May 22, 2010

Is Customer Service Dead?

I seem to be asking myself this question more often lately. My latest experiences were with La-Z-Boy furniture in Amherst, and Dunkin Donuts in Williamsville, NY. These were two very similar experiences, but very different outcomes.

My Dad owned a La-Z-Boy recliner for 30+ years. It was a comfortable chair, but nobody better be sitting in it when he came into the room!

I wanted to purchase a new recliner to use during my recovery from hip surgery. I was hoping they’d have something in stock, but could certainly understand if it needed to be ordered. The problem is, as I was told, it takes 6-8 weeks to order one. That seemed like an excessive amount of time to order a “stock” recliner. After all, I wasn’t ordering a Mercedes-Benz with custom measurements for my hips and butt! (although that might be a great line of business for someone who actually knew about customer service).

I asked the somewhat-disinterested store salesman about the length of time required. Surely, I thought, another store would have this model in stock. Was there any way to transfer stock to this store? I’d even consider going to another store in the area if they could check for me.
No can do. Six to eight weeks. End of discussion. No “sorry, I wish I could help you,” or “let me see what I can do for you.” Just “nope.” Come on. I can seriously order a custom-option car in less time than that!

Needless to say, I told him that unless he could find a way to speed up the delivery, it would end his sale prospects with me. No response. Oh well, I guess I can live with my old recliner for a while.
I wanted to relate this experience to the corporation. I know if one of my staff provided this kind of customer experience, I’d like to know about it. Here’s my response:
Dear Mr. OKeefe:
Thank you for your inquiry and interest in our fine products.
La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries are independently owned and operated. Unfortunately, we do not have access to what they have available in stock or on display. Our normal production time is 6 - 8 weeks for a custom order.
We suggest you contact store management at the Amherst location to discuss the lack of service you received.
 Regards,La-Z-Boy Incorporated
Let’s look at this one.
  • From “Incorporated.” Really?
  • “Fine products?” Maybe. A bit outdated I have to say. As much as I liked my Dad’s recliner, the new ones were almost the exact same mechanicals (clunky and loud). But that’s ok. They should be proud of their products.
  • The company line sounds familiar. They really don’t have access to their own stores? Do they know the phone numbers? Wow. And I wasn’t ordering anything “custom.” I didn’t even know that was an option. I don’t think it really is.
  • They “suggest I contact store management.” Isn’t that what I did? Maybe you could help that process along? No, push it back on the customer.
I wonder if this company has a Customer Experience Officer (CXO)? Doubtful, huh?
Here’s a contrast.  I am a Dunkin Donut coffee fan. We have to drive a bit out of the way to get coffee at one of their stores. I love cream and sugar in my coffee, but Beth takes it with cream only. She was on her own, and stopped to get a cup on the way to work. “Medium coffee with cream, please.” Again, another long story, but the customer service was less than friendly, and worst of all, they put sugar in her coffee. To her, that’s undrinkable. Unfortunately, she was well on the road before she tasted it. So she had to toss it. No coffee that morning.

She wrote an e-mail to Dunkin Donuts similar to mine. Dunkin Donuts is also a franchised organization, by the way. Here’s her “corporate” response:

Dear Beth, 
We would like to thank you for taking the time to contact us about your experience at the Dunkin' Donuts shop located at xxxxxx.We work hard to maintain the highest standards in guest satisfaction however, it appears we have let you down and for that we apologize. We have forwarded your comments to the owner of this location as well as our Dunkin' Donuts field executive to make them aware of your experience and request that the owner of this location contact you.We hope that you visit us again soon and give us the opportunity to serve you.Thank you and have a great day.
StephanieCustomer Relations Associate

  • From Stephanie. A real person?
  • Thanks for contacting us about the “experience.”
  • “We let you down.” Wow, they understand.
  • “We apologize.” Unique. “La-Z-Boy Incorporated” didn’t apologize to me.
  • “We have forwarded to the owner.” OK, saved me the step. There was no “not our problem, it’s yours” type of response as in the La-Z-Boy version.
Within a day, she had a phone call and apology from the owner, and ten dollars in free coupons to Dunkin Donuts.

La-Z-Boy, see the difference? We’re still Dunkin Donuts customers. We will never buy a La-Z-Boy again. And we’ll tell all our friends about both experiences.

Customer service isn’t dead, but it’s on life support.


shaunbelding said...

Great take on customer service John! I love the contrast between Lazy Boy and Dunkin. I've linked to it on my blog:


Tom Petrocelli said...

I had an experience similar to the Dunkin Donut one, just more extreme. Traveling on business about 15 months ago, I had one of the worst restaurant experiences ever in a JFK Airport. HMS Host was the franchisee. After sending an email, I received a response from a VP level person almost immediately. They THANKED me for calling this to their attention and sent the crew for retraining. They also sent me a coupon that was enough for my whole family to eat at a Chili's the next time we were in an airport.
A heck of a response.

Unknown said...

Man, I agree totally.

The simple thought that customers need to be cultivated seems to be getting lost lately, and I am not sure how it happened. You would think that in today's economy companies would be pushing to 'retain' customers. Today's it seems as if more and more places are simply 'giving up'. There are some places out there that tend to be more consistent and go the extra mile, like Carrabba's, one of my favorites, and my wife is a huge Tim Horton's Fan, and I have to say that they do tend to treat their customers consistently well, but for the most part I just get the feeling that some companies have given up.

It is almost like they blame the bad business on the customer not coming in instead of the condition of the economy.