Sunday, January 11, 2009

The lamp story

A couple of weeks ago, the lamp burnt out in the fridge. After that, everything went downhill. Here is the letter I sent to the appliance parts store president about the whole sordid mess.
The light bulb in my refrigerator went out. I went to your store in San Carlos California to get a new one. I got terrible service there.

I need a 40 Watt 120 Volt light bulb with a standard small screw base. The wattage and voltage are marked on the lamp.

I thought I could order something as simple as a light bulb with an industry standard base just by wattage. Nope. In your system, it has to be looked up by the model number of my refrigerator. Never mind that I was holding the burnt-out one in my hand. The clerk, which I had waited several minutes to get to, was unapologetic - he didn't even seem to be phased that I had to call home to get this information. He didn't offer me a phone, pen or notepad to get the 12 digit number. I then helped him navigate the exploded assembly drawing to identify the part.

Much to my chagrin, the light bulb was $9.14, about 2.5 times as much as an almost identical one (lower wattage) that is stocked and sold by Home Depot two blocks away for $3.49, in a blister pack. OK, I thought I need the 40 Watt one, not a 25 Watt one. So I bought it. But, it was out of stock, I was disappointed because I would need to return to the store, 4 miles from my house, but OK I thought - it wouldn't be that much trouble. It would be there the next day, I was assured by the clerk.

I returned the next day. "FedEx didn't arrive." was the answer. Another trip across town wasted. "We'll call you tomorrow when it arrives." I received no call back. While I was at the shop, there was another customer that was so unhappy that he was having strong words with the manager. Something about a filter that wouldn't work.

The next day, I called to see if the part had arrived, I was put on hold for five minutes. When I gave up and called back, the clerk attempted to put me on hold again which I refused. When he finally returned, my part had not arrived. I wrote this off to it being the end of the year and there being shipping delays.

So I called back today to see if my package had arrived. Just like every other time I called, I was put on hold by the harried counter staff. After one complete cycle of the recorded sales pitches about [Store Name] other services, the phone system hung up on my call. I called back, and once again insisted on not being put on hold since I had already waited five minutes trying unsuccessfully to see if my part had arrived. (Remember that courtesy call I was going to get?) After the fellow came back (another seven minutes and more than one times through the sales pitches) he said the part was there. I told him, "I'll be right there to pick it up."

I drove immediately across town again (3rd time now), parked and got in line to wait. The Take-A-Number board was lit up but there were no numbers in the dispenser. I joked about this with the customer in front of me, and the two who arrived after me while I waited. One of the two counter staff was helping a customer who I can only assume has a long standing relationship with the store. This other customer was pulling his own parts from stock and openly haggling with the clerk about prices, complaining that $28 was too much for something and in TWO rounds of negotiation was able to get the price down into the high teens. All of this made me feel pretty stupid for paying $9.14 for a light bulb.

Finally (about five minutes) it was my turn to be helped. I gave my paid invoice for the lamp to the other clerk (the haggler was still going with the other one). He disappeared for several minutes. He returned with my package, a rather flat 4" x 6" padded envelope which was supposed to contain my lamp. When he handed it to me it was obvious to me that the lamp was shattered because the envelope rattled. He opened the envelope and confirmed that the lamp was indeed shattered. Why the clerk I had JUST spoken to on the phone before I drove across town did not set the package in an obvious location, OR check it for damage is a complete mystery to me.

At this point, I was very disappointed. I told the clerk that I was unhappy and briefly why. He said there was nothing he could do. I told him to order another lamp. He did and told me that it would arrive on Tuesday - a week after I first came in to buy a light bulb.

So now I am waiting for a light bulb. My refrigerator is still dark on that side. I've spent about an hour driving back and forth to the store, and at least 15 minutes on the phone - each time being told to wait on hold. I still have another 20 minute round trip to make to your store to get a lamp. I'll have to go at lunch since your store isn't open past 5 PM. My expectation is that the replacement lamp will also be shattered since the shipment process is obviously flawed and certainly hasn't been changed for this replacement. I also expect to be made to wait.

I'm deeply disappointed and really unimpressed with how your systems and store staff members have failed to meet my ridiculously simple need.

This is one of those emails that is likely to get forwarded on immediately to the appropriate staff person to be addressed. That's great. I just wanted to give you the opportunity to read how utterly [Store Name] failed at this simplest of retail transactions. To wit:
  • I had to a very simple need yet I was required to find and supply complex information so your clerk could search for a light bulb.
  • The most routine of parts was not stocked.
  • The promised delivery date was not met.
  • The courtesy call I was told I would get was not made.
  • I was made to wait repeatedly on hold - despite a recorded message telling me that everything is being done to make each call successful.
  • My part arrived in obviously inadequate packaging and was destroyed in shipping.
  • The clerk who located my shipment did not detect the obvious damage, and did not place the shipment where it could be found for immediate pickup.
  • The clerk who picked up my shipment did not detect the obvious damage.
  • The solution offered by the clerk at the end of this string of events was the bare minimum required, not imagined in any way to overcome the colossal failure.
It may not surprise you to learn that I have been in the quality management field for many years. If I may offer you some simple failure prevention advice, it would be to stock items like this light bulb in the store. Clearly many other items are stocked there and small fragile low cost (low profit per transaction) items such as this could easily be stocked in small numbers for very low carrying cost. Query the database for the 50 top moving lamp SKU's for this store. Keep the on-hand low to keep the inventory cost down. Re-order when the next to last one of those lamps gets sold. Put them on pegboard in the store (plenty of unused space there). Let the customer find them there so the clerks can service customers that need more complex help.

I can easily imagine that the profit on my particular transaction will be very low or negative. The negative customer goodwill cost for me alone far outweighs the total purchase price.

So there it is. The whole gamish of failed efforts to illuminate the fridge. But wait - the story isn't over. I still don't have the lamp.... (back to the dream sequence mode...)

SO a couple of days after sending off my missive to the store people, I get a couple of calls on the answering machine. One from the corporate HQ of the store chain, one from the store manager. They both explicitly apologize in the messages. Good for them. I take down both of their numbers so I can call them the next day.

So I call the corporate guy. His phone is off and it goes right to voice mail. I leave him a message. I call the store manager. Mind you, it's 8:45 AM on Friday. I get a recording that the store is "Now closed" and that the store hours are "8 AM to 5 PM Monday through Saturday." I laugh out loud at my desk at work.

So I call back both of them in the afternoon. The first guy is not answering his phone. The manager "has left for a doctor appointment".

So Saturday morning I get up and put on my clothes and drive to the store. I am determined to get my $9.14 light bulb. I wait in a little line. Then I tell the counter fellow (the same broken bulb guy) that I am there to see [Store manager's name]. Counter guy says something unintelligible and motions towards the other guy. I ask again after he gets off the phone. The other guy is the manager...

So once the manager is done, I finally have my chance to speak directly with the person who can fulfill my desire to see the left side of the fridge. I greet him and explain who I am. He thanks me for coming down and tells me that he was willing to drive the bulb to my house.

Then he says, "I am in a dilemma. I accidentally left my keys to the store office at home. Your bulb is in the office."

I swear I am not making any of this up.

I expect the manager to drop off the bulb at my house tomorrow. Then the left side of the fridge will be bright again.


Chip said...

Oh, Bob. I love that these things happen to other people, too, not just me...

And I love that you wrote that wonderful letter. I think my favorite part is when they hand you a flat envelope with your light bulb in it...

I have a 40 watt appliance bulb that I bought from Big Lots for $2.82 if they don't show up with your bulb tomorrow.

Love, Peggy

Anonymous said...

You're awful kind not to post the store's name on your blog. This is why more people are buying on-line. If you are going to get bad customer service you might as well not have to drive across town for it.

Jesslyn said...

Oh. My. Goodness.
I'd strangle someone. Kudos for the letter- I hope you get your damn lamp!

Anonymous said...

So you have to let us know if the manager dropped off the bulb. AND, most important of all... at least for those of us who read the comments, you gotta let us know the store name, or the influence of your negative experience with this retailer will not ripple outward!