Companies: Individuals and a Coherent Customer Experience

Coming to a conclusion about a company’s customer service is an interesting process. On the one hand, it can be dramatically shaped by a single employee’s good or bad mood on a given day, which won’t necessarily reflect the corporate attitude. On the other hand, it’s also true that any given company will have policies–official and unofficial–in place that affect the quality of customer service in any number of ways.

Some policies affect things directly: a company might direct its customer service reps to offer specific remedies to specific customer complaints. Others affect things indirectly: a company that imposes strict quotas on its salespeople, for example, might drive them to behave very aggressively.

My opinion of a company is sometimes shaped by a single dramatic experience, but more often by experiences built up over time. I have a few examples, one of which happened this evening and got me thinking along these lines.

Take FedEx. Once every month or two I get cat food delivered. These are big, heavy boxes of perishable frozen meat. In some places where I’ve lived I’ve had problems with FedEx drivers entering info into the tracking system saying the recipient wasn’t home for delivery so they couldn’t leave the package–when the entire time I was where I could see and hear the front porch, and knew they hadn’t attempted delivery. I also get annoyed by the fact that for some reason a package going from PA to MD always goes through OH, so it gets here around 8pm on the day it’s due, which for a box of perishables in summer isn’t great. However, tonight I ended up being really happy with our driver for once. I don’t know who he was; he was a new guy I hadn’t seen before. The doorbell rang while I was in the kitchen at 7:30 pm and by the time I got out to the porch he had run back to his van, obviously in a hurry to finish up for the night. I have tendonitis, and a 40-50lb box is not something I can lever indoors with ease. He noticed me struggling with it and actually came back to help despite the fact that it was late and he presumably wanted to get home, too. Now that’s the kind of service I truly appreciate, and it really helps to offset those times when a package arrives a day or two late.

Then take our last trip to Sears to buy a replacement microwave. We took the new one home and it sounded very, very wrong, so we brought it back. The salesman brought out another box, and we could immediately tell it had been opened and taped shut again (like all companies I think they say they don’t repackage returned merchandise–yeah right). At that point we were ready to ask for a refund instead of an exchange and walk out, but the salesman offered to haul out the microwave, plug it in, and see how it ran. It too sounded sick, although in a different way.

He went back and got a third microwave, again took the time to unpack it, and plugged it in–this one ran fine. Because of his efforts, Sears kept a sale they otherwise would have lost and made us willing to return there for such purchases again.

Now, I used to order my cats’ food from a company called Oma’s Pride. I had a couple of shipments where the meat of one type or another was turning brown when I thawed it and didn’t smell right. In one case it was noticeable enough that I called them to tell them. I wasn’t asking for a refund–I just wanted to make sure they knew that there seemed to be a consistent problem with this particular type of meat in this batch so they could look into it. Yet they were rather defensive about it and insisted it must be that I had thawed it too long or the like, even though I hadn’t had any problems with the rest of the shipment. Between these two problems, I ended up switching to a different company.

Finally, take CutCo knives. I love the product. I love the customer service, the free sharpening service, and so on. But oh dear god, those salespeople. I put up an online review of a CutCo knife set in 2000 or so and haven’t stopped getting sales pitches from their salespeople since. I even put a note in the review asking them to stop, and it only slowed the emails (I got one just the other night, in fact). The fact that this has happened so consistently and constantly for a handful of years has me just about convinced to never, ever buy from this company again, even though I absolutely love their products. I just don’t want to ever deal with another one of their salespeople again.

I’m willing to accept that a customer service rep might have had a bad day herself and be a bit crabby. I’m okay with the fact that sometimes a rep’s actions are hampered by policies. My ultimate decision on whether to stick with a company or not is determined by the overall attitude of their employees and the effects on me of those policies.

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