project manager.  He was not available.  So we spoke with his admin assistant who apologized for the error and promised that everything would be taken care of.  So we decided to focus on the second window.  At least we would have one new window!

Wrong again.  After removing the old casement, the contractor noticed that the hinges on the window were in the wrong place.  The two frames were supposed to be hinged on the outside of the window frame.  Instead, the were hinged on the inside.  Indeed, this was something that we specifically mentioned to the salesman.  And he had scribbled something to ensure that it was properly noted.  But now we had a problem: we had a hole in the wall of our house.  And we had a window that would fit – but was otherwise unacceptable.  So we had to call the office once again.

We called the office to discuss the entire situation.  We were told that they would install the errant window and then replace it when a proper window arrived.  We decided that this was alright.  At this point in time, I was quite short with the assistant.  I wasn’t rude – but I wasn’t polite either.  At this point in time, we had experienced the following errors: 1) a bad price quote, 2) a late contractor, 3) a wrongly sized window, and 4) a wrongly configured window.  Throughout this entire process, we had yet to speak with the project manager.  In any event, the contractor installed the temporary window so we wouldn’t have air infiltration (when the temperature dropped below freezing later in the day).  He took one old window and the one wrongly sized new window and left.

At this point, I figured that we were done for the day.  I figured that nothing else could go wrong.  Boy, was I ever wrong.  When my wife cam home, she immediately noticed that the frame itself was not even close to the one that was installed previously.  We expected minor differences.  But the difference between the new window and the windows throughout the rest of the house was alarming.  [Note: I would never notice this as I am not very visually adept.]

So now we need to call Home Depot and have them get their salesman out here again.  We have to ensure that he orders the right style of window as well as the right size of window.  And we need to do this today.

The Service Paradigm

This entire fiasco started with a fundamental failure in communications.  First, the salesman did not properly record what the customer wanted.  Second, the salesman did not record the proper pricing/cost of materials for the project.  Third, the project manager did not validate the manufactured goods when they arrived.  Fourth, the project manager did not properly schedule the contractor to ensure timely arrival on the site.  Fifth, the project manager was not available to rapidly address and resolve problems. Finally, no one really spent the time to ensure that the customer’s expectations were met – or adjusted as the situation changed.  Instead, this entire situation has become a blog posting about customer service.

As companies like Home Depot move from a traditional retail delivery model to a service-oriented model, they must adapt to the needs of the customer.  And they must create a communications and feedback-rich environment.  And the person to do this was the project manager.  Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way.

But it did start to happen in a different way.  I decided to tweet my frustration.  I noted that I was struggling with Home Depot to resolve some customer satisfaction issues.  I didn’t say bad things about Home Depot.  I just tweeted what I was doing.  And within fifteen minutes of posting the tweet, I had a response from a Twitter account associated with Home Depot customer service.  Home Depot gets high marks for this.

And it gets a little better. Sarah (the person associated with the tweet response) hooked me up with the right customer service queue (via email).  So I think I am on the path to getting this resolved – at least, I hope so.  We will soon see.  But a person was using scanning technology to find customer service complaints.  That person contacted me and directed me to a different service channel.  Brilliant.  They didn’t try and solve it on Twitter.  [BTW, that would have been horrible because public outbursts in 140 character chunks cannot be good for brand image.]  It is this process of blending technology and the personal touch that impressed me the most.  Let’s hope that the next steps by Home Depot are equally as adept.

And then I did a little research myself.  I had called the PM – or attempted to reach him.  I had tweeted my issue.  I had sent a summary email to Home Depot.  I began writing a blog post.  And now I decided to look for social media channels for customer service.  And I quickly ran across GetSatisfaction.com.  This service is a social networking web site that is tailored for customer service.  It links customers to company contacts (or employees that want to help their customers).  It stores data on other customers’ troubles in a searchable infobase.  And it can cross-post to Twitter and other services.  In many ways, this service is the start of something quite innovative.  If it were fully realized, I would readily use it as a primary channel for getting feedback to Home Depot.  But the service is still evolving.  And it really needs strong linkages to formal support teams within companies.  But it is a great start.  I can’t wait to see how it evolves.

But in the meantime, I am forced to manage this incident myself.  I sure hope that I can get the Home Depot project manger to be fully engaged as he should be the one locus of support for the customer.  Indeed, involvement of a professional project manager was the real reason that I spent a premium for Home Depot’s involvement.  Let’s hope that their PM can get fully engaged and can resolve these issues post haste.

-Roo

^ Turban, Efraim (2002), Electronic Commerce: A Managerial Perspective, Prentice Hall, ISBN 0131854615

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