My wife, Kanitta, and I stared blankly at our electric range. It was eleven years old and, as is often said of friends, “He died too young.” It was an electric model, which I thought would be better for my award-winning baked goods (if you taste my home-made baklava you will never buy store-bought again). I was mistaken. The burners started deciding for themselves when they would turn on or off. Kanitta loves to cook; she also has this unrealistic expectation of deciding for herself when to turn on the burners. To top it off, the handle on the oven door popped off. Normally I would grab some tools, buy some screws, and start drilling. Something told me that I probably shouldn’t mess with a major appliance that reaches temperatures of 500 degrees. Besides, dumping the old range would allow us to switch to a gas model; maybe even one that would let us determine our own cooking temperatures.
After much shopping, we found a model we liked. Since Kanitta has this odd aversion to paying more for something she can get for less, she checked for online deals. We found the same brand for $400 less than at the store. I had never purchased a major appliance online before, but I thought, “That $400 will go a long way toward finishing that statue of myself in the back yard.” The only downside of an online purchase is that you are never sure of the delivery date until a day or two beforehand. In our case, that made the process tricky because we would need to schedule a plumber to run a new gas line and hook up the range. Plumbers are difficult to book with only a day’s notice. We were stuck waiting to hear from the delivery company and hoping we could get a last-minute appointment with a plumber (or we would be eating microwave dinners). Here is where the customer service crumbled.
The day I got the call from the delivery service, “Hi. This is Trixi from No Name Moving. We have a range ready to deliver. Will someone be home Tuesday from Noon to 4:00?” I said, “We have to schedule a plumber for a hook-up. Is there any chance someone could deliver earlier in the day?” “No. We have the day’s deliveries already scheduled.” “Any chance of making us the first delivery of the day, then you could get back to the rest of your schedule?” The ensuing sigh on the other end of the phone told me I was asking for something akin to rescheduling the launch of the space shuttle. After a pause, the woman said, “Let me check and call you back.” (Not, “Is it alright if I check into that and call you back?” Just, “…I’ll call you back” followed by a dial tone.)
The rest of the day went by with no word from Ms. Sunshine. The next morning I called back. “Hi, you were going to check on an early delivery. Were you able to find out anything?” “Yeah. I guess he’s going to try to make it that morning.” “I need to schedule a plumber to hook up the range, is there a specific time I can expect the delivery?” “He said he would do his best to get there before 9:00.” “That does leave me in a bind because if he doesn’t get here by then, I’ll have a plumber here for nothing.” Another sigh. “Okay. I’ll check and call you back.”
Four hours later, no word. I called again. “Hello, I was told I would get a confirmation about a delivery time.” “Yeah. He’ll make it the first delivery of the day.” Silly me, I forgot to Google Clock Times for First Deliveries of the Day so I had to foolishly ask, “And when would that be?” “First deliveries are always at 8:00!” I felt so bad for wasting this person’s valuable time. I almost sent a letter of apology, but I realized that, too, would take time to read; and this was obviously a very busy woman.
The day of delivery arrived. I found a plumber who could schedule a last-minute job (I’ll save that story for next month). The plumber was set to arrive at 1:00 p.m. I was up and ready at the house by 7:00 a.m. anxiously awaiting a new gas range at 8:00. Then 8:30. Then 9:45. By 11:00 I called and asked, “Hey. I was supposed to get a delivery at 8:00. Any word on that?” “He was supposed to be there. If he didn’t show up I don’t know where he is.” I knew it was foolish of me to ask, she was too busy pissing off other customers to check on the ones she already pissed off. At 12:30, just 30 minutes before the plumber was set to arrive, the truck with the range pulled up. The drivers were very apologetic; actually much nicer than the woman on the phone whose job is was to take care of customers.
Here is the deal. The delivery company is hired by the online dealer to handle all their accounts. As a result, the delivery company is super nice to the online dealer. Since I am not paying them directly, they have no reason to be nice to me (other than it is usually better to be nice to people); they had no fear of losing my business. What they don’t know is that I have written a letter to the online dealer letting them know that, because they don’t do a good enough job vetting their delivery service, I can no longer trust the online dealer. The dealer loses a lot of potential business (I have other appliances that are beginning to develop minds of their own, too), and the delivery service may lose a major account and never know why. They may have to start marketing to residential customers and actually being nice to people. The old saying that Crap flows downhill sometimes works in reverse.
Footnote: After this column ran in the Business Journal, I received a few comments that should be addressed.
Some folks said I could have avoided the time crunch problem by simply scheduling the plumber to run the gas line the next day. Without getting into a big, Don’t you think I thought of that? debate, suffice it to say there were many reasons why that was not an option.
Other folks said, “What did you expect for a less expensive option?” Some even said, “You get what you pay for!” And still others said I was naïve to plan my life around delivery services; which are typically unreliable.
So, before you send similar e-mails, I was not upset because we had unreasonable expectations that could not be reasonably met. If the delivery company had said, “Look, there is no way we can meet your request” I would have made plans accordingly. The entire point of the story concerns business ethics:
1) You don’t get what you pay for, you get what you are promised. The delivery company promised to call by a certain time, and didn’t. They promised to deliver by a certain time, and didn’t. It is that simple. No company, or person, should make a promise and not deliver on that promise. Claiming that such behavior is acceptable based on the price of the service is unethical.
My company has, regrettably, fallen short in the past. In such cases, we have apologized and tried to compensate for our failure. We also provide our services to non-profit organizations and charities dozens of times each year at substantial discounts from our standard rates. Every customer and client receives the same attention, regardless of how much they pay. If any member of my company excused poor service because “you get what you pay for” I would fire that person on the spot.
2) The appliance provider thinks their job is done once they hand off their product to the delivery company. We never received a follow-up asking if everything was done to our satisfaction. Companies that fail to do this can make all the excuses they want, (“It was the delivery company’s fault, not ours”), but in the end, the appliance company will suffer the drop in sales.
Finally, one reader asked why I was “whining” about my problem. I let him know that I don’t treat my column as an opportunity to whine to the public about my lousy day (that is what Facebook is for). I take business seriously. As a business owner, I only get to eat what I kill. When I notice a poor business practice I first examine my own company to make sure I am not committing the same error. Then I write about the situation in my column so other business leaders can have the same opportunity for self-examination. Sharing experiences and holding each other accountable is the best means of growth for us all.
Stevie Ray is a nationally recognized corporate speaker and trainer, helping companies improve communication skills, customer service, leadership, and team management. He can be reached at www.stevierays.org or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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