Tuesday, December 06, 2005

 

In Which A Door Closes, But A Window Opens...



So this morning, while I'm having my cup of coffee and staring sullenly at the crack that continues to insist on existing in my brand-new window, the phone rings. And it's Les, the manager of the store from which I ordered the window. I had left him a voicemail yesterday and, miracle of miracles, he's called me back!

I consider this a good omen.

I will turn out to be wrong. Sort of.

Summoning what few reserves I have left of my jocular hail-fellow-well-met tone, I explain--for the third time--what happened to my window.

Les: You know what, Mr. M? You really need to talk to the manager of our Custom Window and Door department. We have pretty clear policies about special order items that he can--

MM: Les, I had three conversations with Frank yesterday. I'm sure he's very good at his job, but he was not able to help me in my situation. In fact, he implied that I broke the window myself and was lying to you guys about it, which I find insulting.

Les: Well, Mr. M, as I said, we have pretty strict policies about special order items, and since we can't verify that the window was correctly installed, we can't assume responsibility for the damage.

MM (no longer jocular): Yes, I'm beginning to see that assuming any kind of responsibility is a real problem for your management team. Frank wouldn't even send someone out to look at the window. I had to volunteer to bring the frame in, at which time he said you guys would pay for the replacement glass if I paid for the labor.

Les: What?

MM: Frank offered to split the cost of replacing the glass, but I don’t think--

Les: No, no, no...

MM: Excuse me?

Les: No we don't do that. If we paid for every mistake our customers made, we'd be out of business. We can fix the window for you, but you'll have to assume that cost.

MM: I'm sorry, but are you also accusing me of lying and furthermore reversing the decision of one of your managers?

Les (coldly): Yes, that's what I'm doing.

MM: Well, forget paying for mistakes. If this is how you treat your customers, you're definitely going to put yourselves out of business.

Les: Look, we have a very clear policy about special order items and--

MM: Forgive me, but you failed to deliver the special item I ordered. I'm not paying one cent more for it. I'm asking you, one last time, as nicely as I can, to please do the right thing and fix it.

Les: No.

MM: All right then. Les, can you spell your last name for me? I have Frank's and Dick's and just want to make sure I have your name correct when I write my letter of complaint to the regional manager.

Les (spelling last name): And you go ahead and write your letter. You have yourself a good day sir.

(hangs up)


I had a second cup of coffee and stewed for a bit. I had the name and address of the regional manager--got it off the Web site. I also had the name of the VP of customer relations at the headquarters of the company. But this wasn't going to get my window fixed.

Her Lovely Self came downstairs with a face as sour as mine. "No luck?" I told her what happened. She was most upset about the manager canceling the offer to split the repair with me.

"I guess we should have taken the other guy up on it when we had the chance," she said.

"No way!" I said, banging my coffee cup on the table. "We shouldn't have to pay any more money for this thing. I can't believe this is how they treat customers. And the manufacturer wouldn't even consider repairing--"

"What?" HLS asked.

"I'm just wondering..." I said, and then hopped on the computer.

(You guys hate it when I leave you with cliffhangers? Imagine being married to me and having half my statements end in dots of ellipsis like that.)

I had the name of the window manufacturer from the blue work order sheet I'd been given when the window was delivered. I pulled up their Web site and saw that they had one headquarters and five regional distribution centers, including a big one just across the river, like Frank said. I found the address and Mapquested some directions.

I called work and said I'd be a little late.

It was pretty cold out, so I clambered into my snow pants, plus about three sweatshirts and a work coat. I went downstairs and cranked open the cracked pane. Carefully, I slid the runner mechanism off its track and popped the two rivets that held the window frame in place. Her Lovely Self watched me as I loaded the frame into my car.

"You're going to the store, even after what they told you?"

"Not the store," I replied, when I came back in and covered the open window frame with Styrofoam insulation. "I'm going to the manufacturer."

HLS shook her head. "Can't you call them first?"

Now it was my turn to shake my head. I was thinking of my mother now, a Jedi Master of successful bitching to get her way. She rarely called people to resolve complaints. She simply showed up in their office or store. When I was little, I remember going with her. Most especially, I remembered her motto. "Anyone can say no to a voice, honey," she'd tell me. "But a warm body standing right in front of you, staring you straight in the eye...well, that's another story. A warm body always gets results."

The drive to the manufacturer's warehouse took the better part of an hour. It was a small industrial building, all corrugated sheet metal and delivery-bay doors. But at the very end was a small door with the faded words "Sales and Service" over it. I parked there and carried my window in. When I stepped in, still wearing my mud-crusted snow pants and tattered work jacket, about 8 to 10 guys, more or less dressed just like me, stopped what they were doing, and looked up.

I was standing at the edge of a bay filled with row upon row of windows and window parts. Nearest to me was a long assembly table where the crew evidently did the custom work. To my left was a small office where two men were sitting at battered desks, impaling blue work orders--identical to the one I had in my pocket--on weighted spikes on their desks. I opened the door and stepped in.

Both men looked at my window frame, then at me. "Something we can do for you?" the one nearest me asked.

I nodded, doing my level best to control my impatience at this point, knowing as I did that I would now have to tell this story a fourth time. But I was dealing with a different sort of fellow now. Despite what they were currently doing, these guys weren't desk jockeys. They were skilled laborers, no-nonsense blue-collar folks just like my family, just like my Dad and the men he worked with. This was no place for the jocular white-collar glad-handling I'd been using. These men deserved something more. Something better. Plain talk and respect.

I set the window down and, offering my hand, introduced myself to both men. "Which of you fellas deals with Frank from the Really Big Home Improvement Store when they place a special order?"

The lanky fellow furthest from the door--he'd introduced himself as Pete--smiled. "That'd be me. I handle custom orders for them." He glanced at my frame, brows knitting. "Looks like you had a problem with one."

"Yessir," I said, explaining exactly what happened. This time, I added a coda. "Listen, my dad works in construction and I've installed windows with him before. I made sure this thing was square and level before I ever opened it. I never dropped it or whacked it."

Pete put up his hand. "We'll take a look at it. Hell, we get panes with flaws in em now and then. Shit happens, you know? And anyways, I don't guess a fella would come out all this way just to get a hundred bucks worth of window unless he was telling the truth."

"Well, I appreciate that," I said. "Frank said when he called you yesterday, you didn't think you could do anything for me. I was hoping if I showed you the damage, you might change your mind."

Pete looked quizzically at me. "Frank never called. Haven't spoken to Frank in...well, probably since he ordered that window." He looked over at Dave, the man at the other desk.

Dave shook his head. "I never got a call nor a message. Yesterday, you said?"

I nodded, thinking, that lying bastard never called.

Pete unfolded himself from his chair and stood, a wiry man in a plaid shirt and coveralls. He picked up the pane I'd brought and looked it over. "Oh hell, yes," he said after a moment. "This is some kind of crack, I guess, but looks like a flaw to me. I can't see how you'd be able to break one pane without damaging the other."

Dave was up now and looking over his shoulder. "Let's see the lot number off the corner of the glass," he said, peering at a little stamp I hadn't noticed before. "Yep," he said. "That's from the lot we had to ship back." He looked at me. "We had a few come in with cracks and the like. We sent em all back, but I guess this one got mixed in. I do apologize for your trouble. Frank should have called us. We'd have sent someone to get it and fix it for you."

I smiled. "That's all I really wanted. The window's great. I just needed the pane fixed."

Pete nodded. "Well, we're a small crew here, and the custom team got a pretty big job--we get swamped on the holidays too. But we'll fix her for you."

I thanked them both nicely. "That's great. So, when it's done, can you ship it directly to me, or will I have to go pick it up at the Really Big Home Improvement Store?"

Pete chuckled and looked at his watch. "Well, sir, can you stand to wait 10 minutes?"

"Ten minutes?!?" I cried. "Yeah, yes, of course. That would be great! If you're sure it won't jam you up."

"Naw," Pete shrugged. "Won't put the fellas too far behind on their quota today. You have a seat here, or over in the break room--" he pointed to a cubicle across the bay where some vending machines sat "--and we'll get you taken care of quick as a wink."

I thanked Pete again as he left to give the frame to the custom guys. I didn't want to disturb Dave in his invoicing, so I excused myself and told him I was going to take a quick jaunt down the street and grab a cup of coffee.

When I came back 15 minutes later carrying a cardboard box from the store I'd been to, my window, brand-new and utterly flawless, stood against the wall just outside the office. Pete, Dave and three guys I took to be the custom order crew, were in the break room, taking their morning 15 minutes.

"You're all set!" Pete cried when he saw me. "Sorry you got the runaround at the Really Big Home Improvement Store. Next time, you just call us first."

Dave looked at me. "You need one of us to lug it to your car for you?" he asked.

"No sir, thank you," I said. "You guys have done more than enough." I paused. "Only problem is, I can't get the window in the back of the car because this box was in the way. Maybe you guys won't mind if I leave it here." With that, I plopped the box on the table and everyone heard the telltale clinking of bottles.

Pete opened the cardboard box with great ceremony and saw the Sam Adams Holiday Sampler case I had brought. He sucked air through his teeth, then grinned. "Yup. I suppose we can get rid of this for you." All up and down the lunch table there was a round of appreciative hell, yeahs. And with a round of handshakes and Merry Christmases, I was back in the car and headed across the river.

I swung by the Magazine Mansion. Her Lovely Self and the Brownie were gone. Thomas was still at school. So I slipped downstairs, slid the window back on its runner, popped the rivets back in and closed it. Boy, would HLS be surprised when she came home.

A little after lunch, I finally made it to the office, which is where I am now. I've written two letters. One is to the president of the window company, praising his managers and crew at a certain satellite facility for treating a walk-in customer with a kindness, professionalism and speed I had never before experienced. It was a pretty standard gushing letter.

The other one, well, I thought you might like to take a look at it:


December 6, 2005

B. Kahuna
President, COO
Really Big Home Improvement Store
Somewhere in the South,
USA

Dear Mr. Kahuna,

Enclosed please find the assorted pieces of my Really Big Home Improvement Store credit card, which I have canceled, effective today. After my recent treatment at the hands of your management team at my local store (Number 321), I will not be needing your card again.

On November 4, I placed a special order for a custom window through Dick Tweezer of your Window and Door department (see attached copy of order sheet and invoice). I received the window one month later. It fit perfectly in the space in my home for which it was intended and installation required minimal effort on my part. However, not long after the installation was complete, I discovered that a crack had spontaneously appeared in the interior pane on the right-hand frame. Having installed windows before, I had ensured that this window was square and level in all respects. Since there was no undue stress on the frame that might cause the glass to crack, I was forced to conclude that this single pane had a heretofore unseen flaw.

When I contacted your store on Monday to inquire about replacing the faulty pane, both Dick, and Window and Door department manager Frank Mirken responded in a way I can only describe as unprofessional, certainly not in line with my otherwise positive experiences in 10 years of giving your company my business. On the basis of no evidence whatsoever, both men implied that I had damaged the window myself. Instead of working with me to come to a mutually satisfactory arrangement, Frank was contentious and rude, frequently interrupting me in the middle of conversation.

At length, Frank did make some effort on my behalf. He claimed to have contacted the manufacturer of the window to see if they would fix the frame gratis, but informed me that the manufacturer refused. Instead, Frank offered a compromise: if I brought in the frame with the broken glass, the company would provide a new pane, but I would have to pay for the labor to install it. As I had already paid nearly $470 for this window and had every right to expect it to be in perfect working condition, I was reluctant to pay any more, especially to fix a flaw that was not of my making. When I asked Frank to connect me to the store manager to discuss the matter, he unceremoniously hung up on me.

This morning, I spoke with Les Bulge, the store manager, and explained my situation yet again. And yet again, he leapt to the erroneous conclusion that the cracked pane was my fault. Furthermore, he rescinded the compromise offer to repair the window, which Frank had made the day earlier. While it's unfortunate that Les felt compelled to impugn my honesty in the matter, I find it particularly regrettable that he incapable of supporting the decisions of his own team leaders.

But in Frank's case, perhaps Les's lack of confidence is justified. Since your management team ultimately refused to address my concerns in any way, I decided to contact the window manufacturer myself; the very manufacturer Frank claimed to have contacted only to be told the company would not replace the faulty pane. However, it seems clear to me that Frank never contacted the manufacturer. I personally visited the manufacturer's offices this morning and none of the staffers--in particular Mr. Pete Moss, the liaison to your store--received any such call from Frank.

Indeed, if Frank HAD called, he would learned what I myself discovered: that the staff at the window manufacturing plant were more than willing to replace the broken pane at no additional cost. They did this great dispatch. They also confirmed for me that the broken pane was in fact flawed and broken through no fault of my own. If you contact Pete at his office (number here) he will be happy to confirm this fact for you. These men were the very model of professional courtesy and integrity, which is frankly more than I can say for your team leaders at Store #321.

Mr. Kahuna, I realize your company exists as a commercial enterprise, and as a rule does not give its materials and services away for free. But I do feel that the failure of your management team to provide me with a fair solution to fix the flawed product they sold is unacceptable, and frankly detrimental to your business. Instead of keeping a faithful customer who has spent tens of thousands of dollars at your stores over the years, the ineptitude of your team has made a former customer of me. The $470 I spent on that flawed window is the last money you will see from me.

Indeed, you may find this transaction will cost you far more than that amount in the long run. I have already shared my story with neighbors--many of whom are planning home improvement projects in the spring--as well as with coworkers. Specifically, as a magazine editor, I work with several studio photographers who often purchase building supplies from Store #321 in order to fabricate sets that we require for assorted photo shoots. I have made it clear to studio managers that until further notice I will not approve reimbursement on any materials purchased from your store.

I have also taken the liberty of sharing this letter with a few select colleagues in the media: the business columnist for the Big City Newspaper who, as I'm sure you're aware, has a reputation for revealing the failings of many super-store retailers, including yourself. I have also shared my experience in the form of a testimonial with the vice president of public relations for your primary competitor, the Other Really Big Home Improvement Store.

Of course, in future recountings of my story, I’d prefer to tell people that, in the end, your company did right by a faithful customer, perhaps by recompensing him for the personal time and effort he was forced to expend to fix a problem your store should have addressed from the outset. At the very least, I should think an apology is in order from the managers at Store #321, who wrongly accused me of lying and attempting to defraud your company. But only you can make that happen.

Until then, I am hurt and disappointed and will not be so good a friend to your company in the future.

I just thought you should know.

Sincerely,

The Magazine Man

cc: VP Customer Relations
cc: Regional Manager



Probably nothing will come of the letter. But by God I got my free replacement pane of glass. And my window is officially installed.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to work so I can leave a little early and go to the Other Really Big Home Improvement Store. I've got wood to get and an indoor greenhouse to build.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Comments:
Thanks for providing a blueprint on how to deal with very unsatisfactory service. I do hope to never need to use your script however!
 
This is awesome. I have never been one to take bad service lying down, but for me, it generally involves phone calls, then letters. I have rarely gone to the store, or the manufacturer in person. It is somewhat more challenging, when most of the products are shipped from Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, etc. Regardless, I think this is great, and I hope to be able to bolster the courage to visit these manufacturers in person, should the need arise.
 
Man, that's the ending I wanted to my story. Nice work. I love the Sam Adams reward!
 
GO MM!!!!!!

some people are just plain mean and cranky....
 
I've been hearing too many stories of late with flaws that appear unexpectedly on products that people are unable to get replaced under warranty and the like. All seem to hinge on the company thinking it's the consumer's fault.

Accusing customers of lying is horrendous customer service (if it could even be called service).

I'm very glad you were able to work it out at the manufacturers.
 
That was freaking awesome!

Mad props to the window manufacturers :)
 
Three cheers for MM! Hip hooray, hip hooray, hip hooray! I love it when people to stand up to big businesses. Will you let us know if you get a reply?
 
I loved Dick Tweezer's faux name.

--b
 
Well, if the Big Kahuna DOES read your letter, I hope he'll be rather dismayed. Wish you could share with us all WHICH really big improvement store it was...I miss the small family owned hardware stores, although there are still a few of them around.
 
Oh, BRAVO! ::thunderous applause::
 
Jesus Christ—what's all this for the last three days? Have I accidentally clicked over to Lileks?
 
For some strange reasons, I tend to have to do that with every piece of furniture, house fixture and carpentar that I use.

Its as if they are all out to get me or something. I just want the things that I buy be the things that I paid for.

Is that so hard to ask?

Apparently it is.
 
Awesome story.

However, I don't understand why you seem so reluctant to tell us the name of the store. It seems to have enough brances that it won't affect your anonimity, and I for one would like a warning so I don't run the risk of giving them money.
 
Hip Hip Hurrah! Well done MM- well done! Once again I wish I could be a fly on the wall watching you do your stuff- I have taken note how ever and will proceed accordingly...
 
Standing "O" and congrats on your fixed window. I love a happy ending.
 
Let us not forget the Jedi Master's sage advice; "Anyone can say no to a voice, honey," she'd tell me. "But a warm body standing right in front of you, staring you straight in the eye...well, that's another story. A warm body always gets results."
Crazy mad gene pool MM ...good on ya
 
First, "Dick Tweezer"...!!1! My computer is glad that I was sans liquid when I read that, as she would have gotten sprayed for sure. I need to teach my thirteen year-old that one!

Second, doesn't Frank Mirken spell his last name Merkin? 'Cause I know I've dealt with him before at his previous jobs, working for MegaAirlines, SuperDuperElectronicsHut, and SpasticallyInsaneGiantTelCo.

Third, would you be willing to share with us the name of the window manufacturer, as I would be glad to give them my business (assuming I could buy them from another non-asshat-Really Big Home Improvement Store.

D, oh, sorry, I meant Fourth, Bravo on the tangible reward/recompense to the window crafters. That is the sort of action that will lead to World Peace. You may be the 100th Monkey.
 
In my best Cameron Frye voice...

"Magazine Man, you're my hero!"

Except, unlike Cam, I really mean it. This is incredible.
 
OHhhhhhh SNAP! You rock my world, MM. Can you take care of a few rude Bostonians for me, too? I'll give you my number...we'll talk. :)
 
Oh YEEAAHHH! That story made my day, I was so hoping the good guy would win this one! You are the MAN, Magazine Man!

I love the warm body advice.
 
MM,
It was great to read this post today aftern having spent over an hour on the phone with Kodak today. They will not honor my warranty. I say warranty, service agreements and the like aren't worth the paper they are printed on. If only the Kodak factory were here in town... well I'd give them a piece of my mind... alas I don't have much left to give of it.
 
Sharfa- Standing...O?

;>

(Sorry, I can't help myself...)
 
Indeed, the pen is mightier than crack, as truly demonstrated here. The case of Sam Adams was such a nice touch; it's these little things you do that makes you such an endearing character, person.

Right now, all my bucks are on you receiving an apology AND perhaps a refund for your troubles.

I'm a believer in the power of the written word, especially angry ones by an editor of a major magazine.
 
MM:

I can understand your reluctance to give out the name of the store, as you still hope (in vain, I'm afraid) that they'll come through in the end. However, I am with Stu; PLEASE give us the name of the manufacturer so that if we ever need to deal with someone in that line, we can give them some business and say that you sent us!
 
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