How May I Help You?

July 7, 2010

I think the most memorable part of vacations is usually when things go wrong.

Seriously.  You make plans to take a trip.  You come home with a bunch of pictures that people politely look at.  But it’s when something goes really wrong that you have a great story to tell people.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were on vacation, and while we were in the middle of nowhere, we had two flat tires.  At the same time.  They’re shredded.  And the state we were in had shockingly few gas stations.  Oh, and we’re in a car from National car rental, so that’s fun too. 

I braced myself and put on my “please-for-the-love-of-God-help-me” voice to make what I was sure would be a pain and numbness inducing call to the car rental hotline.  I hate talking to customer service reps.  Sure enough, we were six hours away from their nearest rental office.  This was going to be a disaster.

Then something funny happened.  I realized the girl on the hotline was being really compassionate toward me.  She was typing away on her computer for a long time and then told me she had reserved a new car for me at a competitor’s office.  A tow truck picked me up a while later.  And the girl at the competitor’s rental office ended up staying at work two hours past closing time to be there when I arrived for my new car.  Wow.

I’m not usually pleasantly surprised by customer service.  Usually, I’d rather be waterboarded than call an 800 number.  But every once in a while, I’m surprised that I haven’t been insulted by a massive corporation.

I’d like to write a whole post about all the surprisingly great customer service I’ve recieved.  But I just don’t have enough stories.  But I have plenty of these…

My Six Worst Places for Customer Service


Most cell phone shops seem the same.  They’re basically staffed by high schoolers who somehow don’t know a thing about cell phones, but even this stood out.  After a few months with Verizon, I started getting bills for another customer.  Except this other customer appeared to have the same address and phone number as mine.  Odd, I thought.  I spent hours sitting in the Verizon office while a low level clerk pretended to be “Encyclopedia Brown,” attempting to solve the mystery.  She was convinced this was a textbook case of “cell phone bill fraud” (though I doubt that really is in a textbook.)  Turned out, another employee assigned another new customer my phone number.  Case closed.


Black Friday Christmas shopping is great.  A couple of years ago, my wife and I were looking for a record player.  I found one on Target’s website, which was, amazingly on sale for $25 off.  But it’s “in store only.”  Still, it’s two days before Black Friday, and I can waltz into the store and get a great deal without all the crowds.  I went to the store, and it’s there, but at the full price.  I asked a manager about this, who says the online prices don’t apply to the store, and she cannot honor the online price.  Wrap your brain around that one. 

I offered the brilliant rebuttal that the website says “in store only.”  She didn’t let up and I didn’t get the sale price.  I went to a different Target to try again with a different manager.  This one actually knew what she was talking about and says the website was updated early, and my item would be on sale for Black Friday.  I guess Mr. Manager was just too busy to be bothered with knowing what their store’s sales were going to be for the biggest shopping day of the year.

Hobby Lobby

Does anyone actually work at Hobby Lobby?  Because I can never find one single person.  This store is like an endless forest maze of fake flowers and googly eyes.  At least when I go to Home Depot, I can find an employee who will give me that look of revulsion that tells me I don’t belong there, and then tell me where to find the puff paint.


I can’t name any particular thing I don’t like about K-Mart, except for the profound sense of unmitigated dread and anxiety I get from stepping into a store.  Every employee seems morbidly depressed, like they’re having a blue light special on puppy funerals.  Sure, they never have the one thing I want, and even Raymond Babbit knows K-Mart sucks.  But I almost feel guilty for walking out without buying anything out of pity.  It’s like seeing a handicapped child and his adorable three-legged dog sitting at a lemonade stand, raising money so he can take his terminally ill cousin to Disneyland.  How could you not buy any lemonade, you jerk?

But if there’s one thing I don’t like, it’s being guilted into buying stuff, so K-Mart, you’re on the list.


We have a Sears near our home, but there’s something fishy about it.  I know the store used to be a K-Mart.  I know K-Mart is a very depressing store.  And there is something oddly ominous about our Sears.  It’s as if they just changed the signs and the employees turned their shirts inside-out to conceal the “K-Mart” logos.  It still never has anything I want.  They didn’t even bother to set up their outdoor stuff this year.   The employees are at least trying by offering free popcorn to customers, but even that seems depressing.


I like my Dell laptop.  But a while ago, it completely froze up for the first time.  No combination of button presses would unfreeze it.  So for some reason I can’t quite understand, I called tech support.  A woman answered, and from her extraorinarily poor grammar, I surmised that she had not yet completed her community college English class, and probably didn’t really know a single thing about tech support.  She proceeded to try to sell me a kit for $150, which would then enable me to “fix it myself.”  I hung up, and took the battery out of my laptop, thus unfreezing it.  That’s how I do it myself.

How’s your relationship with customer service?  What are your best / worst stories?

38 responses to How May I Help You?

  1. You’ve cited a whole lot of “big box” stores. The sort of places towns scramble and abate taxes to get. Then they give nothing but lousy jobs back to the community. I refuse to shop those sort of places for exactly the reasons you cite, they never can help me and won’t go a single extra step if it’s “not their job”.

    Also whenever I need donations for different activities, the big box stores never can do anything without a ream of paperwork to headquarters and a long delay. Then it winds up being a coupon at best.

    I think the straw was Target when I wanted a price adjustment on an item that I paid $30 for the day before. The hoops I had to go through, while holding the receipt, a copy of the ad and my credit card … not to mention the person at the electronics counter felt ABSOLUTELY no need to tell me, these will be on sale tomorrow… I was done.

  2. As soon as I read the phrase “Mr. Manager,” immediately I flash-backed to an episode of “Arrested Development.” Which, as we all know, will cure any lingering malevolent thoughts prompted by bad customer experience.

  3. I worked at Target but you would have only met me if you tried to walk out the door with that record player without paying for it. I was the undercover security guy.

    Customers should be right when the store has made a mistake… 100% of the time. Truthful negative word of mouth can effect their bottom-line.

  4. Ha! I’m surprised you didn’t put Walmart on the list.

    Verizon is the worst. When my wife and I first got married 3 years ago, I went into kiosk and they took her off her family plan to join mine. What they didn’t do was include the Verizon to Verizon minutes on her phone. So next month, the bill is 600 freaking dollars. I call, they read their script and I noticed that they don’t really want to help so they just repeat your bill back to you, giving you the impression that they have helped you. So I asked to talk to a supervisor (my friend works there so he told me that’s how you get what you want). 5 calls later and 3 supervisors later, they finally got it fixed and did a credit of the money. But did they give me a check? Of course not. They kept it and said, “You can only use this $ for future verizon purchases and/or bills.” Whatever. The next 5 months we didn’t have a verizon bill.
    Then one day, a lady from verizon called me and asked if I wanted to link the lan line to the cell phone bill. “Taco Hell No!” I said. The cell phone bill is confusing enough, I don’t want the home phone linked in with all that confusion.
    Course the only good thing, and I really do mean ONLY good thing I have going with them is when I worked at Circuit City, I bought a phone through them from verizon and I got a 20% discount on my bill. When I stopped working there, I still got the discount. Even better is when CC shut down, I still get the discount. It helps. But yeah, I share in your disdain with talking to verizon reps.

    • I’m convinced that every cell provider is awful, because they know we need their stupid service.

      And WalMart? I haven’t been personally offended by WalMart, even though our local store is particularly bad. It’s in a poor location, hard to get in and out of. The store is laid out in a dumb way, so you wander more than you should. Maybe the cameras at the front door erase your memories of poor customer service, because I just can’t remember.

      • Walmart on 15th St. in Joplin, Missouri is stinky. Okay the deli people are okay but the kid cashiers are SLOOOOOOOOOOOW. It takes at least 15 minutes to get through the line. One time it took me 40 minutes to get through the line. The cashier was just super slow.

        I think she was getting 1 item scanned every 10 seconds.

        Aldi is much better. Long lines but the cashier can get 5 people through in less than 10 minutes.

  5. How could you say Hobby Lobby? They’re owned by Christians!

    In high school I worked as a cashier at a Taco Bell, and in college as a courtesy booth clerk at an Albertson’s for almost 3 years, and I always strove to make sure customers got what they wanted within reason. You know, that whole Golden Rule thing.

    Since then? I literally cannot get good customer service to save my life. I’m literally on a 14-meal streak of wherever I go my order is messed up some kind of way, and I stopped going to Starbucks after I was never able to get my order (An unsweetened iced tea lemonade) completed correctly. One time I got a 12 ounce glass of their lemonade concentrate with extra syrup.

    I’m living proof that no good deed goes unpunished.

  6. Funny you should post this today, I will rant incessantly tomorrow about this stupid “ring bell if you received excellent customer service” bell at the grocery store. Every employee in the store drops what they’re doing to cheer for the cashier that got their bell rung. YAY FOR US! Whateva…

  7. Also? I was not aware that Home Depot sold puff paint. Good to know.

  8. Of course someone works at Hobby Lobby. She’s the one and only cashier they have to check out that long line of people over there.

    I was at K-Mart on Monday. (They do have stuff, but it takes work to figure out just what and to know when to buy it on sale, because their regular prices aren’t as great as their tacky decor would lead you to believe.) I was trapped in line behind someone who had a case of Gatorade that the register not only rang up at a ridiculously high price, it also refused to take the amount of her coupon off said price. It took 2 people 10 minutes of staring at the receipt and shaking their heads to figure out how to over-ride the register.

    Popcorn at Sears? It’s been years since I walked into a Sears and smelled popcorn. That was the only thing Sears ever had going for it – of course it made you less likely to buy anything because who wants to buy new stuff that smells like popcorn?

  9. Oh, Verizon. They have my money b/c they have the best service we can get for the price but oh…. how I hate trying to work anything out with them. We had Altell. After the switch, they would not let me upgrade my phone. Their system says I used my upgrade with them despite me not having even been their customer. My sister gave me her old phone. B/c it says Verizon on it, they do not count me as an old Altell customer and I am not eligible for any of their promotions to old Altell customers. But, b/c I AM an old Altell customer, they send me all of the ads and offers and then tell me no when I show up to cash in.


  10. Matt two things:

    1. Excellent post, the K-Mart/Sears part totally made my day, I almost woke up my baby sleeping on her room next to ours.

    2. Did you call the managers (or corporate offices) of those car-rental places and told them about the great customer service these two employees provided you with? I think it is very important that we customers also give them kudos when the opposite happens. Word will get down to those employees and they will really appreciate being recognized for their good job. Just a thought.

  11. As someone who has worked in customer service a lot as an adult, I share your frustration with BAD customer service.

    But please, please, please if you get someone who goes over and above, ALSO ask to speak to a manager. When you work in one of those massive cubicle farms for no cash, an extra 15 minute break or $2 perk is a huge boost. Especially when most manager calls are negative.

    • I am all for giving the manager a heads up when an employee helps me. I’m glad to know managers listen and pass the love on to the employee :-)

  12. Speaking of “fishy”, that’s what our Sears actually smells like. And the employees all could use some Prozac too. Maybe it’s the smell…?

  13. Wow – Verizon is at the top of the list. I’d use soup cans and fishing line before I’d use them again. They changed the plan so many times, but never the invoice price. I have Sprint now and I’m very happy with them. They have responded to just about everything but a missing rebate check, that took some doing, but they took it off the bill.

    Barclay’s Bank – They closed y account because of a transposed social security number. The other guy had a huge balance and made a payment plan. My balance was $0 – a payment plan on a zero balance – that should have been a sign.

    Citizen’s Bank – I am about to get on the phone with them now. I close a join account with my daughter because they whacked her for $300 in debit card over drafts in 2 days – they had held her paycheck for 5 business days. They actually didn’t close the account; just zeroed the balance and left it open. Today they are trying to collect more fees. No one at the branch level speaks English as a first language, and not even the manager can adjust anything. I’ll report back shortly.

    To be fair – I have had good treatment at my local Toyota dealer, Stop & Shop supermarkets, Sprint, AMEX, Home Depot, Toy-R-Us – better than most churches in the area.

  14. Oh – and a couple of tips.

    Most times you can only get to an employee’s manager, but not their manager. I often Google customer service and the name of the company. I found the VP of Barclay’s and made a few guesses at emails. IE: First Initial/Last Name. Bingo, my phone rang 10 minutes later!

    Some companies don’t have a published customer service numbers, like You can Google those – they’re out there.

  15. When I closed a credit card, I got the run around for the finance charges. Having worked at a bank, I knew they would eventually waive the fee. The first call sent me across the ocean to India. They said no from what I could understand. The second call got me a number for my third call. On the third call, I took a deep breath and readied myself for another battle. However, the person was nice. Put me hold and came back to the phone. With one punch of the button, erased the finance charge and closed the card. I left a message for her supervisor praising this woman’s compassion and friendliness.

  16. I get pretty good service from our Verizon in California. However, I don’t go to the store if I don’t have to, that can be frustrating and very time consuming. I learned a long time ago to call *611 and hit 0 and get a live person on the line. I have had great help doing it that way, and they make notes on your account that appear on the screen when you do have to go into the store. Just recently my husbands phone kept powering down on its own (bad battery) and they, if you can believe this, didn’t have any more spare batteries, so they gave him a new phone (seeing the phone conversation notes I had with the tech service). On another occasion, my sons phone kept dropping calls. I called *611, yada yada yada, new phone in the mail a day later. Gotta work the system!

  17. First of all, with all the talk of cellular service, I would like to say that I have AT&T Wireless, and they have always been awesome. Great people, great service.

    A couple years ago I had my home internet provided by AT&T (Yahoo). I was unable to get online, and my handy-dandy Dell troubleshooter told me it was my modem, which felt ridiculously hot. I tried the usual unplugging and waiting and replugging to no avail.

    I called their customer service number, and heard a recording saying that their lines were very busy, and I should try their website. If my modem was working, I would have. Really. Anyway, about half an hour later, my call was answered by a woman with a beautiful East Indian accent. That was the only positive thing about the call.

    When I told her I believed I had a problem with my modem, she asked if there were flames coming out of the back of it. Dead serious. When I told her no, she assured me that the problem was most definitely not the modem, and was probably my computer. And had the gall to ask me if my call had been handled to my satisfaction.

    I called back the next day, and got someone in the U.S. He scheduled a service call, and lo and behold – it was the modem. When I told the service man what the call center person had told me, I thought he was going to laugh himself right into a heart attack. He could barely breathe.

    After my third modem exchange (this happened about every six to eight months), I switched to cable.

  18. Great list, Matt!

    Seriously, I’m not that much of a protester-type, but I bought a Dell once, and will never make that mistake again. When people ask me what computer they should get, I always tell them, “Anything but a Dell.”

    Unless of course you enjoy endless waiting on the phone to get a hold of someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about and are ready to charge you buku $$$ for something you don’t need. I mean, if you’re into that kind of thing, then Dell’s the way to go. :)

    • David Jansson July 7, 2010 at 12:22 pm

      I love that you mentioned Dell because they were the source of my most ridiculous customer service call.

      I had just bought a new Dell PC, and I was having some trouble where the computer would go into hibernate but would not wake up out of it. I consider myself pretty computer savvy, but nothing I tried worked. So I called Dell tech support.

      After the basic troubleshooting failed (I had already tried these), the tech guy asked for permission to remotely control my computer. I complied and could watch on my screen to see what he was doing. He scrolled over to the Control Panel, opened up the section dealing with hibernation, and unchecked the checkbox that allows the computer to go in to hibernation. “There,” he said, “You shouldn’t have the problem anymore.”

      I was dumbfounded. This was the equivalent of taking your car to a mechanic because the check engine light came on and watching the mechanic lean over and unplug the light. Problem solved! :)

  19. All very good places to rant about. I’ve sworn off ever buying a Dell again since my last experiment with trying to order one in 2005, and I’ve made good on that.

    Sears “Essentials” is a great rant though, the old KMart store, which WAS very depressing to go into, became a Sears overnight and retained all of its dread charm, outdated fixtures, lighting, and the same two or three checkouts (at the farthest end away from the doors) that the old KMart had, they got a fresh coat of blue over everything that was previously KMart red.

    Oh, except you could now buy Craftsman tools.

    That store experiment locally shut down about two years ago now. I can’t think of anyone that misses either one. Worst part, it had a great location too. So it must have been all the other reasons you mention to be “underperforming”.

  20. I think medical insurance companies have the worst customer service. They all take management advice from Gilbert Huph, Mr. Incredible’s boss.

    I don’t frequent K-Mart, Sears or Walmart because I will walk out singing “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Seriously, for clothes, I have better luck at Goodwill stores. They have better organization than Walmart and their people will generally know where things can be found.

  21. LOVE this post! You crack me up with how dead on you are about this. Dell is my pet peeve. Can’t stand dealing with them… I would rather go through some sort of Chinese torture method than have to dial their number for help.

    By the way, thanks for visiting my blog a few days ago and commenting.


  22. I have had a my share of poor customer service. I cannot stand United Airlines for that reason. I also wrote about my bad experience with Ritz Camera here

    It is amazing how often I come across poor customer service that is actually part of the business model and not merely a grumpy employee.

  23. Big box stores suck the life out of the ma and pa joints. It really is a shame that kind of store (that comes with great customer service) seems to be fading away more and more.

    Please help a fellow believer and surf on over to Well you’re there please click on a sponsor link that interests you. Thanks for helping.

    Please spread the word to other brothers and sisters and be blessed.

  24. I can’t say I’m with you on Sears & Hobby Lobby, although it’s possible I’ve just been shopping in the wrong ones. Or the right ones, I guess, since I like them so much.

    All the rest, I totally agree. I hung on to KMart for a long time, because when I was a kid I liked it (only option in a small town, plus I was young; what did I know?). But they spiraled downhill fast when they started acting like Wal-Mart.

    I had to decide one day, after storming out of Wal-Mart in frustration for the 1000th time in my life, to make a point to call a store and compliment any employee who shows good customer service. Because if I did it the other way around, I’d never be off the phone.

  25. A word about exploding tables from K-Mart:

    My parents bought a glass-topped table for their back porch a few years ago. It was on sale at K-Mart (that was their first error…) and it was pretty, so what the heck, why not.

    So the first meal they ate on it a week or so later (I was away at school so I wasn’t there to witness this near-death experience) was going well until the table FREAKING EXPLODED ON THEM. Yes. The glass top just up and shattered all over their legs. My mom and brother were wearing pants, but my dad had on shorts, so his legs got cut up (not REALLY badly, but whatever, a table still exploded on him.) Come to find out the table had been recalled, but no one told them this. NICE K-Mart.

    They got their money back for it, but they kept the table frame, and my dad ended up cementing floor tiles together to make a nice table top to fill in the gaping hole where the murderous glass once was. It actually looks really good too. Take that K-Mart Martha Stewart Home Collection.

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