Thursday, December 18, 2008

The customer service disconnect

A lot of folks long for the days of human interaction.

When customer service meant something. When a warm, friendly, knowledgeable person helped solve your problem.

Fuck that.

I’ll take a mouse and a laptop over a phone and a live person any day of the week.

Especially yesterday.

Twice. TWICE in one day I had a better experience on a web site than dealing with people. What’s more, I learned there’s a serious disconnect between what corporate web sites say they can deliver and what their people actually do.
“Hi I’m hoping you can help me.”

It’s 8 a.m. and I’m the first customer at the Office Depot customer service desk.

“Can I give you the product ID number on these Pitney Bowes postage labels I’m looking for? Your web site says you have them in stock.”

“WELL,” she replies importantly. “If it has to do with SHIPPING, it’ll be RIGHT over HERE.”

I follow her over to the envelope-box-Styrofoam peanut department.


If I’m her, and a potential customer went to the trouble of offering up an actual Office Depot product ID number, I’m looking up that little sucker straight away just to be sure I know what the hell we’re after before leading her on a small Christmas parade through the goddamn store.

But that’s just me.

I went to the web site the night before to locate the labels that I need need needed to send out holiday gift boxes to our clients (the office manager was swamped and didn’t have time to order them last week).

The Office Depot web site was extremely helpful. I found the right postage labels within seconds on the site and clicked on “Check Local Store Availability” to find them at a location near me.

Beautiful, yes?

No. Back in the shipping supplies department at the Office Depot on Indian Trail in Aurora, Illinois, things are getting ugly: No postage labels.

“Well, IF we had ‘em, they’d be RIGHT HERE,” she insisted.

“Could we maybe look up the product ID number?” I ask hopefully. “I have it right here. Your web site says you have them in stock.”


I look longingly at the PC on the customer service desk as we pass it yet again on our trek to the laser label department.

“They’d DEFINITELY be here IF we had ‘em,” she says again.

And my head goes kersplody all over the Avery 5422 multi-use labels.
Attention United States Post Office:

You have a problem.

Your web site’s writing checks that your people can’t cash (apologies to Viper).

Go to

C’mon, do it. Right now.

Then click on the helpful tab towards the top center that says “Schedule Pick Up.”

See where it says 'Pick Up On Demand' service?

If you’re reading this before noon, you should be able to successfully schedule a parcel pick up for the low low price of $14.75.

The site provides a two-hour pick up window. You agree to have your packages ready by 1 p.m. You select a method of payment. And then (this is important) you receive a confirmation number.

Then, two hours later, you get a call from the local post office that goes something like this:

“Hello this is Mr. Williams calling from the post office regarding your pick up request. All of our trucks are full for the day so you’ll have to schedule another pick up for tomorrow. Please call me at 312-644-3929 if you have questions.”

Remember the postage labels? They’re for running through our company’s postage machine, which postmarks the label for the day the package is shipping. Once you slap that postage label on your package, it needs to go out that day or the post office won’t take it.

I waited to run my postage until I received my pick up confirmation number from the post office.

I’m silly fucked-up paranoid that way.
Where'd ya get the labels, Hed?

The office manager had ordered some from a web site the day before and like a small Christmas miracle, they arrived two days early.
I read somewhere that when you’re frustrated you should smile. It takes everything down a notch and leads to better customer service.

So I’m sitting at my desk smiling like Forrest Gump on a shrimp boat prior to picking up the phone.

“Hello Mr. Williams,” I say. “I’m calling about the On Demand pick up request I made earlier today.”

Here’s a summary:

“But your web site…”

“But I submitted my request at 10:30 a.m….”

“But I have a confirmation number…”

“But why would your web site provide a 2-hour window if picking it up was never an option…?”

“But I have post-marked packages that need to go out today…”

Mr. Wilson called me back four times – each time with another excuse for why he couldn’t pick up my packages that day.

He even read the web site to me:

“Mail pieces weighing more than 13 ounces bearing only postage stamps as postage, must be taken by the customer to an employee at the retail counter of a Post Office.”

“I used metered postage.”


“Requests must be received by 2:00 a.m. on the day your pickup is scheduled.”

“No, that only applies to carrier pick ups. The On Demand pick up section doesn’t say that.”


“Where are these packages? On the third floor?”

“Yes, the site requested the exact pick up location.”

“Well, you’re gonna have to bring them down to the first floor, you know we’re not UPS.”

That’s when my head went kersplody all over again.
Yes, that's Mr. Williams' actual phone number. Call it, if you like.

Tell him my packages made it out the door by 5 p.m. no thanks to him and his bullshit excuses.

Chris Baxter, Mail Carrier Extraordinaire, (and sadly the first capable, warm, friendly person I'd encountered all day), interrupted his residential delivery route to pick up my stuff.

He was almost enough to restore my faith in people. Almost.
I am listening to: Office voices
I am reading: How to submit a complain to the USPS
And I am: Sticking with my mouse


wafelenbak said...

Two weeks ago I was at the post office on a Saturday and the line was to the door. Of course, many holiday packages were being mailed. Of course, when I arrived there was ONE PERSON working behind the counter.
And this was a pretty darn big post office.
So, I am hoping that if President Obama wants to create jobs, he sends a whole bunch more people to work at the post office. Seriously, I don't care if they are ex-felons as long as my mail goes out and I don't have to wait over an hour to ship a package two states east.

Posolxstvo the First said...

Oh crap. Now you did it. You got me started.

First off, that USPS experience, I have no gripes with. I have had similar experiences at places like that. Sort of reminds me of that SNL skit from way back – I forget who did it. For some reason, I have Lily Tomlin stuck in my head. Whoever it was had an operator's headset on, and was being amazingly rude to the customers. The tagline: "We don’t care. We don’t have to. We're the phone company."

But I think that the Office Depot thing, you may be misdirecting your frustration.

To begin – at the website, was it really that great? I mean, were you able to get your hands on the product you were looking for? Not really. You got the part number and a price. Great. But you were going on faith that it was actually the right part. I don’t believe any of that until I can see it with my own eyes. I have been burned by that before.

Once you got to the store and the employee was as helpful to you as a damp dishrag, that’s because you were at an office superstore and were dealing with a human being who is not being paid nearly enough to give half of a rat's crap where your motherscratching labels are.

In the 1970's, if you were looking for those labels, you’d have to go to a very specialized store, probably right along some main street somewhere. They would sell nothing but labels. The store would SMELL like the Pitney Bowes labels you needed. Some Aspberger's Syndrome suffering clerk who thinks about nothing all day other than what labels are on what shelf would be there, and you'd ask for your labels. And his/her photographic memory would be able to tell you exactly where they were, what color the box was, how many labels per sheet, where they were manufactured, etc etc etc. Not only would he/she/it be able to tell you, but he/she/it would tell you. On and on.

Until you finally escaped the store without your head going "kersplody." (Nice word, by the by.)

We don’t have places like that anymore, because in general people don’t want to pay the premium cost that goes along with having someone with that sort of specialization.

In other words, what you experienced is a further symptom of what you started out your piece by saying that I should not invoke:

"A lot of folks long for the days of human interaction. When customer service meant something. When a warm, friendly, knowledgeable person helped solve your problem."

The problem is that the very few people are willing to pay for warm, friendly, or (especially) knowledgeable. And what we wind up with is USPS employees telling you "Well, you’re gonna have to bring them down to the first floor, you know we’re not UPS."

molly gras said...

Wow, Hedy! Way to bring on the wrath of Pos! I haven't seen him so "worked up" since his brother's wedding this past summer (don't ask; it involves boys and cranky wedding planners probably PMSing!)

And I have to agree, the holidays seems to make everyone's head go kersplody!!

Dave said...

I hesitate, but what the hell.

You are in an Office Depot on DECEMBER NINETEEN in the year of our Lord... and then expect the Post Office people (I refuse to call it the USPS) to have a clue on DECEMBER NINETEEN....

UPS ground will get your packages anywhere in the country they need to go by next Wednesday, had you sent them say Monday or Tuesday.

Happy Holidays!

Hedy said...

Waf: The post office is fascinating. I've never been in any other business where I felt as if I was interrupting the workers. All the time.

Pos: I think the trouble I had with the Office Depot site was that it set an expectation. It made me feel like things would be easy once I got to the store and things weren't. They were in fact MORE complicated than they needed to be because the employee wasn't paying attention. In fact, if I could've used a kiosk instead of dealing with a live person, the experience would've been perfect. Instead, I got a live person who had her own idea of what being 'helpful' was all about and that's when it all broke down. I get the superstore concept but again, if I'm willing to pay for something, I don't think it's too much to ask that the customer service rep PAY ATTENTION to my needs.

Molly: We sure know how to get 'em going, don't we?

Dave: Yes. One of my favorite sayings is 'A lack of preparedness on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine' or something like that. The thing is, I did a test run with my package via the USPS and it arrived the next day - on arguably the busiest shipping day of the year. If the USPS web site hadn't set the expectation that I COULD get a pick up that day, I would've happily used UPS or whatever (and paid more of course). If the web site said "Due to high volume over the holidays, your packages may not be picked up" then I could've made the choice to use another service. Instead I got a run around and excuse after excuse for why they wouldn't - not couldn't - honor my request. Anyhow. Bleh. They all went out and I'm sleeping just fine. Merry, merry.

Cindiloo said...

Of course you are relying on the fact that someone has entered the info correctly into the computer. I remember a very frustrating experience with Home Depot. They kindly looked on their trusty computer to see if a product was in stock. That lovely machine told us there were 64 items available. Guess what happened when we got to the isle, yep you guessed it; there were none to be found. By the way, did I mention I went to at least 4 Home Depots that day, and called too many to count, all had the same problem? I should say I had the problem.

Oh and I've tried that smile thingy. It doesn't work. All it does is piss me off more when the clerk gives me attitude and I'm standing there with this goofy ass grin on my face.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note... be kind to your postal worker this year.
And you can take this next statement to the bank.
If they privatized the Post Office like they wanted to... stamps would be $1.20 for letters. The government would have subsidized the new corporate entity by now. And a bailout would have been certain.
And let’s not even talk about what would have happened if these genius's got to privatize the Social Security System... I hope those old "Gov't is bad – we want to privatize your stool" myths disappear.
Be kind to your postal worker... they work hard... put yourself in their shoes.
There's one now... woof woof woof woof..
Merry Christmas to All!!

Charmaine said...

Ahhhhh. I wanna kill someone.

I just had a similar experience.

I was a clothing store called, "Hollister".

Pointing at the Manikin, I asked the sales girl, "Where would I find these shirts?"

She walked through the store. She checked the computer, "I'm afraid we're out of stock."

"Do you have it in any other colors?"

"No. We are completely out of stock."

"Can I have one of the shirts on one of the manikins? There are, like, three of them".

"No, that's not allowed"

Walking out of the store, there they were. Tons of them. All colors.

Lilly's Life said...

Its the same all over the world. I made a decision only last week, after being humiliated at the mkeup counter in a department store, to NEVER shop in a store at Christmas again. I am moving to online shopping exclusively. Oh I so know what you mean about interrupting the workers - that is exactly how it is...however I just did a trip to Thailand and the service was brilliant. It can happen - perhaps the economic turn will do wonders as people compete for jobs, who knows?