When I want to buy something, you know the first place I look? It’s Amazon. Why? The list is long. Their inventory, their prices, the ease, free shipping, tracking on the site, easy returns, and the ability to view my order history. This is not a commercial for Amazon, it’s just the truth. The number one reason why I keep going back to Amazon though might be because of their customer service. When you buy as often and as much as I do from Amazon, you are bound to need some support. The customer service team at Amazon is more or less second to none. I cannot think of a time when my problem wasn’t ultimately resolved in my favor and I have inevitably had to reach out many times over the years.
In 2023 alone, my interactions with different customer service departments run the gamut. Let me tell you about the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Home Depot: Over a year ago, I bought a new kitchen faucet from Home Depot. Last week, the spray feature started sticking so that it would not go back to the regular spray. I found the receipt and wanted to reach out to find out how to fix the spray. I called the 800 number and was prompted to see if I wanted to text instead, which though I’d never heard of before, worked for me. The automated texts asked me several questions like my name, etc., as well as my order number (which I had). By the time the live agent came on she texted, “Good day Heather and thank you for texting into The Home Depot. My name is Tomeka and I will be happy to assist you today. I’m sorry you are having issues with the faucet. I can send you a replacement sprayhead and the hose.” It was that easy. Two days later, the replacement arrived.
Microsoft: The email connected to my blog and my books is firstname.lastname@example.org. I have used this for years. I send my weekly blog posts using this email. The last week of April, I scheduled the email to send. Then, the night it was scheduled for, I realized that I didn’t think it sent even though the outbox said it did. I repeatedly tried to resend it and it didn’t work. The next week, I reached out to Microsoft and ended up speaking with several different people. In fact, in one night, I was with one person for over an hour and another person for over two hours. Though we couldn’t get it to work, it was clear to me that the people who were trying to help me were sincerely trying.
Visa: I filed a dispute for a charge (see “The Ugly” to read more about the specifics related to the dispute). To do so, I wrote a very detailed timeline of events. Even so, I received notification the dispute was found in favor of the merchant but I had time to provide more details if I wanted to challenge the finding. I called my credit card company to ask for clarification since my original letter was extremely detailed. The woman who I spoke with told me to focus on some of the details and to delete some others. So I did. I then received a notification stating I didn’t provide what they wanted so the case was going to close. I called again. The woman who answered was wonderful and even spoke with her manager. She told me she wasn’t sure why I was told I didn’t respond appropriately in my second letter because I had and that the real issue was that I didn’t have in writing what the vendor verbally told me. Given that the vendor had a no-refund policy in writing, their hands were tied. The reason I’m not naming the credit card company is because my card is a Visa card and it is Visa who handles the disputes. Therefore, I don’t blame the issuer of the card, but Visa. As a loyal customer who uses her credit card frequently and pays her bill on time each month, I was peeved that even though I did everything right and was bamboozled, Visa took the side of the charlatans.
Royalton Resorts: In February, I went to the Dominican Republic. The country is beautiful and it is wonderful being in the Caribbean in February when you live in Buffalo. We stayed at Royalton Splash Punta Cana and because we are a family of five, we needed two rooms. Royalton offers their patrons, for an upgrade fee, the opportunity to pre-select the exact rooms they want. I paid a total of $140 (or $70 per room) to make sure that our rooms were adjacent to each other. When we arrived, they assigned us one of the rooms I pre-selected and a room across the hall. When I said the one room wasn’t one I pre-selected, I was told I would get a refund 21 days later. You already know that didn’t happen.
This reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where they go to the rental car place to get their rental car and the rental place is out of cars.
Jerry: I don’t understand. I made a reservation. Do you have my reservation?
Clerk: Yes, we do. Unfortunately, we ran out of cars.
Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here! That’s why you have the reservation.
Clerk: I know why we have reservations.
Jerry: I don’t think you do. If you did, I’d have a car. See, you know to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to hold the reservation. And that’s really the most important part of the reservation. “The holding.” Anyone can just take them.
Or, the Hilton commercial where despite booking connecting rooms, the parents have to look at their kids from across an alley that the front desk clerk called “the courtyard.”
I should have known better when before going to The Royalton Splash Punta Cana, I learned they did not have an 800 number for customers to call. So, if you wanted to call to ask any questions before or after you went, you’d have to pay for an international call.
This is not the only issue I had with Royal Splash Punta Cana (like, how could they run out of beach/pool towels by 9:30 in the morning, how could the handheld shower sprayer blast off the end of the spray and cause a geyser in the bathroom, and how could my room phone not work), but stealing the money I paid to pre-select the room is the one that sealed the deal. Not only will I never stay at a Royalton Resort again, but I will also caution everyone I know to stay away.
It’s clear personally I’m often on the receiving end of customer support. As a professional, I am also on the giving end. Here are some of my takeaways I am applying to my work life that I’m passing on to you.
Be Respectful: Treat the person in need of help as someone who matters and let them know their problem matters to you.
Have Empathy: The person with the problem is probably frustrated and upset–and they probably have a reason to feel that way. Don’t take their tone or feelings personally but do have empathy for their plight.
Listen: One of the biggest challenges is not really understanding the problem. Take the time to listen.
Be Sincere: You’ll notice that in my “Good” section, though not everything was fixed, I had no doubt that the people who were trying to help me were sincerely doing their best. Some situations are complicated and so they may not be easily resolved and/or fixed.
Seek Solutions: Though the person you’re speaking with may have an idea in mind of how to solve the problem, their solution might not be doable. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a win-win that could be found.
After all, in the words of Vince Lombardi, “It takes months to find a customer…seconds to lose one.”
P.S. On Mother's Day this year, we commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Tops Grocery Store shooting in Buffalo, NY, which claimed the lives of ten people and injured three others. Unfortunately, this tragic event was not the last mass shooting in the United States. In fact, there were more mass shootings in the country than there are days in the year. If you're interested, The GunViolenceArchive.org website list these shootings, and a New York Times article from May 7, 2023, details just some of the mass shootings from this year. This is not a Catch of the Week. This is a disgrace. What’s more, this is not a political issue, but a heartbreaking reality. If you have not been directly impacted by random gun violence, you are lucky and should hug your children tighter. As we reflect on this devastating loss of life, we must remember and honor those who have been taken from us too soon, and work towards preventing such senseless acts of violence in the future.