Is Customer Service really empowered?

A recent experience got me thinking about, despite all the talk on the subject, how truly empowered customer service is to solve customer problems. Back in early December 2008, I ordered furniture from an on-line retailer.

The order was estimated for delivery in 8-10 weeks, putting delivery some where in the early February time frame. Without going into all the details, because there were so many failings in this process, let me focus on the retailer’s CS function after delivery. At the 12th week, my credit card was charged, so I assumed, per the purchase agreement, that the order was shipped. Late, but, I assumed it was on the way. I heard nothing. Another week. In week 14, I began calling and getting the run around and excuses as to the status of the order.

Jump ahead to week 17. The order finally arrives. The product was poorly constructed relative to the price point. And, the order was incomplete. Two days later, I got an email from the retailer’s customer service “hoping that my experience was a good one”. I replied that I was unsatisfied on all levels. At this point, even before this point, I would have expected some sort of remediation or offer from the company for my troubles. Nothing. So, after I expressed my dissatisfaction in a return email, the head of customer service apparently followed up internally to understand the whole story. However, all I got back as a remediation was an historical recount of the experience, complete with a ting of finger pointing towards the manufacturer.

This is how the email concluded from the retailer’s head of customer service. “…I just wanted to take this time , and let you know that your feedback is very important in helping us know when something is not right so we can get the issues resolved as fast as possible for our customer. Thanks again for the feedback it was very important to our company to hear this from our customers.” So that’s it? Thanks for the feedback? Is that all that this customer service head is empowered to do? Thank me for my feedback? Or, does he really think this is sufficient to wipe away 18 weeks of a poor experience?

This email exchange did nothing to satisfy me or overcome my negative experience. This CS head should be empowered to make economic, commercial or monetary decision that would, should such a situation occur in the future, actually show a desire to save a customer relationship. I don’t know what it would have taken to rectify this experience in my mind. But, I know this was not it.

While there are role model companies that understand the need for real economic empowerment at the front lines, all too often, this is as far as customer services is allowed to go. Apologies are free. And this company will realize, you get what you pay for.

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