How not to respond to a customer complaint

Late last summer, a spate of unusually high winds tore a large limb off of a box elder tree in our backyard. An arborist said the poor tree should be taken down so I contacted some local tree services, settling on one that had been advertising heavily on local radio and about whom I had heard good things from friends.

Long story short, the guy in charge of the crew that came to take down our tree was unsatisfactory. When he and the workers showed up, they had no idea what they were supposed to do and called me at work to find out. Flabbergasted, I said, “Ummm . . . take down the box elder and trim any branches on our other trees that may be too close to our electrical or phone lines?” Silence. I suggested he call the arborist/salesman who had given us the estimate on the job to get the full details. I got the impression this sounded like a new idea to him.

Anyway, the project was eventually completed and they did an adequate job, though this same crew chief seemed confused as to why we wanted him to come back and trim or tie off a length of insulated wiring that his crew left dangling over our neighbors’ yard. “It’s just an old phone company wire that isn’t attached to anything anymore,” he told me, as if that somehow made it invisible. Yeah, that may be, but it looks like a utility line to me, and it’s also low enough to the ground that our neighbors’ eight-year-old son could be tempted to grab it!

In the end, I chalked up our bummer to the company having simply hired the wrong crew chief. But then came my experience with their response to my complaint.

After the work was completed I received a copy of the invoice and a postcard on which I could make any comments and return to the company. In the narrow space provided, I reiterated my unsatisfactory experience with the crew chief and said it would make me think twice before using the company again.

Based on the commitment to quality service touted in their ads, I half-expected to receive a phone call from someone at the tree service in a week or so but no call ever came. About six weeks later, I finally received a letter from them.

First off, though the letter was addressed to me, the salutation was “Dear Mrs. Rydholm” (BTW, not even my lovely wife goes by Mrs. Rydholm). Not a good start. Granted, the letter did actually reflect familiarity with my service problem and an expression of resolve to stop it from happening again. But Amy, the “assistant customer care manager,” who was the ostensible sender of the letter, didn’t even bother to sign it, a point which was made even more obvious by the ample space between her “Best regards,” sign-off and her name, (painfully inaccurate) title and phone number.

What I found most laughable was the passage in which “Amy” said that the company strives for 100-percent customer satisfaction and that they take it “very seriously” when they fail to meet expectations.

That may be, but when you send out a response to a customer complaint six weeks after the fact, it doesn’t really seem like you’re taking it that seriously. And when you address me as Mrs. Rydholm, that’s another indication that you’re not paying attention. And when you can’t be bothered to take two seconds to sign your name, that’s the coup de grace.

So, the lessons here are: Don’t tout your commitment to service if you can’t deliver on that promise. Don’t ask for customer feedback if you don’t plan to respond to that feedback promptly. And don’t bother labeling employees things like “assistant customer care manager” unless you plan to train them to live up to their job titles.

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