Drappy Customer Service - A Rant, and Opportunity

We’re doomed. The typical laws of economics have been turned on their head. Not supply vs. demand, not inventory vs. pricing, not entertainment quality vs. popularity (although that one has never worked right)…

I mean economic strength vs. customer service.

In a rational world, the worse the economy is the better the customer service should be as merchants fight and scramble for your business.

Our world is no longer rational. Economic strength and customer service somehow have become delinked.

When's the last time you heard someone use the phrase, "The Customer is Always Right?” Probably the last time you heard the phrase “Fill it up, sir?”

Allow me to offer some anecdotal evidence.

I recently ordered business cards from a merchant whose name used to rhyme with “Dinko’s” but whose name now rhymes with “DedEx.” The level of their customer service, however, rhymes with “drappy.”

I submitted the art work and paid $140 in advance. DedEx called me a few days later – my cards were ready. I drove 25 minutes to the store to pick them up. The cards were way off center. OK, no big deal. DedEx offered to reprint them. I drove 25 minutes home.

A few days later, DedEx called again. I drove down, 25 minutes, to pick up my reprinted cards. They were even more crooked. DedEx did not exactly apologize, but instead implied that if I’d given them the right kind of artwork they could have printed the cards correctly. I mentioned that if they’d looked at the cards before calling me, I would have saved the nearly one hour of driving time, and I offered to provide whatever artwork they needed.

DedEx said, no, they are going to work with what I gave them and be sure to get it right this time. I politely suggested they look at the cards next time before calling me, to be sure they were right.

DedEx called me a few days later. Cards are ready. I drove down. You know how long it took to get there. The cards were crooked AND about 80% of the size they were supposed to be.

I suggested that perhaps I was not getting optimum value for my $140. The response: “I’m sorry.” Then silence. I left with my off-center, too-small cards, as I had a gig the next day.

The DedEx manager called to offer to have the cards produced at a different store where they had the machinery capable of “cutting the cards the way you want them.” Which is “centered.”

There were only a couple problems, the manager said. It would take a week. I replied that a week to get cards done right beats a week to get them wrong three times. Perhaps I was a bit snarky.

He also said they would refund my $140, but I had to bring in the off-center, too-small cards. I agreed to do so, perhaps a tad too enthusiastically.

The DedEx manager then said that producing the cards on that machinery costs $70. Mind you, this was not a discount or a refund on my earlier cost to compensate for my trouble. He was saying that getting them done right at the other store costs $70. Getting them wrong three times at his store costs $140.

I might have mentioned that, all things being equal, I would have preferred to pay $70 instead of $140 for the cards. The fact that they would have been done correctly the first time at half the price would have been a bonus. Why didn’t they tell me about that option when I first came in?

“I’m sorry.” Silence.

I’ll tell you next week whether the cards came out right. But even getting them wrong at half the price seems like a better deal.

While ordering a chocolate shake at a fast food drive-thru recently, I had plenty of time to consider this customer service issue. Waiting… and waiting… and waiting… for my chocolate shake, I watched the young employees inside the restaurant wrestling with each other, walking slowly to the far end of the counter and back, coughing into their hands and fixing their hair and wiping their noses and pulling up their pants and performing a host of other activities that, thankfully, did not bear any connection to the manufacture of a chocolate shake.

When even in a terrible economy Fortune 500 companies, store and restaurant managers, and employees don’t behave as if improving their customer service can improve their business (and their prospects of continued employment), then either the laws of economics have been reversed, or we have given up as an economic society.

I’m not sure which to root for. But neither is good.

There is good news here, though. I believe that great customer service is a competitive advantage, especially in an economy where no company seems to get it, and it costs nothing. All it takes is a change in attitude, starting at the top and extending all the way down to the people answering the phones.

It’s kind of like a down stock market – there is opportunity amongst the poverty of customer service. I think we should take it..