The Candid Voice in Retail Technology: Objective Insights, Pragmatic Advice

The Customer Experience: Who’s Zooming Who?


Over the past few weeks I have experienced what retailers are all saying they’re working on: The Customer Experience. For all the noise and hoopla, I have to say I had a God-awful experience that no one should have to repeat. And I wasn’t buying cheap throw-away items. This was a “durable good,” “white goods,” pick a name. It required home delivery. It was supposed to be “white glove.” Be forewarned before reading on. This is not a great customer experience, but it is absolutely one I have heard echoed out on social media and among friends. The long and the short of it? As an industry we’re kidding ourselves if we think we’ve created a decent customer experience. We.have.not.

I’m not naming retailer names. I suspect you’ll figure it out anyway, but it won’t be intentional.

Last August while away from home. I got a text from our house sitter letting me know that my freezer had majorly thawed. My frozen food was going bad, water was dripping all over, and it was a big mess. I authorized her to call a repairman, who came out the next day and got it working again. A $400 bill and I thought I was done for a while.

Still, I started looking at new refrigerators, and discovered that most people really don’t like their refrigerators anymore. Bells and whistles but a very short life span. The one I had was 20 years old and seemed fine. The new ones were dying after five years, and one of my friends is taking the repair company to small claims court because they could not fix his problem in four tries.

This is unfortunate for me, since one of my secret passions is a love of excellent home appliances. I love my dishwasher. I love my washer and dryer, even though I have to keep them in the garage (I call it casting my pearls before swine, but I digress). So usually, the prospect of buying something new is fun for me. Well, as I said, it turns out that almost everyone hates their refrigerators (French door style). The list of problems is long, most typically frozen ice lines, but other things too. For me, this was a total bummer…how do I choose the least bad model? Not my style. I opted to wait. Maybe the $400 repair would last.

A month ago, I went into my “crisper” to get some onions and celery and discovered they were frozen. Okay, Boomer, time to really buy that new fridge. My friends had a list of recommendations, I spoke to lots of repairmen, and it turned out most of them hate the new fridges too! But finally I found one that seemed pretty good. $1,998 plus an extended warranty (because they all do break!), and a hose that I “had to” buy. I was warned to make sure I had a dedicated shut off valve. Paid my plumber to come up and confirm I did have one – on the other side of the room. Good to go! Deliver the fridge.

We got up early that Saturday morning, emptied the refrigerator and waited for the delivery. The refrigerator and delivery men arrived, and immediately informed me that the shut off valve was not correct – too far away – and they would neither disconnect what was there, nor re-connect the new one. They would not wait 20 minutes for my plumber to come and do those things, and basically walked out and told me to shove it. Later I discovered (on another store’s site) that the shutoff valve is supposed to be six feet or less from the fridge. And I was supposed to know that, how? This fridge was in place when I moved here. Never had a problem. Never even looked behind the thing.

So back came the plumber and installed a new shutoff valve in the wall behind the fridge. $250. Okay. Good to be right up to code.

The delivery was rescheduled and last Saturday morning, they came. First, we had to argue about removing my front door. That wasn’t gonna happen. I have three cats and there are other ways in. We argued about this for a half hour, but they finally did what I asked. Fridge installed, and they recommended that I wait until the fridge was cold to remove the plastic and tape from the outside, to insure it came off completely.

I did so and then removed tape and plastic. That’s when I discovered the 3 huge dents in the front of the fridge, covered by tape. Clearly a delivery problem or a warehouse problem. Called the home delivery people. “Oh, that’s not our problem. In fact, the retailer won’t help you either. You have to call the manufacturer or maybe try the local store.” “Got the number?” I asked. “What? I’d need to have a thousand numbers at my fingertips to do that. Of course, I don’t have the number.” Apparently, delivery is outsourced to another company. This was starting to get crazy-making. After all, I’d been up since really early in the morning.

Tried to call the local store. No one EVER answers in the appliance department. EVER. My friend said “Go to the store.” But that’s no fun either.

Tried some other recommended numbers (from the delivery company). Useless. Finally I just googled <retailer> customer service. Well, that number pretty much worked like a charm. I got routed to some consortium between the manufacturer and retailer. Got someone on the phone, whose opening offer was a $150 damage allowance or replacement. Now, having already emptied and re-filled refrigerators twice, I wasn’t keen to do it again. But $150 on a $2,500 order wasn’t gonna cut it for me. So I said, “Well, 15% seems fair. It’s what I’d expect to pay at a scratch and dent sale.” Of course, now we were in car salesman land and he had to go talk to his supervisor.

We settled on $380 plus another delivery company visit to fix something else the deliverers hadn’t done.

But here’s the thing. I spent four hours of my life dealing with these people. There was nothing frictionless about this. In fact, it’s the most friction I’ve experienced in a while. I bought the fridge from this retailer because they have a better extended warranty. I won’t ever buy an appliance from them again. Ever.

It’s funny. There’s a small, privately-held company down in Miami called Dolphin Carpet and Tile. Its pitch is “why would you go to a big home improvement retailer when you could go to a specialist in floors?” I forget the analogy they use but their tag line is “Dolphin Carpet and Tile…Get it Right.” I have never bought carpet and tile from Dolphin, but their point is now well taken. And yes, I just gave you a big hint.

I wasted about sixteen hours of my life getting a retailer (manufacturer? I have no clue who really is paying the bill for this) to do the right thing. It should have been a two-minute conversation. Instead, just finding the phone number took over an hour.

This is the end of my long rant, but it really begs retailers to think through what the heck they’re doing.” Frictionless is the word of the day. I’m feeling more than my fair share of friction right now.


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Articles & Opinions January 27, 2020
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