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Customer Service where does it begin?

This article is my way to discuss all the issues I've faced when dealing with various local businesses and the rather caviler attitude many of them have towards keeping customers happy or at least being civil in regards to issues when they arise. I will be naming the specific businesses that have blindly lost my patronage (and maybe yours) for allowing these annoying policies to continue.

I have been thinking about writing this article for a while so some of the experiences I will be writing about will have been resolved as the business in question has closed or been forced to see the error of its ways and correct the problem as a tide of customers seems to fade away to never return.

Here is my short list of stores and generally bad ideas

lets start with a rather annoying situation that happened to me a few years back that has been bothering me for a while.

Costco, or Price Club as it was called when they first rode into Ottawa
Admittedly they have changed the policy I will be cursing about but it's a starting point to illustrate how stupid ideas cause lost customers. When Price Club started you needed to have a membership that you paid to allow access to the store, while this is still in place anyone willing to pay the fifty dollar per year membership fee can join. Did you know that originally I stood in line to get a membership for close to 45 minutes to be told I did not qualify! Apparently working a full-time job in printing and a part-time job with Loblaws (which is under a union) did not qualify me to shop at the store! But my sister-in-law who still had her Government ID (and was no longer employed) was able to obtain a membership to shop at the store! Needless to say I was not happy about the situation and I vowed to never set foot into the store. I have never shopped at a Costo/Price Club store and it has been over 10 years since they pissed me off!

I have talked to others who have shopped at Costco and they agree that considering you must pay for for the membership you need to purchase a considerable amount of items during the course of the year to recover and come out ahead. One very irritating thing Costco seems to enjoy doing is treating all the customers like thieves, I say this because you are not allowed to leave the store before an employee stops you to verify your receipt against your shopping cart. It's probably a good thing I was not accepted because this practice is just wrong period. If you pay an employee to stand at the exit you can invest in a proper security system that doesn't treat everyone like a thief.

Anti-theft Tags
My wife and I recently went to a 'New Look' eyeglasses store to look at the possibility of purchasing a new set of glasses since we are both blessed with having to wear them. I was dismayed to see that every set of frames had this darn anti-theft tag attached to the frames which made it hard to see how they looked and the device tended to force the frames to look crooked while trying them on. I asked the salesperson about the tags and she explained some of the frames were very expensive and rather than locking them up this allowed everyone to try the frames without needing anyone to unlock cases.
So I looked at the anti-theft device and thought to myself, the frames are not much good without the lenses and since the lenses cost more than most frames it seemed unlikely they would be stealing the frames but paying for lenses. I also pondered just how hard it would be to just grab 5-6 pairs of frames and run straight out the exit. If the store was busy the reaction time of the clerk was certainly not going to be fast enough to stop them and I doubt the clerk would have much success running after the culprit, heck would they even bother! So we left and went to Laurier optical where they seemed to be oblivious to the recent rash of frame thefts and purchased our new frames and lenses without being bothered by any anti-theft devices.

Annoying Sensor Systems
This is the system when you enter and exit a store a sensor 'Beeps' if it detects a special tag that is hidden in the merchandise, normally the tag gets demagnetized while you are purchasing the item so in theory the system should only 'beep' if an unpaid item goes through the sensor. Simple system that should work great but how many times have you seen someone setting it off or you are the individual who sets the sensor off as you pass through the ominous gates. Most of us think it's our cell phone or keys that keeps setting off these systems. Wrong, I've discovered a nasty trick some manufacturers have been pulling on us.

I will assume at the request of retail stores many items have the special tags included with the packaging so if you buy an item from one store that does not use the system they obviously won't be demagnetizing the tags. Off you go from one store in the mall into the next that does have the system (or the same system) and you set off the darn thing.

Now did you also know these tags are hidden within the various garments you purchase, my daughter had a coat that we purchased from Sears and funny enough it never beeped once at Sears but every other store seemed to have a field day and we set-off so many systems we started to ignore them and I became increasingly annoyed with clerks who would try and stop us as I was entering the store. I was like hello If I was stealing something don't you thing I would be leaving not entering? So then they want to see our bags and ask questions as I explain it's this f%$king coat from Sears, so they ask if they can try and demagnetize it for us, fine this is the 300th time maybe you'll fix it! So one day we were shopping at the Rideau Centre and walked into a store called Lululemon and of course the dreaded 'beep' 'beep' 'beep' echoed as we entered the store. A salesperson who recognized my daughter asked the usual questions when I almost blew a gasket as she asked if she could try and demagnetize the coat from hell. She told me she had seen the same problem before and she was sure she could fix the problem so during the 2-3 minutes of tossing and turning the coat she explained that Sears for some reason had the tags sewn into the coat at various places and she showed us three sensors hidden in the coat she pointed to the one hidden in the collar and said it was this one that had failed to demagnetize all the previous times, her theory was that the clerks most-likely had held the coat by the collar when trying to demagnetize the coat and shielded the tag with their hand. She passed the coat through the sensors as I held my breath waiting for the dreaded 'beep' I was pleasantly surprised to find golden silence, the coat from hell had been successfully exorcised!

Pizza Pizza
This business is of course a franchise so pricing is out of the hands of your local store but I have a gripe with the decision to charge for sauce when you order their chicken wings. This may seem like a trivial thing but hear me out on this. When Pizzapizza introduced the dipping sauces for pizza they were included for free and after everyone was used to getting the sauce they started to charge for them. Fair enough but when you order McChicken Nuggets at McDonalds you know the sauce is included you don't have to pay extra for it right? Have any of you been to a restaurant and ordered chicken wings and you were told sauce is extra?

Well some genius at PizzaPizza decided their chicken wings were so tasty you didn't need any sauce and if you were so bold as request it you would have to pay for the sauce! My issue here is that I usually order 20 wings for $12.99 (March 2007) and I got 2 dipping sauces now I need to pay 69 cents per sauce so it increases the cost to $14.37 and then I have to add the wonderful $2.75 delivery charge to the order so 20 wings are now costing me $17.12 and that's not including tax's and the tip I usually give to the driver. Seems pricey when you get to a buck per wing right?

Me and the guys I worked with ordered every Friday but after the sauce increase we decided it was the straw that broke the camels back so to speak and we stopped ordering from PizzaPizza I figure that store is losing out on $2,500 of sales per year just from us due to the Franchises decision to charge for sauce on wings.

Update August 16th 2007
Looks like PizzaPizza has decided to reverse the charge on the sauce for wings, I was told the change took place around Aug 6th 2007 (I doubt it was related to my rant but I suspect the wings weren't exactly 'flying' out of the stores).

If any of you have watched the video Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price then I don't need to make any comments on that part of the business, for the rest of you I highly suggest you rent this one. So what else does Wal-Mart do to warrant being on my list, they will practically take anything back with no questions asked, the employees are generally fine to deal with so what's my beef. I entered the store with a bag from another store and was approached by a clerk who wanted to place a seal of some sort onto my bags, again not a huge issue but why do these stores resort to making everyone feel like they are untrustworthy to shop in their store. I promptly removed the seal and continued with my shopping (and cursing) then we were finally able to get through the cash with our purchases which included one of those huge 40+ rolls of toilet paper (which doesn't fit into any bags) and it was placed into the cart by the cashier after scanning the item. We were walking towards the exit when my wife remarked an employee was starring at us, as she pointed this out the employee approached us and asked me for the receipt (shades of Costco/Price club) I asked why she wanted to see it and of course it was to verify we had paid for all of our items, I asked why she had chosen to stop my family, did we look like thieves. She was a little uncomfortable with the situation but explained she was told to check all carts with items not in a bag. I suggested they get stickers like Loblaws or Zellers uses and leave the customers alone.

I'm just pointing it out because most stores seem to have forgotten that most of the customers are not thieves and the rest of us should not be burdened with the rather futile attempts to stop thieves by labeling all customers as suspected thieves before they start shopping.

Subway Restaurants
Another franchise and I can honestly say I have no gripes with the food or service from any of the stores I have visited except one in particular who has royally pissed me off! I work the Mid-Night shift and often decide to pick-up some supper along the way to work so I was thrilled to learn this particular Subway in Kanata (700 March Rd.) was open until 11:00pm Monday to Thursday and 1:00am Friday to Saturday, or at least that's what the hours on the door kept telling me. You see I arrived once at 10:35pm to find the store closed, So I tried again the following week at 10:20pm and again the store was closed. So I tried again the next week again on a Friday and it was open so I asked about the early closing and was told when it's not busy enough the manager tells them to close early. A week later I stop at 10:10pm and the store is closed but I see the employee so I knock on the glass and sign to him that the store should be open, he opens the door a crack to tell me the manager told him to close, I explain the hours clearly state you are open to 11:00pm and that I know it's not his fault but the manager should change the hours or stay open. I leave upset vowing to complain but by the time I leave in the morning and get some sleep it has become a distant memory so I do nothing. Now here I am working overtime one saturday and decide a Sub would be nice, it's only 11:20pm and they are supposed to be open until 1:00am so I should find the store open, no-one in their right mind would close the store that early right. $#%&^* I arrive at 11:30pm to a closed store I notice a large rock nearby and it takes me a while to calm down enough to not throw it through the window. I returned to work and called PizzaPizza at least they are open until 2:00am and I've never had them them tell me they are closed due to lack of business.

Canadian Tire
I headed with my daughter to the tool aisle to purchase a cordless screwdriver, I located the one I wanted but it was locked in a cabinet so I flagged down the clerk and asked to have it removed for me to purchase. He removes it and starts walking towards a cashier I explain that I have other items to get and would not be heading to cashier just yet, the clerk smiles and say's "I'll put it back and when your 're finished come back". Wait I'm supposed to waste time hunting you down later over a $39.99 cordless screwdriver? The clerk replied it was store policy, so I quickly told him where he could put his store policy and left the store. I managed to purchase the same cordless screwdriver with no hassles from the Loblaws store around the corner and I did not have to bother anyone and they actually let me walk around with it for the entire time I was shopping in the store, Imagine that.

Staples Business Depot
I was looking for a new chair for my desk at the Staples on Ogilvie Rd. and found the perfect chair but I remembered that I needed to replace the stock 2" nylon wheels for 2.5" polyurethane as to not damage the wood floor. I located the wheels but noticed only three were in stock and I would need five per chair so ten wheels in total. I located a clerk and asked if they had some in stock he replied with my favorite line "all we have in stock is out on the floor". Now I had fallen for the I'll check the computer for stock at another store trap only to find out the computer was wrong and the item was not in stock, so I asked if he could call the store in Orleans and verify they had the wheels in stock. The clerk disappears for a good 5-8 minutes and returns to tell me they have over 20 in stock. I arrive 20 minutes later at the other Staples store and ask the clerk where the wheels are located, hmm we don't have any in stock he replies. I explain I was at another store and they called to confirm they were in stock, he replies he was working in the department all afternoon and never received any call about having the wheels in stock, then he adds "let me guess it was the Gloucester store that said they called?" How did you know I ventured, it's not the first time a customer has arrived looking for an item that was supposed to be in stock from that store. The clerk offered to have the Chair and wheels delivered to my home in three days at no charge and threw in a $10 discount for my trouble. Bonus points for the Orleans store and obviously the only staples I will be shopping at.

On a side note my wife often needs copies and goes to Staples but her work has a business account at Grand & Toy, when my wife complained about poor service (again the Gloucester Staples) the clerk told her she should get a Business account with Staples it would give her priority over regular customers. Obviously this explains a lot, the individual customer is not worth the same as the business customer in the eyes of this store.

Future Shop
The weakest part of the customer experience at this electronic superstore is the sales staff and I have countless stories related to just how bad and clueless the staff is but these two stories will certainly provide a nice glimpse of what you can expect. I will say that I have spoken with some very knowledgeable staff, I also understand that I shop at futureshop for the price and not for the advice of the staff.

This particular story took place quite a few years back but shows you need to do your homework before accepting staff advice. I was looking around the Computer products and a conversation between the clerk and a customer caught my attention. The clerk was recommending a modem to this customer for use in his laptop and explained it was tricky to set-up and install and that he could perform the install. The customer nodded in agreement as the conversation continued and they headed towards the cash. The problem was that the customer was heading to the cash with an ISA modem for a PC when he needed a modem for his laptop!

I recently decided that since I had three PC's that supported the newer Gigabit (1000Mps) network tranfer speed it would be a great to get the fastest transfer between computers, but I would need to invest in a Gigabit capable router. Off I go to Staples and although I had no luck with a router they did have a Gigabit switch, close but not what I wanted so lets try Future Shop. I wait in the Network aisle for a clerk to wander over and eventually a clerk asks if i need help. I reply I'm looking for Gigabit capable router, I get a funny look and he says they don't have any so I press him a little, all your new HP PC's come with Gigabit cards so it stands to reason someone should make a router for them. After a pause he says he'll check with a more knowledgeable computer staff member, after a few minutes he says Future Shop has no Gigabit routers. Later that night I decide to check on the internet if anyone is making a Gigabit router, the first hit takes me to D-Link and the amazing DGL-4300 which has 4 Gigabit Ethernet Ports. My next search is to see if anyone in the Ottawa area stocks the Dlink DGL-4300, you'll never guess where I end up? On Future Shop's website! So I use the 'check store stock' feature and the Gloucester Future Shop (where I was told Gigabit routers don't exist) has them in stock!

Can you believe I have been getting the newest DVD's every Tuesday when they are released for over 10 years (that's what happens when you used to work for a video store). I had been dealing with a wonderful video store called Videoflicks and the owner always set aside the newest releases for me on Tuesday and I always rented 2 or 3. I never had to call she always had them aside for me. But she sold the store to new management and the new owners in their infinite wisdom decided it would be better to only reserve movies on the day you wanted it by calling the store the day you wanted the movie reserved, supposedly to allow fair access to the new movies. Fine I still went every tuesday and 80% of the time I found the ones I wanted without having to reserve them. After a few more weeks I guess everyone was wise to the new scheme and it became harder to grab the movies I wanted and since I had to call the next day to reserve it for myself rather than simply reserving it while I was there for the next day I started renting from Rogers Video. Alas the store I had been loyal to over 10 years lost me as a customer. I figure I rent at least $600 worth of movies a year so over 10 years that's $6,000 (not accounting for inflation) of revenue lost because of a stupid reservation system.

Update August 16th 2007
Looks like Movieland has packed up and gone home, the last time I drove by the location it had been emptied and no other tenant has taken the spot yet.

Final Words
This list represents a small example of the lack of Customer Service and the sad trend towards assuming all the customers are possible thieves and should be treated as such. I'm fairly positive the real thieves circumvent these measures with ease bringing me back to my point the stores should invest into real security that is invisible to the customer. I know myself and many others are tired of the 'beep'ing sensor system and ridiculous tags that poke holes into the material of the garments.

If you would like to share some of your experiences I will be pleased to start adding your accounts to my list of shame in the hopes someone will read them and understand that many silent customers are lost because not everyone has the time, patience or resources to bother with a complaint. Let's send a clear message to those who should be very worried about where we spend our dollars, you can contact me about this article by clicking Here




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