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Customer Experience and Design

A Christmas Carol of a Terrible Customer Experience

Angry Customer

As we approach the holidays, I’m reminded of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and how Ebenezer Scrooge came to see the light after three ghosts showed him the impact his actions had on himself and those around him, and how he could save his soul and improve the lives of others if he changed his ways.
The reason I’m reminded of this so keenly right now is because I recently experienced the worst, drawn-out, three-month-long, unresolved customer experience I’ve ever seen or heard of and I keep wondering: if the CEO of the company that caused this situation could be shown what I experienced, would they too be inspired to change their company’s ways? Maybe it wouldn’t save their soul, but it could mean thousands saved in realized efficiencies and exponential revenue growth through loyal customers whose lives would undoubtedly be improved having not suffered through what I did.  Let me elaborate.
Having recently moved to a new home, we decided to take on a small kitchen renovation. Nothing too big; a few new cabinets and a new countertop. Not complicated. Given the simplicity of the project, we opted to contract it ourselves and go through a single store that claimed to be able to handle all aspects of the order and install process. We were assured they were ONE BRAND. They would handle EVERYTHING and it would be EASY and SEAMLESS.
The first red flag came during our first trip to the ONE BRAND store, where we sat down with the kitchen specialist to go through our needs and place our order. Again, simple order, just three cabinets and a countertop. However, upon confirming what we wanted, the kitchen specialist explained he had to first create a ‘fake’ order in one system to create a bill of materials, then he had to re-create our ‘real’ order in two other systems; one for the cabinets, one for the countertop. It occurred to me to ask what and how many order management systems they were dealing with because – yikes – but I figured, as with any big company, years of legacy systems and supply chain workarounds compound and while they cost millions annually in operating costs, most companies don’t stop to fix them. Once our ‘fake’ order was created and the ‘real’ orders were placed, we were given one delivery date for our cabinets, and another for our countertop.
Our first cabinet delivery date came and went without any contact from the ONE BRAND, so I called them. Multiple times. Multiple times over multiple days. Because what I came to discover is that Kitchen Specialists at the ONE BRAND are special. You can’t call Customer Service to talk about your kitchen order. You must talk to the Kitchen Specialists. And what’s extra special about this customer service business process is that once Customer Service transfers you to the Kitchen Specialists, if the call volume is too high or the Kitchen Specialists are out to lunch, you are automatically and promptly hung up on. So for two days after the missed cabinet delivery date, I was automatically hung up on about eight times.
On day three I made it through to a Kitchen Specialist at the ONE BRAND. She was bewildered. She said her system showed the order was picked from the warehouse so she had no idea why I wouldn’t have gotten my delivery. Instead of trying to find out herself, she gave me the number of the logistics company that did not carry the ONE BRAND name responsible for delivery and advised me to call them.
Begrudgingly I called the number. I gave the the logistics rep my order number and she promptly told me she has no record of my order. She advised me to call the ONE BRAND again. This round-robin – me calling the ONE BRAND, them telling me to call logistics, me calling the ONE BRAND back and explaining the logistics company doesn’t have the order – happened three more times over the course of five days. For those playing along, my order has now been delayed eight days and no one seems to know where it is or what has happened to it.
On the ninth day, I call the ONE BRAND customer service line again, get through to the Kitchen Specialist (on the second try), explain everything that is happening, and tell her I believe my order is lost. The Kitchen Specialist puts me on hold and checks “the system.” She comes back with the same explanation. “The system” shows my order was picked. I plead my case. It’s been nine days, I’ve gone back and forth with two companies after I was told the ONE BRAND handles the whole process, and no one seems to have any ideas. She puts me on hold again and this time comes back with new information. She tells me she checked ANOTHER SYSTEM and this second system shows that while the order was picked, it was never transmitted to the logistics company and because the picked inventory sat on the floor for too long, it was re-stocked. Is this an order management issue? An inventory visibility issue? How did this happen? When I asked why the three previous Kitchen Specialists couldn’t get to the bottom of this issue, she explained they only checked the first system. Not the second. She went on to explain that because they had only checked the first system, the information they gave me was correct. It was my fault I didn’t ask them to check the second system.
A new cabinet order was placed with new delivery dates. That put us 19 days behind schedule at that point. In the meantime, we received an email from the ONE BRAND explaining that one of the items from our original order was out of stock. They didn’t know when it would be in stock, so as compensation, they were sending a $200 gift card to replace it. Wait, what? I thought the original order was lost? And now you want me to figure out when a critical item for my project would be back in stock? And go back to the store to purchase it? Aside from making me, the customer, do the legwork with no info to go on, remember this gift card bit.
It’s also worth mentioning that after every call to Customer Service and the Kitchen Specialist at the ONE BRAND, I received a satisfaction survey via email. I completed it every time and added extensive comments as to what happened during that particular interaction and the cost and time impacts to my project. To this day I’ve not received acknowledgement or feedback from those survey responses.
The replacement cabinet order was delivered. Remember that $200 gift card we received to compensate for the item that was out of stock? That item showed up at our house as part of the replacement order. We also got the gift card. I do not believe this was intentional.
I then had to contact the ONE BRAND to schedule the cabinet install service. This was in spite of the fact they theoretically knew I had received the replacement cabinets and could move forward with the project. The person I spoke with from the ONE BRAND confirmed the date as well as what items were to be installed. Later that day I received a call from a local carpentry company confirming the cabinet install. What happened to the ONE BRAND?
The local install crew arrived at my home and were immediately confused by what they saw. Remember when we were at the ONE BRAND store and the Kitchen Specialist said he had to create a ‘fake’ order to get the right bill of materials? Well, the installers were armed with that ‘fake’ order and had planned around that information. Although I had confirmed the right materials with the ONE BRAND contact the day before, the install team brought the wrong tools and the wrong equipment and hadn’t allotted the right amount of time. They got the job done, but they likely impacted the next install customer on their roster for the week.
With the cabinets finally installed it was now time to get the countertops installed. Again, we were told this ONE BRAND would handle the entire process. Once again however, we received a call from a different company – a local countertop company – wanting to come and measure our cabinets for our countertop install.
In a hellish instance of deja vu, the countertop install date came and went. No calls, no outreach from either the local company or the ONE BRAND. We called ONE BRAND and the local countertop company. ONE BRAND had no record of the install order. The local countertop company didn’t respond to our calls. The day after our original countertop install appointment we got a call from yet another local countertop company. They said, “Hey, didn’t anyone call you yesterday? The other local countertop company hired us to do the install but we were running late so we couldn’t do it yesterday. Can we come today?”
You can probably guess what happened next. Right. Nothing. The install time came and went. No crew, no countertops. The ONE BRAND couldn’t assist, having no records or visibility into the systems of their sub-contractors to understand where my project sat in the overall process. The local countertop company also didn’t return our calls but instead sent robo-calls with an updated install date.
The new install date comes and this time we DO get a call – to say the countertop was damaged and they would need to order new material and set a new install date. This happened two times over the course of three weeks. For those playing at home, we are now two months behind the original completion date and the ONE BRAND has done nothing to acknowledge our frustration, let alone assist, intervene, or compensate.
After the second call about the second damaged countertop, we had enough. We cancelled the install order and went back into the ONE BRAND store to get a refund.
The customer service rep we spoke to at the store had trouble finding our order information. She had to check three different systems before she was able to piece it all together. She was cheery when she said “I can’t believe it was this bad. We are all ONE brand!” She then argued about the refund saying she’d have to get confirmation from the local countertop company that we cancelled our install before she’d process the refund. (Yes, she said that right after the ONE BRAND exclamation). At that point my face must have changed her mind because she quickly reversed course and said she’d make an exception and process the refund right then.
We left the ONE BRAND store, called a different local countertop company who came out, measured, and installed the same countertop we had originally ordered through the ONE BRAND. At half the price. In less than two weeks.
So to recap (I copied this directly from the email I sent to the ONE BRAND by the way):

  • 3 months of delays waiting on ONE BRAND and partners that emerged through the process
  • 5 different companies and sets of business processes
  • 1 ‘fake’ order
  • 2 ‘real’ orders
  • 1 lost order
  • 3 different Order Management Systems
  • 4 missed delivery and install dates
  • 1 incorrect installation order
  • 2 damaged countertops
  • 10 completed satisfaction surveys to which there has been no response
  • 1 gift card to compensate for an item we actually received
  • 1 lost customer for life. We will never go back. Not even for a soap dish.

But wait! There’s more! Quite literally the day after the new countertop company completed their installation the original local countertop company called us and asked, “Hey, what’s going on with your install?”
So how does this relate to Ebenezer Scrooge?
Three months later, as I gaze upon my completed kitchen with undamaged countertops, I can’t help but wonder: if the ghosts of Customer Experience could show the CEO of the ONE BRAND the impact their outdated systems and processes had on just our project, would it inspire them to enact transformation across their organization and partner network?  Would they see the increased costs due to siloed and redundant systems? The lost productivity due to business processes based on workarounds? The reputation damage being done to their company and their partner network due to poor customer service? Would they see the thousands of individual customers lost as a result of all of it and finally make the decision that THIS is the year they truly become ONE BRAND? For consumers everywhere, let’s hope so and chime in with Tiny Tim as he exclaims, “No more customer service calls, not a one.”

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Kim Williams-Czopek

Kim Williams-Czopek is a Director of Digital Strategy at Perficient. She’s been a senior leader in several digital agencies, digital product companies, and served as VP of Digital on the brand side. She specializes in customer experience, commerce, digital responsibility, and digital business strategies.

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