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Customer Service Rant
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Wed Jun 25, 2008 2:27 pm    Post subject: Customer Service Rant Reply with quote

How do you define customer service? Apparently, retailers like Williams-Sonoma define it differently than I do.

Just before leaving on vacation we went into the local W-S to buy some knives. I've decided to assemble a culinary travel kit separate from my household stuff. By the time I'm done I'll probably have a thousand bucks tied up in knives and other cutlery.

So, figuring to start with a chef's knife, we asked to see several of them. The clerk rather reluctantly opened the display case (I mean, after all, she managed to show up for work; kind of mean of us to expect that she'll do her job as well).

We choose a couple of models to look at. And then I asked her for a cutting board to work on. "Whatever for? she asked. "So I can get a feel for how the knife fits in my hand when I'm working with it," I told her.

"Oh, no. You can't do that," she replied. "Because then it would be a used knife." We're talking knives from the display case, mind you. And the last time I bought a knife, from a real store, not only did they give me a board to work on, the clerk actually brought out an onion "so you can really feel how that knife works." Obviously, she wanted to make a sale. But the clerk at W-S could care less.

We walked out, vowing to not return to Williams-Sonoma. And, with that sort of imcompetence, it's easy to understand why they're in such financial trouble.

OK, jump ahead. This morning I attempted to contact W-S about that problem. For starters, nowhere on their site do the words "customer service" even appear. But there is a "contact us" navigation button. So that's where I went.

Apparently, W-S is interested in everything except identifying and resolving problems. The contact site tells me how to get a catalog. And how to track an order. And how to send W-S info to a friend. And, stuck on the bottom, is a response form. You fill out your contact info. And then you explain what you want. Except it's limited to 1,000 characters.

Alright, I managed to condense the problem into 800 some odd characters (including spaces). But it wouldn't go through because, the error message said, it "contained invalid characters." No other explanation. But I'm guessing they were confused by characters like "a" and "t" and maybe even "w."

So I sent a semi-nasty comment instead, telling them what I thought of their site, and their lack of customer service. Next comes an automatically generated response with this last paragraph:

>Have you checked out our Customer Service page? You will find order tracking and shipping information, as well as answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about our products and company at: www.williams-sonoma.com/customerservice.<

This is the first time the words "customer service" appear anywhere. And, if you follow the link, it merely takes you back to the same "contact us" page where you started.

I don't know who Williams-Sonoma's target audience is. But it obviously isn't serious cooks who know what they're doing. And whatever they're definition of customer service is, it doesn't fit any definition I'm familiar with.

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gingerpale



Joined: 23 Jan 2006
Posts: 1324

PostPosted: Wed Jun 25, 2008 5:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, I sure love to look through the gorgeous Williams-Sonoma catalogs, and I get sucked in often, and I'm sure nearly everything I've ever bought from W-S has been overpriced. However-- (this will probably be a ramble rather than a rant)--
A store should definitely let you handle the knives, but I can see problems with cutting food in the store. It seems like an experienced cook would know from the feel of the knife how it would slice, and an inexperienced one wouldn't know the difference. What if a customer wanted to try it out with raw chicken? Who's gonna clean the cutting board? The employee who is dressed clean and neat for the customers? Problems with sanitation and food splattering and smells in the mall! A small specialty shop that holds a few people at a time could do this better, maybe. I think it's possible to find any level of customer service you want, if you're willing to pay for it.
There are just too many people browsing in a big place like that to have chopping and slicing and maybe even accidental finger-knicking (blood on the counter might put off the customer who came in for cupcake liners!)
There are so many different knives, I wouldn't expect a store to be willing to soil every one. Also, when the "new models" come in, surely they don't just throw out the display case knives--I think maybe they do sell them.

If I'm aware that a store has a certain policy I wouldn't try to "test" or "push" it further, but I'm pretty timid. Of course NO rudeness or snobbishness should ever come from an employee no matter HOW pretty the damn casserole dishes are!
As far as the website goes, "Contact Us" instead of "Customer Service" doesn't bother me, it's sort of nicely direct-- and, like FAQ lists, it's probably set up that way to use their time to the best advantage. Can't blame 'em for that. But of course it's maddening when you have a gripe--you'll please let us know what they say back to you??!!
Maybe Erin will read this, she's a professional chef and particular about her knives. Or anybody--other opinions?
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Wed Jun 25, 2008 5:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I wouldn't expect a store to let me use a knife on food. That's an unreasonable request, IMO. The one time it happened was totally unlooked for.

But the idea that I can't determine the fit and feel of a knife before buying one is alien to me. I've never been anywhere that they won't let you do that. Even BB&B, if you ask, will open one of those clamshell-packed knives so you can get a better idea if it's right for you.

You miss the point about "contact us" vs "customer service." It isn't a matter of semantics. It's a question of orientation. Using the W-S site it is all but impossible to register a serious complaint. Do you have any idea how few characters 1,000 is? To give you an idea, this paragraph alone has 354 of them. More than one third of the allotted space.

They do not provide a street address, so you can't write them. They have no other email address on the site, so you can't write customer service directly. And the 800 number directs you to a voicemail system in which none of the choices seem to fit. Oh, yeah. You can fax them, if you're willing to incur the cost of doing that on a maybe.

I don't understand your reference to Erin. I'm very particular about my knives. That's why I insist on handling them before buying. But a knife that I find balanced and comfortable to use might not fit her needs.

That's the very point.
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gingerpale



Joined: 23 Jan 2006
Posts: 1324

PostPosted: Wed Jun 25, 2008 8:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Oh--I got the impression you were mad at W-S for not letting you actually use the knife--you said the "real" store brought you a cutting board and an onion.

You wrote: "You miss the point about "contact us" vs "customer service." It isn't a matter of semantics. It's a question of orientation. Using the W-S site it is all but impossible to register a serious complaint. Do you have any idea how few characters 1,000 is? To give you an idea, this paragraph alone has 354 of them. More than one third of the allotted space."

KYHeirloomer, with the above paragraph you stated a problem, included (5) side comments, and asked a question--all in 354 characters-- about one third of the allotted space! (Sorry, I know you're a writer, couldn't help but point this out!) 1000 characters is really probably adequate.

I'm curious about the "invalid characters"--sometimes, online, this just means quotation marks--because they figure it isn't important what was said, but what happened? Of course, what was said can be WAY
more important, depending on what was said.


I'd like Erin (or anyone/everyone) to answer your original question -- "How do you define customer service?" because she also has mentioned how important her knives are. I wonder how far she thinks a merchant reasonably needs to go. I suppose the answer would be different for each person.
The quality of knives, the quality of customer service--apples and oranges?
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Wed Jun 25, 2008 9:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just so we're clear, Ginger, what I expected from W-S is that they'd let be handle the knife just as if I were using it. I could make all the appropriate cutting--chopping--mincing---slicing motions with it that I would if I had it at home, just without actual foodstuffs.

I do not consider that unreasonable. And it's something every other knife vendor I know of allows.

The only time I might forgo that is if I were buying the same make/model I already was familiar with.

>with the above paragraph you stated a problem, included (5) side comments<

Being as you brought it up.... That paragraph is comprehensible only because it refers back to something you said. So there was no need to state the basic problem at all. With my W-S problem there was. Ironically, your paragraph dealing with that issue also was 344 characters.

If you look at my original post, just the text dealing directly with the problem takes almost 1,300 characters---and doesn't really do an adequate job. I was able to boil that down to their requirements; which, of course, made it rather telegraphic. But it didn't matter because their system wouldn't accept it anyway.

None of which is relevent to the fact that W-S seems dedicated to avoiding customer service issues, rather than resolving them.

There have been further exchanges, btw, mostly automatically generated emails on their part, and one live person response from the regional manager. Maybe there's hope from her. But nowhere else, because the next to last one from California said, in effect, that any problem you have with a retail store is none of corporate's business. No kidding!

Anyway, back to customer service in general. Customer service should have nothing to do with a product or person, per se. The fact that I had a poorly-trained clerk, for instance, is not the real problem. The question is: What happens after an issue arises? How does the company handle it?

Hopefully, they resolve the issue in a way that's good for both parties. Or at least make a sincere effort to do so. That's good customer service. If not, it's bad customer service. And that's when you actually have a problem.
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Donna



Joined: 14 Oct 2005
Posts: 827
Location: Oakland, CA

PostPosted: Wed Jun 25, 2008 10:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Oh KYH, totally with you on this one. Yesterday a friend had a go-round with a bank who shut down his account without contacting him. It was due to some fraudulent activity by someone in Spain. But he couldn't get through to a human being on the phone and finally had to leave work for an hour to go to a branch and solve the problem.

Today, I just got off the phone with my son after a 2 hour wrangle with At &T. Yesterday he had his i-phone stolen and today went to AT&T for a replacement. In this case, it was an untrained clerk, who really didn't know what he was doing or how to resolve the problem that arose because the new i-phone doesn't come out for 2 weeks and if my son bought an inexpensive new phone today he wouldn't be eligible for the "upgrade" lower price on the new i-phone later. The bottom line is that there was NO ONE in the store who could answer the questions he had and there was no apparent solutions to the folks working there - nor did they care to search for a solution. The "manager" seemed as clueless as the clerks. He felt the same way you did - they seemed put out at having to deal with him and his questions. He finally solved the problem himself by buying a cheap "pay as you go" phone at K-Mart and haing his number attached to it. Now, he should go online and complain - but that takes up more of his time and causes him to feel aggravated. So he likely will not complain and then At &T continues on their merry way providing poor - or terrible - "customer service".

As I see it, if a company makes it difficult to impossible to complain about the treatment we receive, that's not customer service. IMO, what they want is for us to shut up and go away. Frustrating!

And yes, I agree that you should be able to handle the knives before you buy them!
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gingerpale



Joined: 23 Jan 2006
Posts: 1324

PostPosted: Thu Jun 26, 2008 1:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wait--now I'm confused--the clerk...reluctantly opened the display case--and you "chose a couple of models to look at"--but you were not allowed to touch them?
You never actually handled the knives? The clerk wouldn't let you touch them or heft them? That's different, of course. I thought you declined to do further business because no cutting board was provided. (If the clerk literally wouldn't let you hold the knife, I KNOW you could get that into one or two succinct sentences!) I guess the question is -- were you, or were you not , allowed to handle the knives?

Donna, please more detail (if you feel like pursuing this)-- I get that his phone was stolen, (not the fault of AT&T) so that phone is gone, and he's unable to get a good deal on another phone that will be sold... in the future? So far I don't see any injustice! (Unless AT&T promised otherwise in a promotion?)

One day a few years ago, in a perfectly rational (to me) buying frenzy, I charged several wonderful porcelain things to grace my table from a Dutch import company to my Visa. Yep, Visa shut me down because of the unusual out-of-the-country transactions, the fact that there were several in a row, and the fact that it wasn't my usual $20-$30 dollar fun-on-eBay purchase. After I realized what happened, I saw that maybe this is a good idea, to put on the brakes if something Unusual happens on a credit card account. It was straightened out with a phone call. It would have taken more than a phone call to straighten out if it had been a theft--identity-theft-type theft.

Yes, I'm defending the phone company, credit card company, and yuppie-Food-Network-parasite-commercial-establishments. But only when I think they're in the clear!
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Erin



Joined: 18 Oct 2004
Posts: 1654
Location: Within view of Elliot Bay, The Olympics and every ship in the Sound

PostPosted: Thu Jun 26, 2008 1:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yowser. . .

Being a former master of customer service myself I define it as going above and beyond for the customer. I actually took pride in being an expert at dealing with difficult customers. I once called and harassed several other stores then drove 30 miles because a customer that others deemed to be a giant pain needed a discontinued espresso machine in a specific and very hard to find color. So I have some pretty strong feelings about customer service. I also believe customers should follow a certain protocol and treat workers with respect, but that is a different subject. On the subject of customer service websites and or telephone numbers, am still recovering from a 20 minute Kafka-esque phone call with Swedish Hospital.

A hospital.

Good luck with you knife hunt. I recommend resurrecting an old thread on the subject if you need more info.
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Donna



Joined: 14 Oct 2005
Posts: 827
Location: Oakland, CA

PostPosted: Thu Jun 26, 2008 2:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

No Gingerpale. In neither case was there any injustice. In Ben's case, there was no one in the store who could help him problem solve. He knew he had to wait 2 weeks for the phone, but no one cared to help him figure out what to do - without losing his upgrade. They really were quite indifferent to him and actually left him at the counter to deal with other customers 2 times. I am not accusing ATt &T of injustice, just poor customer service.

In Tim's case, he was upset that his bank account was locked without contacting him and when he tried to reach someone at the bank by phone, it kept disconnecting him and he could never hit the right combination of buttons that would lead him to a PERSON. He wasn't unhappy that they shut down his account - he obviously was not in Spain charging things. He was unhappy that he had to leave work for an hour to go to a branch to solve the problem because they didn't let him know they had shut down the account and he couldn't reach anyone by phone. That's BAD customer service - on two accounts.

Years ago, I was about to leave town on vacation and was packing when I noticed that a brand new pair of shoes (never worn) had a problem with the sole coming apart. I called the store, thinking I would ask them to put a replacement pair aside until I could get in, later in the evening. When they heard my story, they sent someone to my house with replacement shoes! This was Nordstrom. They remain the ideal of customer service to me and I will ALWAYS be a customer there. Erin, you are right in there with the Nordstrom model!

As I said, AT&T really didn't WANT to help Ben. If they had, the problem could have been solved in minutes, not hours. He had to come up with the solution himself. They wanted to make money off him and that's all they wanted.

That said, I must say that I have always gotten quite good service at AT&T - both by phone and in the store. So, it's not universal and when it occurs, it deserves to be noted.

Defend away, GP, but until companies start training their employees to provide good information and customer care and then providing ways for customers to contact them when there IS a problem, the customer continues to get screwed.
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Thu Jun 26, 2008 3:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ya know, Erin, I'm the first to applaud exceptional service. In fact, I'm one of the few people I know who send complimentary letters as well as complaining ones.

But nowadays, it seems, going above and beyond just means doing the basic job you're being paid for. It's like somebody handed out I don't care pills, and everyone takes them on a daily basis.

Not the world I grew up in, that's for sure.
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msue



Joined: 18 Dec 2005
Posts: 368

PostPosted: Thu Jun 26, 2008 2:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm a little hesitant to jump in here, but the W-S situation you describe was too familiar. In recent years it seems they've wanted to protect the merchandise from the customers. Not to be entirely critical - I shopped there in the past happy and was happy with my purchases. And once I used one of their freebie recipe books to recreate their version of Thanksgiving dinner, and it was sublime. Every recipe rocked.

But in terms of consistent, good, customer service, I've been annoyed more often than not, and now take my business to one of the many other options now available.

This has made me think of something though - while I can list what makes good customer service, I wonder what a business owner would say makes a good customer. Apart from the obvious - a good customer spends money - I wonder what other characteristics make business owners glad to have a customer relationship with a particular person.
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Donna



Joined: 14 Oct 2005
Posts: 827
Location: Oakland, CA

PostPosted: Thu Jun 26, 2008 8:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

One problem, as I see it, is that all these companies are big nationwide organizations. W-S can afford to lose a customer in Central Kentucky, because they've got a million others in the other 49 states. AT&T has a monopoly on the i-phone, so they know they have Ben locked in - there's no NEED to provide customer service. He will go back, no matter how shabbily they treat him.

In contrast are the small neighborhood shops - like the little kitchen shop in my neighborhood. They don't carry NEARLY as many products as W-S - but if I ask for something, they go out of their way to find it. Last year, several months after I casually mentioned that I was looking for French onion soup bowls, I got a call that the owner had located some she thought I might like! And she was correct, I did like them! THAT'S customer service! And when a vegetable peeler broke after only a couple of months, they replaced it. They know me personally and make an attempt to keep me as a customer, because they know their business depends on it.

That's why I think it's imperative that if a large company provides excellent customer service, or no customer service at all, we should be able to get in touch with them to sing their praises or bitch about it. (KYH, I also go online or write letters when I've gotten excellent service.)
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Thu Jun 26, 2008 9:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm a big believer in shopping at those small specialty shops, Donna. If we don't support them Walmart will own the world.

The problem is, there just aren't any of them 'round heah. I'm not kidding when I say this is, from a culinary standpoint, a wasteland.

I have to go to Lexington---30+ miles away---to find anything. And then it's places like W-S, Bed Bath & Beyond, etc. There's not even a restaurant supply place there, in what is the second largest c ity in the state.

I've been ferreting out ethinic places for foodstuffs. But if I need any sort of kitchen tools, it's either those big guys or on-line. Crying or Very sad

I always laugh when Emeril and those guys say, "you can find it everywhere..." Apparently, central Kentucky is part of everywhere.
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gingerpale



Joined: 23 Jan 2006
Posts: 1324

PostPosted: Fri Jun 27, 2008 8:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

msue, I hate it when a salesperson acts as if they are superior in knowledge--and I know they hate it when I act that way toward them! So I think "lack of attitude" would be rule #1 if there is a service/product problem.

Small shops are wonderful--but I get tugged 20 ways--I see the headline "Brad Pitt spends more money that most people will see in a lifetime on ugly furniture" and you KNOW he wasn't shopping at IKEA, he was supporting an independent! Sometimes I think boutiques gouge, because they can. But if stop buying from China, India, Bangladesh, will some poor children have even less?
Right now I can get a copy of "Chocolate & Zucchini" and the profits will go to Broadway Publishing, Amazon, and Clotilde. OR I could support one of the small online bookshops selling used books, save myself 2 or 3 dollars. Am I cheating Clotilde or helping a small business owner?
It's sad that some small shops could be the least prepared to take an extra financial blow for a customer. I always picture some scenario--store stays open an extra half-hour for me because I ask them to--smiles all around, but there is a daughter at home forced to do extra babysitting duty for siblings--Mom is late again, daughter's evening plans suffer. But maybe the porcelain lollipop I just bought was marked up 700%, helping to put bratty daughter through college.
No easy answers!
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KYHeirloomer



Joined: 21 Aug 2007
Posts: 552
Location: Central Kentucky

PostPosted: Fri Jun 27, 2008 9:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I once had a gun dealer complain that it was impossible for him to compete with Walmart.

I looked at him askance. "Why do you say that?" I asked. His response, "they can sell guns for less then I pay for them."

I told him the problem was that he thought he was in the gun business. "Of course I'm in the gun business," he responded. At which point I told him he was in the wrong business.

The point is, at small, specialty shops, particularly independents, the goods are the least important products. What we are shopping there for is service and expertise. The girl selling guns at Walmart today was selling ladies undies yesterday---and doesn't understand either product line.

At a specialty store we have clerks (W-S excepted) who know the product line. Who love the subject. Who are at least as knowledgeable about it as you are. Who understand how you will use the product.

They can suggest which product is really best for your needs, and explain the options and answer questions. They can handle special orders without a fuss.

And, most of the time, they offer lines of goods you just can't find anywhere else.

Service and expertise. That is the business they are in. Anyone not willing to pay a premium for all that deserves Walmart, IMO.

The problem with specialty chains is that, too often, they offer Walmart's service level but at the prices you'd expect at an independent shop. If the clerk doesn't understand the product line; is unfamiliar with corporate policy; cannot answer questions or explore the options, then there's no reason, far as I'm concerned, to walk through the door. I can
always find the product cheaper if that's my goal.
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