24 October 2006

Customer service: a study in contrasts

Today has been a busy day for Geezer Gleck.

I worked early this morning, ergo my workday ended earlier than usual. I left about noon to meet the A/C guy back at the house (evaporator coils don't always crap out after three years ... do they? Eh, at least it's under warranty, although the labor and Freon recharging set us back $300!). But that wasn't the only household snafu ... more on that in a second.

On the way home I made a side trip to our Best Buy. I'd redeemed about $100 worth of their "reward zone" points I'd accrued when we bought our laptop back in August (viva la "triple points on a single item" coupons) ... the plans were to procure an MP3 player for Seraphim with that scrip. The player I thought would be ideal was another of the Creative players - a 1GB flash-based job, which also had a color screen to display .JPG files, a necessity because Seraphim wouldn't mind having her entire cake portfolio in that little device. And if it played music, that was a bonus.

Well, the ideal player was on the website. Ah, but there was a catch: it's available online only. Okay, no problem, one of the folks at Best Buy last week said one could redeem "reward zone" vouchers online. Well, problem. Said "one of the folks" was either A) stooooopid, or B) a lying sack of horse phlegm from Orion, Alabama.

No problem, right? I could buy another of the MP3 players, and then return it ... most stores treat non-cash returns by issuing a gift card (which ARE redeemable online). That's how Wal-Mart, golden beacon of everything that's right and proper with retail, does it ... how would Best Buy be any different?

Guess again. Best Buy treats such returns by "reissuing" the certificates. So ... I could either return it and then wait the usual 6-8 weeks for another set of funny money ... or be stuck with an MP3 player Seraphim won't have much use for. I asked for a manager, to whom I pleaded my case ... their selection of players lacked. And they had nothing else in the same price range which had the same features as the Creative player. It was as if he'd had wet dreams the night before about pointing out the small print on the "reward zone" certificates ... "not good on bestbuy.com" .... "cannot be used to purchase gift cards"

I didn't know David Spade and his "NO!" posters crossed the street from Capital One and went to work at Best Buy. Oh, and did I mention the "reward zone" rules changed last month? Used to be $150 in purchases would earn you a $5.00 bonus certificate. Oooooh, but they've changed that ... now it's $250. Some "loyalty program."

But what's my other option? Circuit City??!! Jeezuz Cripes, they're even worse!

Best Buy is making me pine for the good old days of Service Merchandise. Phew. Hell, I'm this close to taking back every bad thing I've ever said about Wal-Mart; while I've had some adventures at their (dis)service counter, I've never once had any grief about returning an item.

Well, after giving a roundhouse kick to the first smarmy jackass I saw in a blue polo shirt on my way out of the store (just kidding ... or am I?), I headed for Rincon, and my destiny with the Gods of HVAC.

The new coils freshly-charged, I turned my attention to our next issue: the faint "thump-thump-thump" we'd been hearing lately whenever the dryer was running. After thinking it was our fine Whirlpool workhorse tapping itself against the wall, I found out what it really was last night while bringing Seraphim's plants inside.

In the house, it sounded like "thump-thump-thump", but outside at the dryer vent it was more like "SLOSH! SLOSH! SLOSH!" Holy crap, there was a buttload of WATER in the dryer vent line. That might explain the sluggishness of our dryer's performance of late ... I cleaned the lint out of it early last week, but that didn't seem to work.

Whooooooookay .... I make a journey to the local Sears store in Rincon, one of those small-town franchise stores (we bought a TV from them earlier this year, and they gave us a good deal). I invested in a small wet/dry shop-vac, something we didn't have, and figured we might want to have on hand just in case we had SLOSH-SLOSH-SLOSH somewhere indoors! But one feature I wanted in such a vac was the blower function, where it would function either as a vacuum cleaner OR as a quasi leaf blower. What I wanted to do is stick the nozzle into the dryer vent (from the INSIDE, of course) and let'er rip.

I was assured by the gentleman who waited on me that all of their shop vacs had the blower feature. I bought one, and took it home to hug and squeeze and cuddle and play with and name. Then I found out that it does NOT have a blower. DAMN! And by now it was 5:50 in the afternoon ... Sears closes up at 6. I hurriedly repack the box and get my pimpled white butt back over to Sears, where I'd hoped to do a return .... the dryer was already disconnected and moved out of the closet.

The guy who waited on me was truly apologetic, and graciously proffered a mea culpa. He was led to believe that fact by those who'd trained him. I told him no hard feelings, and did he have any other models in the same price range that did have the features I needed? By that time the store manager came out and he too apologized ... and offered me the display model of another, more expensive, shop vac for damn close to what I'd paid for the first one. "Deal!", I told him.

I got home with our new shop vac, where I hugged it and squeezed it and cuddled it and played with it and didn't quite name it yet ... I'm thinking about "The Lint Slayer" right about now ... and stuck one end of the hose into the blower port, the other end into the dryer vent, and -- with Seraphim outside to watch -- engaged our new toy. With a roar, her 6.0 horses came to life. And not only did gales of water start gushing out the other end, but everything else that'd been in there for 2.5 years came blasting out, too. It kinda reminded me of the old Phil Hartman "Colon Blow" commercial years ago on SNL.

So, what I experienced today were two polar opposites -- an impersonal monolithic big-box with an arrogant disregard for the customer, and a small representative for a once-monolithic retail giant, in a small homey bedroom town that wanted a satisfied customer walking outside their door. Would that all businesses remembered the core reason for their success. It's not the shareholders, it's the customer. Without the latter, the former don't get diddly.

I really like it out here in Rincon ... the attitudes, while not perfect by any measure, are so much more personal. Rincon, Georgia -- fast food capital of south Effingham County -- is also home to one of the few remaining Western Auto stores. They were very nice and helpful when I was trying to find some replacement line for our weed-whacker, and was afraid I'd have to trapise back into Chatham County to find it. Thanks to the nice lady at Western Auto, I didn't have to.

And now, we have a dryer that again functions as new, an air conditioner that - we hope! - functions as new (note to self: when it comes time to get a new central A/C, do not buy a Goodman), a Lint Slayer that looks all macho and mighty, and a satisfied Talmadge.

Slacker punks in blue polo shirts aside, it was a good day.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Gotta Get Up Early Again Tomorrow" Gleck

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