It’s Time To Demand Excellence

The money I spend on things represents an exchange of excellence. It represents the fruits of my best efforts exchanged with the fruits of my employer’s best efforts. As such, when I purchase something, I expect the fruits of the other party’s best efforts. If I am willing to exchange less than excellence, that is, less money, I expect less in return. But I stand behind my efforts, and when we have an agreement for exchange, you will get what we agreed you will get. Because I am willing to make you whole in the agreement we make, I have a moral right to expect the same of you.

The general understanding in America is that unless stated otherwise, goods sold new are in NEW, PERFECT condition. No flaws. No defects. No usage. No wear-and-tear. From the moment of first use, degradation begins. That’s a given. Wear and tear happens, and sellers and makers should not be held responsible for what happens with normal use. But we should be able to hold them accountable when normal use results in excessive damage, or when damage is discovered not attributable to use, for example when the item is broken or damaged when it is removed from packaging, or when it falls apart with just a few uses, as I experienced recently. Because the seller did (eventually) make the necessary adjustment, I will not publish the name. This isn’t about them, in particular. It’s about sorry customer service in general.

There are a lot of different things that affect the delivery of customer service. One of them is the culture of the organization. If the top levels of the organization are firm in the belief that the customer must get what he has paid for, and have communicated that to all levels, all levels usually exemplify that understanding.

In this case, I don’t know that it was ever articulated. I don’t know much about the firm from an internal standpoint. We purchased several items, all quite large and none of them were cheap.  I understand that things happen. I understand that during a milling process there may be flaws in thread and yarn. I understand that much of the work that produces our goods is automated, and I understand that quality checks pull items out of batches, not every individual piece. So when one of the pieces was discovered, upon unpacking, to have a flaw, I was not surprised that the store immediately ordered a replacement. This piece was small enough that I was able to return it to the store and bring the new one home when it came in.

In less than two months, a flaw was detected in both of the larger pieces. They are identical, and as a matter of fact, four flaws were detected altogether, in the same place on both sides of each piece. Getting acknowledgment that this was a problem was easy. Getting the replacement parts for the pieces took some time. I understood that as well, the service manager said he had five similar situations. If I am the factory manager and one store calls with five situations all alike, that means I probably have stores all over my region with the same issue–and I need to find out why. That can explain why the factory was slow in replacing the parts.  But it doesn’t explain why the factory didn’t communicate that to the service manager, and it doesn’t explain why the service manager didn’t explain it to me. The service manager should have been pushing harder for that information.

In the mail, we received a little envelope of hardware. It came in before the actual parts did by almost two weeks, and as it turned out, was never used. The large replacement parts were delivered to my house via UPS. Then I found out that we were expected to do the repairs ourselves, and then bring the (very large) defective parts in to the store.  Let me explain this: We are not repair technicians for this type of item. And even if we were, the concept of making the customer whole should not include having them repairing their own merchandise when the merchandise is covered under warranty.

I was never again able to get the service manager on the phone. But I did–after several attempts and messages left–get on the phone with the store manager. In a conversation that lasted way too long, she insisted that since we did not have the merchandise delivered, repair at our home was not covered by the warranty. We would have to bring the items in, or pay a fee to have someone come to our home.  Never raising my voice, but nonetheless sounding, I’m sure, very frustrated, as I was, I pressed the issue that this was defective merchandise and the right thing to do when the customer has been sold defective merchandise is to make the customer whole at no inconvenience to the customer. The larger and more expensive the purchase, the more this should be the case.

I told her that someone has the authority to make this happen, and she said that would be the owners, and they have never done so. I asked for the owners’ names, and she said she couldn’t give out that information, and when I said, “That’s okay, it really is a matter of public record, I can get that information in a matter of minutes, don’t worry about it,” her whole tone changed. She immediately said that she would make a phone call first thing in the morning, and if I didn’t hear from her by Monday, I should call her.

I had no intention of calling her. I was tired of calling people.

On Monday I did a search on the store’s name and found the names of the owners. It just so happens that the store’s Google listing also lists the owners’ Google+ page for the store. I let fly.  Then I did a Facebook search and found the store has a Facebook page as well. I copied and pasted from the Google+ page into the Facebook page.  Keep in mind that there was never any abusive language exchanged. There was never any shouting. There was never any profanity. But within an hour I got a phone call from the store’s General Manager who wanted to set up a time to have the repairmen come out to my house and make the necessary repairs and pick up the defective parts.

The repairs were not something we could have done. It took two knowledgable men nearly two hours to get it done. We would have taken much longer and may possibly have done further damage to the pieces. I’m satisfied that the replacement parts have resolved the issue, and we have been made whole.  But it took the megaphone of social media to make it happen.

I offer excellence. And only because I offer excellence do I feel that I have the right to expect it of others. The miracle of social media is not that we can share billions of cat videos or even that we can keep in touch with friends and family, although that is one of the benefits I enjoy. The real miracle of social media, if we will use it, is that it allows us to hold people accountable in a very public way. Now, we have to be responsible to do this effectively. We must remain respectful. We must remain honest. We must not ask for things we do not genuinely deserve. But with our new media, everyone has a voice, and we should be using it to demand excellence.

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