Sunday, November 27, 2011

Was It Customer Service?

A couple of years ago, my (then) employer moved me into a windowless office. I decided to buy a full spectrum desk lamp.  There were two home improvement "big box" stores on my way home from work, practically across the street from each other. I'll call them Orange and Blue. The Blue one was fairly new and I'd never been there, so that's where I went.

After a couple of minutes of looking at the choices, I picked out a nice, inexpensive lamp that I felt would look good on my desk and get the job done. As is usual, there was a display unit and a shelf full of corresponding boxes. The only problem was, I couldn't find the lamp I wanted among the boxes.

I went to find some help, and soon saw someone in the store's blue apron. I asked for assistance with the lamp and was told, "I don't know anything about that department. I'll find someone and send them over to you." Having a little faith, I stood by the lamps for a few minutes, and someone in a blue apron came by. Apparently, however, not the one I'd been hoping for.

"Excuse me," I said, "can you help me with these lamps? I can't seem to find this one," I said, pointing to the one I wanted.
"Whatever we have is on the shelf," said the blue apron.
"OK. I guess you don't have one of these in a box, then?"
"Um, whatever we have in on the shelf."
"Will you be getting more of these?"
"I don't know."
"Well, can I buy this one?" I asked, indicating the one chained to the display.
"No. I can't sell that."
"OK--let me be clear," I said, slowly. "I would like to buy this lamp. If you don't sell me this one, I'm going to go across the street and buy a lamp there."
"Well, I can't sell you that one."

I did go across the street and buy not one lamp, but two.

When I mentioned this episode at work, there was a universal, "Oh yeah--their service is terrible."

I never went back.

Well, the Blue big box home improvement store closed up shop a couple of months ago. It was not because I didn't buy the lamp that day. It was because hundreds of people did not buy their lamps, drills, blinds, carpets, nails, pipes and whatever else they needed or wanted there. And it wasn't because I told a lot of people. The people I mentioned this to already knew that the service was bad. It was because people simply stopped shopping there.

An easy alternative existed, and this business failed to make the commitment to be better. Too bad, so sad, as the saying goes. Now, let me say that Orange does not have the best service I've ever had, but it's orders of magnitude better than Blue.

Moving in to compete? Customer service might be the difference between you and your competitor.

Give it some thought.


  1. What a great example of hundreds of people speaking with their wallets!

  2. Thanks, Brandon. When the senior management of "Blue" made decisions about which stores to close, I'm sure they looked at sales results and may or may not understand why this location underperformed. That's why customer focus needs to permeate the organization: There would be a great deal more business intelligence, and perhaps the situation here could have been turned around.