Not a Cautionary Tale, but a lesson (in customer service)

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That plastic is thick and it is shattered.

I’m never shy about taking firms to task for their failures at customer service. Imagine how pleased I am to praise a corporation, Do-It Best Hardware, for Doing-It-Best. (Pun intended.)

In the back corner of my yard, the previous homeowner built a one-car detached garage. I was told he had an early 60s Corvette. It is now my gym, all McGyvered-out with a home-made squat rack, deadlift platform, and rubber gym matting.

Being a garage, it is not entirely sealed to the elements. The eaves have squirrel access. As squirrels are not noted for their personal hygiene, at every season’s change, I spray the walls and floor mats with a bleach solution.

Which leads us to our lesson in customer service for the day.

I mixed the bleach (5 TB/gallon of water) in a garden sprayer I’ve owned for a year. Heavy-duty polypropylene, it’s made and distributed by Do-It Best Hardware. I purchased it at my local, Gil-Roy Hardware. The sprayer had always worked well. Until it didn’t.

I put on my half-face woodworking respirator, some eyewear, and pumped the sprayer up to pressure. Setting the sprayer down in the middle of the mats, I begin to spray the bleach water around the perimeter. As I turned to spray into a corner, the 2 ½ gallon reservoir exploded.

Yes, it exploded. It sprayed bleach water across a 12 foot diameter. It sprayed bleach water up into the rafters. It sprayed the back of my workpants and boots. It broke into 4 or 5 larger pieces and several smaller ones. The bottom edge of the now-shattered sprayer reservoir looked like the bottom hem of Wilma Flintstone’s dress.

I went momentarily deaf; the buzzing was overwhelming. My neighbor later told me he thought a utility pole transformer had blown up. My wife came racing out, phone in hand and ready to call 9–1–1, no idea what had happened but reasonably certain it was bad.

Somehow, I was fine. I was thankful that mere happenstance had me standing with my back to the sprayer.

Heading into the house to calm my nerves, four thoughts ran through my mind in quick succession.

1) “damn, that was a close call. Never thought a sprayer would fricking explode like a goddam bomb. Man, if I’da been facing that thing, I’d be waiting for an ambulance.”

2) “If I’da been facing that thing, that’d be a multi-million dollar lawsuit.”

3) “Eyesight is worth a Helluva lot more than a couple million bucks.”

4) “Beer. I want a beer.”

I steadied my nerves, took my phone out to the gym, and took a couple of photos. I tweeted the circumstances to Do-It Best. Within the hour, I received an email address and contact name. I sent them the following.

I’ve been on Twitter with you about my exploded sprayer. I bought it from a Gil-Roy’s store in Flint, MI on Corunna Rd. I’d like to upgrade to a metal sprayer. This one was stored inside, no UV degradation possible, and that explosion has scared me away from PE forever. If that had been in front of me, I’d be blind. If it contained anything other than a 2% bleach water solution, I’d be in the hospital. You can see the spray pattern. It traveled over 12 feet.

By evening, I received the following:

Thanks for reaching out and sending pics. I’ll work with our Merchandising and Customer Service departments to make sure you’re taken care of. Stay tuned.

Now, I’m no fool. I know the CSR ran this past legal.

“Do we have any liability here? Can he sue us? If we send him a new one, are we admitting liability?”

Other than the sprayer, I had no damages. My clothes were fine. My gym was fine. Most importantly, I was fine. I’m not the sort to file a (relatively) frivolous lawsuit to get a few bucks. Now, If I’d had injuries, my attorney would have gotten a call before I made any contact with Do-It Best. But I was lucky. I got away without a scratch.

Next email.

Mr. Stanley, Do you have a UPC, a model number, anything? We need to track these things.”

I did not. I sent them a photo of the logo.

Next email.

Mr. Stanley, Merchandising will be sending you a replacement sprayer, stainless steel, as you requested. We’re thankful you’re okay. If you don’t receive it in the next 3–5 business days, please let me know.

The sprayer arrived on November 11, less than ten days from my first contact with customer service. We had a few other emails in between: my address, a couple other minor questions, but short of sending along a $10,000.00 check for my troubles along with the new sprayer, I can’t imagine how they could have handled it better.

They responded to my tweets within one hour on a weekend. They responded to my emails within 12 hours. They communicated regularly with me throughout the process.

We’ve all had that, yes? You initiate conversation, they respond, and that’s the last you hear for the next 5 days, until you email them again and they respond “Oh, I’m sorry, everything has been so crazy-busy around here…”

No blaming behavior or finger-pointing from Do-It Best.

We’ve all had that, too, yes? Did you do XYZ? Did you do this wrong? Did you read the manual? Did you? Did you? Did you?

A consistent tone of “This is YOUR fault.”

When the sprayer arrived, I emailed my contact. She expressed her firm’s thanks at my patience, and hoped the new product would serve me well.

Two days later, a follow-up email, restating the prior communication..

Most customers are not assholes. A few are; there are people whose only joy in life is being angry and unhappy, but most people understand that shit indeed does happen. As long as you, the company, do everything possible on a timely basis to solve that problem, most people will be happy to work with you.

To continue to buy from you.

Most importantly, they will tell their friends that you are the sort of firm with whom they should do business.

These are not big asks on either side.

Mx. Customer, the company, most likely, isn’t trying to screw you over. CSRs, in this Covid era, are overworked, and working from home. Be reasonable in your demands and time frames.

Mx. Company, the customer, most likely, didn’t break or misuse your product on purpose. As a company, don’t act like a dick.

I was not happy when my sprayer exploded. I was also scared. When I first reached out, I was ready to go to war. Thanks to quick response times (the first battle in every customer service battle), I was quickly defused.

This is customer service, in a nutshell. Respond promptly. Don’t point fingers. Own the problem. Tell the customer how you’re going to solve the problem. Keep them in the problem-solving loop. Be grateful for their continued business.

Simple? You bet.

96% of customers won’t complain to you that they are displeased. They will, however, tell 15–20 friends that they were poorly treated.

You handle your customer service issues properly, and you can flip those numbers on their head.

I had a problem with a Do-It Best product. They managed the issue. And here I am, telling my small corner of the world that they should do business with Do-It Best.

You can’t buy that kind of advertising for any amount of dollars.

We’re in this together. I’m rooting for both sides, rooting hard.

Like what you’ve read? Give it a few claps, toss me a follow? Thanks.

Check back each Tuesday until the New Year for a new business post.

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