Customer Service – good, bad and – well, uh - weird!

Isn't great customer service rare and wonderful these days?

Recently I was cleaning out old – really, really old – files on my computer, the kind that, had they been food, would now be covered with mold and crawling with bugs. Old files! And I came across this story I wrote – oh, probably 12 or 13 years ago. I never did anything with it; maybe I wrote it just to vent. Who knows? It’s a pretty good story, though, so I want to share it with you. Pretty unbelievable, actually. It’s about customer service gone very, very wrong. But take it with a grain of salt – it was a long time ago in a different state, different small company.

Before you jump into that old story of inexplicably bad customer service, though, may I first write a few lines about really good, reliable customer service? Yesterday I had reason to call Alaska Air. As good as their online chat service is (“Ask Jenn”) and as clear as their web site content is, I still needed just a little assistance from a real, live human being. When I call Alaska Air, I know I will always have the option of speaking to a living, breathing person in Boise, and I will always get my problem solved. And so I did. I hereby nominate Alaska Air for a worldwide customer service award!

But wait – there’s more. Today I had reason to call GoDaddy, the owner of my domain and the engine behind my online presence. Do you know that GoDaddy actually lists their customer service phone number right on the front page of their web site: “24/7 Support (480) 505-8877.” There it is. I can call them any time, day or night, and you know what I get? A live human being, albeit a young one, but it’s a millennial I need anyway, isn’t it? I know they secretly think I’m really old and dumb and slow, but they never complain, and they stick with me patiently until my problem is solved – something they personally could have done in 30 seconds with their eyes closed, wearing a straitjacket. I also nominate GoDaddy for a worldwide customer service award!

Oh, but there’s just one more, and it’s the best. If you are a Washington resident, do you have a Good to Go pass? Have you ever had to call or email them for help? Let me tell you: This state agency beats even Alaska Air and GoDaddy! The first thing they do is compose and send a personal email within 24 hours – I mean personal: It addresses my question exactly - no superfluous filler meant for all comers. It’s a message to me about my question. And, if I have to call, I will speak to a kind, patient individual with no attitude problems – always. Every time I hang up the phone after calling Good to Go support (and really, folks, it’s only been a few times – I don’t spend my whole life seeking customer service), I am blown away by the knowledge and kindness of the person on the other end. One more worldwide customer service award, coming up!

So now, go ahead and read the nightmare – the story about how Staples completely screwed up my print job, blamed it on me, and told me there’s no way to prevent it from happening again. But after you read it, will you please consider making your own nomination for “great customer service” award? Just write it in a comment at the end of this post. But first, read what happened to me many years ago.

It was the night before my first Chamber of Commerce event, and I wanted to have a handful of updated brochures and handouts to share during the networking portion of the meeting. I took my originals, carefully edited and formatted, to Staples, where I always have my copying done.

The woman behind the counter, familiar to me, advised me about how I might make use of a $5 coupon in the most recent store flyer. She was patient and kind, her usual upbeat, helpful self. I wanted five small sets of copies: 4 two-sided and 1 single-sided. Of the four duplex sets, one would be landscape orientation; the other three would be portrait orientation. She assured me she’d have it finished within a half-hour. However, if I had any shopping to do, I could come back any time before 9:00 p.m. or even tomorrow morning.

Yes, I had errands to run; I returned about 90 minutes later, and she had my copies all boxed up and was waiting on another customer. I was so excited! I peaked inside the box to look at my five sets of copies, each in a different color. It was a small order, totaling fewer than 150 sheets, but these copies were going to be important to me tomorrow as I introduced my small business to a new audience.

You can imagine my disappointment when I discovered that every page was off-center. Were my originals off-center? I quickly checked them; no, the originals were all perfectly centered and straight. The fault lay in the copy process, and she would simply have to do the job over. No way could I present these skewed handouts at my important meeting. Crestfallen, I knew I would have to hurt the nice lady’s feelings. I’d also have to come back tomorrow morning before my meeting, pick up my copy order, and fold my single-fold brochures quickly before the meeting. Bummer!

When the friendly, helpful saleslady finished with her other customer, I gave her the bad news: “They’re all off-center.” Her first response was disbelief; she had to see for herself. Seeing that I was right, she examined them more closely, suggesting it wasn’t really so bad. I showed her some copies on which the centering was so off that the print almost ran off the edge. It couldn’t be denied: the job had been botched.

Now, here was the lady’s moment to shine. On my previous visits to this store, she had always had “customer service” written all over her face. She had even talked to me about the importance of happy customers who would advertise for Staples by word of mouth. I knew she’d just smile and say, “Oops. I goofed. I am so sorry, but don’t you worry. We’re going to have these right for you soon after the store opens tomorrow morning.” I was ready for her magnanimous offer, sure she was going to do the right thing.


She didn’t. She said, “Well, the machine does it.” When I responded, very nicely, that I figured that was the case but, no matter, I couldn’t use something that looked unprofessional, she responded: “The machine does it. It can’t be helped.” I said, But I’ve had many copies printed here before. I know your machines can print things on-center. There, now! She had another chance to do the right thing. Still she didn’t do it. She huffed and puffed, never smiled, and finally said, “I’ll have to do them all over. You can pick them up tomorrow.” No more eye contact. As I tried to stack them neatly back in the box she interrupted with a voice as flat as a loose guitar string: “Just leave them. I’ll have to dump the whole job and make new ones. (sigh)” She was complaining to me! She never smiled, and she never said the magic words: “I’m sorry.” I thanked her for reprinting the job and walked out.

The next morning, I hurried in to get my corrected copy job just in time to get my brochures folded and make it to my meeting. A different lady was working behind the desk, naturally, and she was on the phone. (As a matter of fact, she never got off the phone the entire time I was in the store, and she was not enjoying the conversation.) I told her my name and she floundered around, seeking my order. My heart was in my throat: Did they not get recopied? Then I told her the name of my business. Ah! She grimaced visibly and put her hand directly on the offensive box, thrusting it at me without a word. Obviously there had been some internal communication about the trouble I had caused. I quickly looked inside: all were now perfect or close to perfect except… oh, geez! Now my brochures were all off-center. Well, I knew I’d just have to live with it this time; I casually mentioned it and got out my checkbook.

This lady was ready for me. She seized one of the offending copies, held it up and lectured me on my responsibilities as a copy customer. A strange dialogue ensued:

Staples:           The machine adds a border along one side, so you have to take that into consideration                when you make your original.

Me:                  Oh, you mean I should not have it centered?

Staples:           That’s right. The machine will just mess it up.

Me:                  Which side should have the wider margin and which the narrower, right or left?

Staples:           That depends on what machine we use; they’re all different.

Me:                  How will I know which machine you’re going to use?

Staples:           (getting a little short with me now) You don’t know. It’s just going to happen every                     time.

Me:                  But you just made me perfect copies, on-center. How did you do that?

Staples:           I moved them over to compensate for the artificial border I knew the machine would                  add.

Me:                  So you wouldn’t ordinarily do that to make them come out right based on the machine               you’re going to use?

Staples:           [silence – only a glare]

She had had enough of me by now - I could tell. I gave up and wrote my check. It took her quite awhile to check me out because she was dealing with the aggravating phone call at the same time. I didn’t let it worry me. I just kept breathing deeply and reminding myself not to worry about what I couldn’t control.

And then it was over. Like her counterpart the night before, once her error was uncovered, she never smiled. It was, in her mind, clearly all my fault. As I picked up the box to leave, she flung a “sorry about that” over her shoulder, never even making eye contact with me. I walked out of Staples with an inferior product, for which I had paid, and never had anyone on the staff offered me anything vaguely resembling a sincere apology – and what would it have cost them to do so?

I will probably find a new place to have my copying done.

Now, if you’ve read all the way to the bottom, tell us about a great customer service experience you’ve had! And may I add, I have since figured out that copies should be made by professional printers.