Well, readers. I feel a bit like Jeff Jarvis or Heather Armstrong today.
Both of them are high-profile bloggers, who had customer-service nightmares that they took to the blogosphere and won. Jarvis, is a City University of New York journalism professor who blogs at BuzzMachine and had a heck of a time with a Dell computer. He got some media attention for his plight.
Armstrong is probably the most popular mommy blogger on the planet. She bought a pricey Maytag; it failed. She blogged about it on Dooce and encouraged her tweeps to boycott. She got media coverage of her rants.
In the end, the companies listened. (After lots of aggravation, of course.)
Now I’m no Jarvis or Armstrong. They are celebrities. I’m just me, a former journalist now student who loves social media and hates getting ripped off.
But I think my experience illustrates the power of social media. My saga began the week before Christmas when my 11-year-old dryer failed. I headed to Sears, bought a new one, a nicer model than I’d had before but still a relatively cheap one.
Aborted delivery attempts
Delivery was scheduled for the next day. Delivery guys never showed. Mid-day, I called and was told delivery had been canceled because of some snafu that I didn’t really get. No biggie. They were coming the next day.
The next day (Christmas Eve) they arrive, but the dryer was stolen off the truck at an earlier delivery that day. They don’t realize this until they’ve yanked out my old dryer. Again, I don’t sweat it. It happens. It’s not the guys’ fault (although I’d suggest locking the truck next time during an install.)
Because of the holiday, the delivery isn’t scheduled again until Dec. 29. That’s fine. My family is getting used wearing the clothes in the back of the closet that they don’t really like. Some people have real problems, I tell my friends. This isn’t a big deal.
Dec. 29: The guys deliver the dryer, set it up and test it. Seems fine, they say. I’m tired, so I don’t bother to do laundry until the next day. Then I put in a load; it comes out still wet. I re-read the owner’s manual to make sure I’m doing everything right. I’m fairly intelligent. My, God, I’m getting my Ph.D. I should be able to read a dryer instruction manual.
It appears this dryer has a sensor that is supposed to sense when the clothes are dry. It appears not to be working. I run the dryer through several cycles, and finally get some things dry. But the sweats, jeans are still damp.
I’m annoyed but am trying to keep my Zen-like calm. So I wait until Dec. 31 to try it again. I put a load in on high moisture, which is supposed to be the highest setting — for thick towels and such. The dryer spins for more than two hours before I open the door to see what’s up. The clothes are still wet, and cold. I’m guessing it spins but no heat.
I’m done. After the two aborted delivery attempts and now this, I just don’t want this dryer anymore. I don’t want a new dryer that needs to be fixed. I don’t want a dryer that breaks before I even get to use it.
10:30 a.m. Dec. 31: I call customer service. After about 40 minutes on hold, I reach a person, who tells me she can send a truck to pick up the dryer, but she can’t handle the refund. I need to call the store, but she doesn’t have a number. I ask to speak to a manager. I’m transferred to a non-working number that disconnects me.
I get a number for the store off the Web. I reach a nice woman, who is very apologetic and says she’ll transfer me to someone who can help. I end up at the same customer service number where I started, and again reach a person who says she cannot issue a refund. I must call the store.
I call the store, get bounced back to customer service. Finally, I get a person who says I’ll be refunded after workers pick up the old dryer. That’s fine with me. What about the delivery costs? The original Sears pitch was free delivery, but you had to send in a rebate to get the delivery refunded. Now that I don’t want the dryer, it seems ridiculous to spend $65 or whatever for delivery of a product that doesn’t work, that I don’t want, and that has caused me more than my fair share of aggravation.
I’m told that the delivery costs are nonrefundable. I ask to speak to a manager. I’m told I can’t. I explain that there is always a way to please the customer, and I’d like to speak to someone empowered to do that. No luck. The person transfers me to an answering machine.
This scenario repeats for the good portion of the day. Sometimes, I’m told I can’t get a refund. I’m always told the delivery costs are nonrefundable. In the meantime, I’m tweeting about it vigorously, and posting many of the tweets on Facebook.
There is some consistency. By and large, the customer service rep at the 800 number says to call the store; I call the store, who transfers me back to the customer service at the 800 number. Then I try another 800 number of the Web or in the phone book. The same scenario repeats, with me waiting on hold at least 30 minutes each time. I don’t know what to do.
I swear I end up talking to the same person several different times, and she gives me different answers, getting indignant. Now, I’ll admit, I started out calm, but I lost my Zen-like calm as time went on. I think anyone but Gandhi would have.
Finally, thanks to Twitter. I get some relief. Some tweeps of mine started retweeting my Sears story with the #Sears hashtags. This gets Sears’ attention, and a higher-up customer service representative direct messaged me, asking if he could help. I DM my home phone; he calls and is very helpful. He has Sears Customer Care call me. The woman there, agrees — finally — to refund my delivery costs and give me all my money back.
Phew. It only took about four hours on the phone or on hold, talking to about nine people from Sears and a whole lot of what my dad call agita. I’m glad I’ll get a refund, but I can’t imagine anything that would compel me to shop at Sears again.
I’m heartened that social media gave me at the very least a place to express my frustration in a supportive community. The worst part of these customer-service nightmares is the sense of powerlessness you feel. I’m just one stupid person that this company couldn’t care less about. On Twitter, I was still just one person, but it did get Sears to pay attention. Finally.
Social media has given power to the people. Yes, celebrities like Jarvis and Armstrong, but also little people like me. That’s a good thing. In the old days, I would have told my girlfriends about my experience over a glass wine. Today, I can tell thousands of people with a touch of a button.
So dear companies (especially, you, Sears) here are things to keep in mind about customer service in this new media climate.
1. Be clear: You should have clear information about where to call for customer service on your Web site. As a customer, I shouldn’t have to know your internal companies policies to know which of your customer service numbers is right for me. I shouldn’t have to get stuck in a loop of automated answers, none of which apply to my problem. And, if, God forbid, I call the wrong customer service number, I should reach someone who cheerfully gives me the correct number, not who tells me they have no idea where I should call.
2. Be human: OK, we know it saves you money to use automated answering machines. But please, please always offer an option for me to opt out and reach a person. It is insanely frustrating to sit on a phone, listening again and again to a list of options that don’t apply to you.
3. Be helpful: I hope this won’t sound racist. I don’t mean it to be. I know you farm out customer service overseas to save money. But those overseas reps MUST have a list of alternative phone numbers where a customer can reach someone else. It adds to the tension of a frustration situation when you can’t understand what the customer service rep is saying, and all he or she does is keep repeating a prepared script that isn’t relevant. It’s maddening.
4. Be accountable: Always and I mean always let a customer reach a manager. Don’t transfer them to a nonworking number. Don’t transfer them to an answering machine. Angry customers who want a manager should be able to reach one. Don’t tel the customer: “Well, he’s just going to say what I said.” There’s always a way to solve a problem. There’s always a way to make an exception for an unsatisfied customer. At least, there should be.
5. Be responsive: Kudos for responding to social media, but it really shouldn’t have to get public for you to listen. As I told the last Sears person I spoke with — the one who actually helped: Sears could have kept me as a customer if I could have reached a manager who could help me at 11 a.m. on my first or even second call. The fact that I had to sit on hold for hours, go through rep after rep who didn’t help, and tweet my heart about the issue … well, that cost you a customer. I think most people can understand that companies make mistakes. But when mistake start piling up like snow in Syracuse, sorry, you’ve lost me.
6. Listen: The biggest problem I had was customer service reps who would repeat company policy robotlike and not listen to what I was saying. Yes, I realize you have policies. But if you have no ability to see the problem through my eyes, you’ve lost me. I can buy a dryer anywhere, really. And I’ve been on this Earth long enough to know that if I was someone important in your eyes, you’d make me happy. So the fact that you don’t care if I’m satisified, that just reinforces what I already know: You don’t value me as a customer.
7. Be reasonable: I can understand telling me no if I was asking for something preposterous or out of whack with the damage. Hey, you delivered a dryer that didn’t work, so I want a new dryer for free and a better one than I bought. I can see you saying no to that. But all I asked for was my money back for a product that was used once and doesn’t work. That seems reasonable.