When Customer Service Fails

Poor-Customer-ServiceIn thinking about some of the drivers that determine success or failure of a company, we often focus on issues like quality of management, financial health and the efficiency and cost of operations.

But recently, two incidents of very poor customer service happened to us directly and we realized that customer perception can have a very large impact on the overall health of a business.


Case # 1

The first customer service problem arose when one of us bought a chair from a local furniture store in a small town. As chairs go, it was not an inexpensive chair, approaching $2000 in cost.

At first, all went well, the chair was delivered according to the store’s commitment and began to be used. Over a short period of time, it became clear that something was wrong with the chair.

The back began to warp and soon one side of the back of the chair was badly twisted. As the chair was from a large respected company it was easy to go online and review their warranty policy. The first step was to contact the dealer, which was done. The store asked for some documentation including proof of purchase which was provided and receipt acknowledged.


And Then Nothing …


After a couple of weeks, an email was sent to the store asking for a status and requesting a reply within a week.  Following the complete lack of response (comma) it was decided to both contact the manufacturer and file a claim in small claims court for the value of the chair.  There was no response from the manufacturer and some four months after the initial contact with the store, the matter came to a hearing in small claims court.

The explanation was interesting. The store manager explained that he was too busy overseeing a remodel of the store in order to better feature the brand of furniture in question to pay attention to a customer complaint. As he put it: “It just fell in a crack.”

Needless to say, following the court hearing, the chair was returned and a refund provided. But the refund provided was by personal check from the store manager (it didn’t bounce) in a clear effort to avoid the owner of the business finding out what happened.


Told and Retold Through Social Media …


Through personal contact and through social media, this story, with identification of the store and manufacturer in question, has been told and retold. While the impact of that will probably never be known, it may have significant offset to the benefits of the remodel.


Case # 2

Our second recent customer service event comes to you courtesy of CenturyLink, the third largest communications company in the US. Among other things, it owns DirectTV. Recently, those of you in Seattle may have read about or seen on the news, the result of a fiber optic cable breaking between two islands in the San Juan Islands. This left a community of approximately 6,000 people with no communications at all. No email, no telephone including 911 and no cell service. All communications ran through that single cable, which as it turns out, was nearing the end of its service life.


Century Link Denied There Was Even An Outage … 


At first, when called, Century Link denied there was even an outage.

  • As the magnitude of the problem became clearer, they maintained that the cable was cut.
  • When it was determined that was untrue, the story changed to an earthquake had damaged the cable.
  • When it was determined that there had been no earthquake, what is probably closer to the truth was revealed.
  • The cable had moved over time, was near the end of its service life, and had worn on a rock.

The Damage Is Still Being Assessed … 


The personal and business financial damage is still being assessed. But the anger at the lies and lack of any reasonable communication between the company and its customers remains at a high level. Why was there no redundancy when a local manager had warned the company this could happen?

What has been a monopoly for the company is now being broken by the local power cooperative and other internet providers who see an opportunity. And, although state politicians were barely heard from during the crisis, the continuing pressure on their reelection potential has led to the following announcement by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission;

OLYMPIA, Wash. – State regulators have scheduled a public hearing as part of an investigation into CenturyLink’s 10-day voice and data service outage in the San Juan Islands last month. The state Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) announced Nov. 15 that it would open the investigation to look into the cause of the outage, the company’s emergency preparedness and response, restoration efforts, and communication with the public.  

A similar hearing in Colorado into the same company almost led to them being banned from doing business in that state if certain changes were not made. Hmmm, what would we call CenturyLink Field???


The Lessons Here Are Obvious …


Regardless of the size of the business, the quality and level of customer communication can be a significant contributor to either ultimate success, or failure.


Our next blog will be out after the first of the year. In the meanwhile, all of us at Revitalization Partners want to wish you and yours the very happiest of holiday seasons and the very best for the New Year