When I sold superservers for NetFrame Systems, our arch rival competitor was a company called Tricord Sytems. The people at Tricord despised NetFrame! In fact, the local Tricord rep hated us so much that he made preemptive strikes in all his accounts, by telling customers how “awful” NetFrame was.
Doing their due diligence, customers wanted to find out for themselves why NetFrane was so incompetent, so they called me. Of course, once a customer discovered that what Tricord was saying was untrue, Tricord’s credibility was shot and we would usually win the business.
The only reason I didn’t send “thank you” notes to my colleague over at Tricord was because I didn’t want him to figure out what was happening and stop sending us leads.
I now know why the car companies are not doing well. A few months ago, I went car shopping because my teenage daughter suddenly has ‘nomadic aspirations’ having reached the magical age where she can now drive. Mind you, she’s a good kid, but I’m not one of those parents who subscribes to the notion that sixteen year-olds deserve a car just because they come of age, so my intention was to buy a car that Sarah would have moderate use of as long as her ‘train stays on the tracks’ relative to schoolwork and other responsibilities.
My first stop was Dyer & Dyer Volvo in North Atlanta. On the internet, I spotted a used Saturn SUV that would have been perfect, so immediately called the dealership on Friday afternoon and got connected with a salesperson named Sid, who was pleasant and helpful. Sid encouraged me to hurry over to the dealership before the car got sold. Since I had a conflict Friday evening, I made an appointment with Sid first thing Saturday morning at 9am sharp.
I rolled into the dealership about three minutes after 9am, with a cashier’s check in my pocket and ready to buy. Strangely, no one came out to greet me, which was okay. I didn’t need to be hounded. Three other couples were milling around the showroom, but strangely, I didn’t notice any salespeople. So, I walked up to the counter and told the nice looking receptionist that I had an appointment with Sid.
“Everyone is in the regular Saturday morning sales meeting,” she said. I asked her how long this meeting would last. “It usually starts at 8:30am and probably will last another 30 minutes,” she responded. I explained to her that I had a 9am appointment with Sid. “Yes, we know, you are on the VIP board,” she said, pointing to a prominent whiteboard in the showroom that listed client appointments, and my name was tops on the list with a 9am appointment. I said, “Can you slip a note under the door and tell him I’m here?” She did and came back saying he couldn’t come out. With that, me and my cashier’s check left the building.
Wait, it gets better.
Since the Saturn SUV had caught my interest, I drove to the nearby Saturn dealership, figuring that they would probably have some pre-owned vehicles on the lot. This time, six Saturn salespeople wearing the company uniform (red shirt and khaki pants) were standing around and one eagerly stepped forward to greet me. “I’m Steve,” he said. “How can I help you?” I explained that I wanted to buy a safe but inexpensive vehicle for my daughter to use. We walked around the lot to survey the various options, and I actually stuck my head in a couple of them. We even took a quick test drive around the block.
After I had been there approximately twenty minutes, the sales manager came over—a tall former football player with his gray hair dyed blonde. “Sir, are you planning to buy one of these cars?” he asked abruptly. I hedged, giving him a definite ‘maybe’ type of response. “Well, Saturday is our busiest day, so if you’re going to buy a car, we’re happy to help. But, we don’t want to wear Steve out because he has to work tonight until 7pm,” he said. You just can’t make this stuff up. I glanced back into the showroom, and at 10:15am in the morning, there was only one other customer in the showroom along with a bunch of salesmen standing around with their hands in their pockets.
I politely excused myself, saying, “I’ll come back when you’re not so busy.” My cashiers check and I were on the move once again.
Perhaps for spite, I whipped into the Kia dealership directly across the street from the Saturn reception desk. The folks at Kia couldn’t have been nicer or more attentive. I test drove a couple options, went back and forth a reasonable number of times, and with 90 minutes, we had a deal. The salesperson passed me off to the in-house finance minister who painlessly facilitated the legal mumbo-jumbo. After signing my life away, we shook hands and I turned to leave in my new Kia. “You’ll be getting your tickets in about three weeks,” the finance guy said.
“What tickets?” I asked. He told me, “You get two season tickets to all the Falcon’s 2008 home games when you buy a Kia.” “Why are you giving away free tickets?” I asked. He explained, “It’s a promotion to sell more cars.”
I have never been in the car business, but it seems to me that if you are going to offer a promotion to sell more cars, it might be smart to use the special offer as carrot or incentive to close deals, as opposed to mentioning it after the paperwork has all been signed and the customer is literally walking out the door.
No wonder the car business is in trouble…
In the spring of 1996, I asked my wife Laura, “Would you be absolutely opposed to having one of those big screen televisions in the den?”
While she was noticeably unenthusiastic about the idea, she responded somewhat neutrally saying that no, she wasn’t “absolutely opposed.” That sounded like a green light to me. So the next day, I went out and bought a brand new 46-inch Mitsubishi big screen. As you might imagine, Laura has been much less neutral in her responses ever since.
After three months of big screen bliss, a power surge in our neighborhood caused an electrical spike, which shorted out the electronics inside the television. A loud snap and a blue flash came from behind the base unit, and our brand new Mitsubishi went dead.
Since it was still under warranty, I contacted the local service center and they promptly came out and picked it up. They estimated that it would take five to seven days to repair and return the TV, which seemed reasonable.
After seven days passed, I called the repair center to follow up. The service manager representative explained that two replacement parts had been ordered, but only one had been received. The other part apparently was on back order. “On back order until when?” I asked. The service manager didn’t know but he promised to find out and call me back. Within minutes, he called and told me the second part was back ordered until November. “November?” I was shocked! It was only May, and the thought of waiting six months to have my TV back seemed less than reasonable.
I promptly lobbed a call into Mitsubishi’s national parts department. The woman who answered pulled my order number up on her computer and confirmed that part #624537-B was indeed on back order until November. She explained that there was nothing she could do to expedite the process, since Mitsubishi parts were manufactured overseas. I thanked her for the information and then asked, “What would you do if you were in my predicament?”
“I would probably escalate this to Customer Relations,” she said.
Within seconds, I was on the phone with Mitsubishi’s Consumer Relations department in New York City. “Hello, this is Marsha,” the woman announced. “How can I help you?”
I briefly explained my predicament, and she too called up my account on her computer and confirmed once again that the part we needed was on back order for six months.
“Marsha,” I asked, “By any chance, do you have young children?”
“Yes,” she replied, “I have two boys…five and three (years old).”
“I have two daughters,” I said. (We were bonding.) Then, I explained, “Marsha, here’s the real problem. Every night, before I tuck my girls into bed, I have to explain that the reason they can’t watch a video is because daddy bought a Mitsubishi.”
“Oh no,” Marsha groaned empathetically. My comment had obviously hit close to home.
“As I see it, there are three options. Mitsubishi can either replace my television with a brand new one, remove the part in question from a brand new television and put it in my TV, or you can cut me a refund check so I can go out and purchase a Sony.”
“Mr. Freese, let me see what I can do,” Marsha said.
That conversation occurred on Monday. By Friday of that same week, our 46-inch big screen television was fully operational and back in our den. It just goes to show that when resolving a standoff, it can be much more effective to forge common ground with the person you’re dealing with, rather than getting upset and increasing the harshness of your demands.
Here’s a letter I recently wrote to the president of Office Max. Still waiting for a reply!
January 2, 2007
Mr. Sam K. Duncan
Chairman and CEO
Office Max Corporation
263 Shuman Blvd.
Naperville, IL 60563
Dear Mr. Duncan,
Most customers have little recourse against large corporations. I, on the other hand, having published three business books, have a decent following, and make my living speaking to audiences all over the world about sales and customer service. Ironically, OfficeMax has recently provided me with some excellent content for my next book, called “how not to deal with customers.”
I have been a loyal OfficeMax customer for years. Even though the local Staples and Office Depot stores are equidistant from my office, we have literally purchased all of our office furniture, equipment, supplies, and technology from OfficeMax. Having spent hundreds of dollars per month, sometimes thousands, I should add that we have never had a problem.
Therefore, when it was time to buy a digital camera for my daughter for Christmas, the first place I thought of was my beloved OfficeMax (store #1122).
Before purchasing I asked, “What is your return policy on these cameras?” The answer was, “You have 14 days after Christmas.”
When I unboxed the camera, I’m no digital expert, but I am fairly adept at detecting poor quality. So, I carefully packaged everything back in the box and drove back to the store.
“Do you have your receipt?” the clerk asked. I did. She quickly radioed a manager who came over. He asked, “Why are you returning this?” I explained that when I got the camera home, it was clear that it was not the quality I expected. “You can’t return a digital camera once it has been opened,” the manager on duty said. I explained that the other manager (not there at the time) told me, “You have 14 days after Christmas.”
This is where the story gets interesting.
“It doesn’t matter what you were told,” he explained. “Our policy states that a digital camera that has been opened can only be exchanged for the same item if the original is defective.” “Where does it say that,” I asked. He told me that it was printed on the back of the receipt.
The manager dug in and took the position, “There’s nothing further I can do.”
When I asked for the CEO’s name and address, the manager relented and offered a store credit in the form of a gift card…mostly to get rid of me. He was obviously not happy with the outcome, and he even went on to explain that OfficeMax would probably lose money by breaking policy.
Like most customers, I have better things to do than argue with an indignant OfficeMax store manager on the day before Christmas Eve. If he had just issued the credit back on my American Express card, I would have happily continued down the path of purchasing everything from OfficeMax.
Maybe your store # 1122 should have an “easy” button.
Thank you for the time.
Thomas A. Freese