A Tale of Customer Service Experiences

Recently I’ve had a few interesting customer service incidents and, unfortunately, they haven’t all been good. But, we’ll get to that in a minute.

We talk so much about marketing and communications with our clients – it’s what they hire us for after all – but much of what we do is aimed at getting our clients’ names out there and helping them bring in new business. Very little of what we do is targeted at current customers – and  maybe that makes sense for us – but for our clients it should be a top priority. One way our clients make that happen is through account-based marketing. Another way to keep current customers happy is through great customer service.  

Many companies seem to take the time to scour their social media channels for unhappy customers – and they should – those people are complaining loudly for all to hear. I’ve even been that person before and it paid off for me. However, not every complaint is shouted from the rooftops. Some are sent via email or even (gasp!) by phone call. That’s where my recent experiences come in. Indulge me a bit here and let me tell you about some mediocre (and that’s being nice), good, and absolutely amazing customer service experiences I’ve had lately.  

The Mediocre

Back in August of this year I ordered a child’s water bottle for my oldest daughter who was about to start kindergarten. The water bottle lasted less than three months before it was dropped and broke. Feeling that a water bottle marketed as being for kids should be able to withstand being dropped, I reached out to the retailer from which I purchased it via email (I’m choosing to protect their identity). Four days later, having not received a reply, I called them.

That’s when things started to go downhill. After speaking with one customer service representative I was placed on hold and eventually ended up back in the queue, where I spent the next 30 minutes on hold. I called back and things seemed to go relatively smoothly. Yes, they would replace the water bottle free of charge and it would ship the Monday after Thanksgiving. Great!

By the second week in December, when I had not received the new water bottle or shipping confirmation, I again reached out to the company. First, I tried to call on the way to work at 7:50 a.m. Turns out they aren’t open at that time and I need to call back during regular business hours. Click. The line goes dead. Um, ok. But what are your regular business hours?! I try again after work and success! I get a person. However, she is having computer trouble and can’t pull up my information. I spend 25 minutes on the phone with her and end up with absolutely no update on the status of my replacement water bottle. She takes my number and promises to call back IF she can get her computer working. I’m guessing she’s still waiting on her computer to work because I’ve never heard from her again.  

A day later I try again. The first person I get works in sales, not customer service, and can’t do much for me but she’ll transfer me to someone who can help. I end up back in the queue on hold. The next person who answers has only been on the job for six days and can’t really help either — except to inform me that the replacement water bottle is on backorder but hey, he’ll transfer me to someone else who (hopefully) can help. I end up back in the queue on hold. Again. By the time the third person picks up I am irritated and just want to talk to a supervisor. Guess what? There is a wait for that too. The customer service associate tries her best but her computer is slow and things aren’t pulling up correctly for her either (tip: invest in better technology!). After I’ve been on the phone for close to an hour going through this whole process she takes my number and promises to call me back. I assumed I’d never hear from her again but luckily about 30 minutes later she does call back and everything is cleared up. She tells me that the new water bottle will ship in the morning and I should get a shipping confirmation then.  

While every person I spoke to was lovely and kind this may have been one of the worst customer service experiences I’ve ever had. One email, four phone calls, and well over two hours of my life later I finally have a new $15 water bottle coming way. Sure, I got what I wanted — but at what price? It’s unknown if I’ll shop from this retailer again as I am so turned off by how ridiculously difficult this process was.

The Good

After putting up our Christmas tree this year I realized there were quite a few empty spots and felt that maybe we should order some new ornaments for the tree. Twenty minutes later I’ve got some new ornaments ordered from Crate and Barrel and on their way. Unfortunately, when the box arrived only three of the four ornaments were in the package. However, included in the package were four packages of six chalkboard cheese markers. So, back to customer service I go. I send Crate and Barrel an email and by the next morning I have a response in my inbox from them apologizing for the error, letting me know a new ornament has been sent and, hey, go ahead and keep those chalkboard cheese markers. The missing ornament cost me less than $4 but Crate and Barrel was all over it and took care of me so quickly and easily! Quite a different experience than with the other retailer.

The Truly Amazing

Most of you reading this don’t know me but I’ve had a dream for a longtime of owning a great pair of luxury shoes. Thanks to Sarah Jessica Parker and her role as Carrie Bradshaw, Manolo Blahnik became a household name and for years I yearned for a pair. However, when Sarah Jessica came out with her own SJP Collection a few years ago, I quickly decided those were the shoes I wanted (more affordable than Manolo’s too!).  

Thanksgiving weekend was finally the time and I ventured to the SJP store at the MGM National Harbor (with Lisa in tow). I bought a gorgeous pair of shoes and I am delighted by them (yes, shoes delight me, don’t judge). However, the experience that day in the store left me feeling disappointed. It was a lackluster shopping experience and the sales associates – who couldn’t be bothered to do much – were the reason why. I understand that the store likely gets a lot of foot traffic from people at the casino wanting to just look at the shoes, but when it becomes obvious someone is there to drop some money on a pair of shoes, step it up!  

That evening, still feeling disappointed in my experience, I took to email again, politely explaining to the generic info@ email what my experience in the boutique that day had been like. I asked for nothing and honestly expected nothing. I didn’t even think I’d get a reply. In fact, days went by and I had accepted that I’d likely never hear from them.

But I was wrong.

Three days after sending my email I received the following email, First let me apologize for your experience! Our clients are very important to us and your feedback is valued. I actually forwarded your email to the Head of Operations at MGM and we are addressing the staff on every point you made. Please know this is not the brand way.”

If things had ended there I would have been fine. They recognized my email, apologized and seemed to be taking it seriously and doing something about it. But, it didn’t stop there. A few hours later a few new emails appeared in my inbox asking me if I lived in the greater DC area and would I be able to come to the boutique the following Wednesday? “Yes, I do and well, sure, I mean I have to work but my bosses are pretty flexible and understanding. What time?” The next email almost made me fall out of my chair. “We are coming down to have a meeting with MGM and SJ asked if you could come to the boutique so we could personally thank you for supporting the brand.”

SJ? As in Sarah Jessica Parker herself?! “YES! YES I CAN BE THERE!” And that is how on Wednesday, December 6, 2017, I found myself back at the SJP boutique at National Harbor (with Lisa and Jess) talking to Sarah Jessica Parker, getting my photo taken with her, and getting her autograph!

While I would have been delighted just by the experience – and trust me, I am – I am even more heartened that they really seem to be taking the issue seriously. Sarah Jessica Parker herself apologized to me for the experience I had and from what I understand, the entire trip down and meeting with MGM executives and sales associates was precipitated by my email.  

Are her shoes expensive? Yes. Am I also a fan for life based on how she handled the situation? YES! 

The lesson here is that it shouldn’t just be the customer shouting loudly over social media who gets your attention. Every one of these customer service experiences took place “behind the scenes” through phone and email, yet I’ve talked to friends and family about every one of them – and now I’ve shared it here. Tales of bad customer service can spread like wildfire and destroy your reputation – and cause a crisis communications scenario – but handle the situation quickly and with ease for the customer and you can build fans for life.

Let’s talk.