You interact with various customer service personnel throughout your day, and most of the time it’s acceptable – the store clerk who points you in the right direction, the pleasant and efficient cashier, the telephone customer service agent who sorts out your billing problem – but it’s not really memorable.

The really memorable encounters are either really bad, or exceptionally good.

Related: What’s happening to the service industry?

When thinking about the customer service I’ve received lately, I was dismayed to realize that I could recall dozens of examples of terrible service, but only one example of exceptional service.

Do companies simply not care anymore?

My brickbats go to the following companies.

My Customer Service Hall of Shame

1. Fitz’s Carpets and Flooring

We had our basement carpet replaced. At almost 1500 square feet it wasn’t a small job. Apparently the sales associate wasn’t used to dealing with women in his manly world of flooring because he either ignored what I was saying, or was so condescending – “Well, thaat’s okaaay.” – I was expecting a pat on the head.

Once we had sorted everything out I spoke to him on the phone to make the final arrangements for installation and payment.

Salesman: “Maybe you’d better get Mr. Boomer to call me back first to confirm all this.”

Are you kidding me?!?

Several months later we received a telephone call advising us to take advantage of their great spring sale prices –  NOT!!

2. Rona

I like to patronize Canadian stores, but to keep my business they still have to beef up their customer service. Do they not train their staff? Are they so disinterested that they don’t know what their store even sells?

Related: What I learned from working retail

A group of sales associate at my local Rona were milling about in a corner chatting. I asked them if the store sold kitchen appliances. Blank stare, shoulder shrug, glance at each other – “I dunno.”  Unlike Home Depot, Rona does not sell large appliances so they would have saved me the time and trouble of wandering around a giant store if they could have answered my question.

Giving them another try, we went back to purchase some recessed light fixtures for the kitchen. The box included light bulbs. A few days after my husband installed them, one of the bulbs burned out. We went back to the store expecting to get a free replacement bulb. Again – blank stare, shoulder shrug, “I dunno”.

I got my replacement bulb alright – after paying an additional $16.99 – and I definitely won’t be back anytime soon.

3. ICBC

When we moved from Alberta to B.C. our car insurance premiums nearly tripled. When I (barely) got over the shock, it was determined we could receive a 25% discount with a 5-year good driving record.

What follows is a prime example of why government should stay out of businesses that are more efficiently run by private enterprises. I have never run across agents that are as rude, incompetent, and uninformed as these.

Related: My loyalty never got me a free 42″ TV

Six months later I’m still in correspondence with them over the discount. Apparently we should have only received 20%.

  • They didn’t receive the letter from our previous insurance company that I personally handed to them.
  • After I resubmitted it, they didn’t like the date on the letter. I obtained a new letter.
  • They didn’t get this letter either, even though I sent it in the pre-addressed envelope they had provided. Sent it again.
  • The driving record was not for a full 5 years. (It’s four days short.) I have to get a letter from the insurance company before that one. They’ll leave the file open until a date 2-days before the date of the letter they sent.

That’s enough! I’m not getting a new letter! Send me a bill already – you’re making me use up all my expensive stamps.

My Customer Service Hall of Fame

1. Keurig

The digital display lit up, the pot made the hissing noises it does when it’s heating the water, but the coffee did not brew.

The customer service agent at the 1-800 number patiently talked me through possible remedies – but nothing worked.

She put in an order for a replacement to be delivered to me, even though it was past the one-year warranty. Even though it happened during the busy Christmas season, a new coffee pot arrived just a few days later. I was impressed.

Final thoughts

What are your memorable customer service experiences, either in person or on the phone?

How often are you genuinely delighted with the level of service you receive in a store or on the phone?

Or is it more likely that you want to shriek in frustration?

Related: Good customer service – finish what you start

A survey asked Canadian consumers what constituted good business service. Customers said they wanted to deal with friendly, competent staff who treated them as if they were important, listened to what they had to say, and dealt with their requests quickly.

Is that too demanding?


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