Is There a Customer Service Crisis, or Is It Just Me?

My time at Disney gave me a pretty thorough indoctrination into customer service. Not everyone gets that sort of training, I realize, and not everyone gets into jobs that require interaction with the public. Nevertheless, I’ve had a couple of customer service experiences lately that make me wonder if this has become a lost art. It shouldn’t be: your customers make your business possible.

Office Depot

I have always wanted a file cabinet. Having finally moved into a place where I had room for one, I was greatly looking forward to having one in my new condo. This turned out to be more challenging than I expected.

Office Depot did not have the file cabinet in their store, so I brought a card with the product number and UPC to the counter. The clerk confirmed the cabinet color with me, and the purchase was concluded. I was told I could expect delivery by Wednesday (having purchased on a Monday).

On Wednesday, the cabinet was delivered with the wrong color (“putty,” or what I’d call beige). Disappointed, I called Office Depot to get the matter resolved. The agent apologized and assured me I’d get the new item by Friday. She also told me that the transaction would be a one-for-one exchange so there shouldn’t be a need to credit my credit card and re-charge it for the correct cabinet. The putty-colored cabinet would be picked up Thursday, the black one delivered Friday. Both the pickup and delivery windows were 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., which is a ridiculous amount of time to be kept at home waiting.

Thursday, no one showed up. I called Office Depot to find out what the status was. This is when I found out that my credit card would be credited for the first cabinet and charged again for the black one (which inevitably results in more service charges from Visa), and that the credit for the initial purchase would not go back on my card until the beige cabinet had been sent back to the warehouse. I didn’t yell at anyone–I know how that can slow down the customer service process. However, I did write up a fill-in-the-blank form for the delivery driver to sign that would acknowledge when they would pick up the beige cabinet and when it should be back in the warehouse so I could track when the credit would go back on my card.

Friday, the delivery guy showed up to pick up the beige cabinet but said the black one had not arrived, but should by the following Monday.

Come Monday, someone finally delivered the black cabinet. They rang the doorbell and left it at my doorway, leaving me to wrestle the thing into my home. I  left the above story in my customer survey and started doing my business supply shopping at Staples, Office Depot’s primary competitor in this area.

Customer Service Lessons

The lessons here for anyone dealing with customers should be obvious:

  • Verify product orders are correct, especially for expensive items.
  • Explain your organization’s credit card policies accurately.
  • Expedite refunds to the customer as expeditiously as possible.

My week wasn’t over, however.


I am maintaining two accounts with my cable company, Spectrum: one for the old apartment, which my mother will be moving into for a couple of months, and one for the new place. I was unable to access the new condo account online. I had assumed I would have access to both when I signed on. This turned out not to be the case, so I got into Spectrum’s online customer service queue.

After a 30-minute wait, I got in touch with an agent in the chat feature. After explaining my problem, the agent said they couldn’t assist me. However, she would make notes on my account and transfer me to another agent. The second agent asked me to wait until she had reviewed the notes on my account. I did but then had to re-explain everything. The second agent then informed me that she couldn’t help me, either. The third agent said she could help, and after reading the notes, set up a new account for me. I couldn’t sign on to the new account without closing out the chat window, so I thanked the agent, logged out of the original account, and tried signing on again, this time using the new password the agent gave me. I had assumed that I’d either get a second account for the condo or would be able to see both accounts with a new signon. This, again, was a false assumption.

Frustrated after an hour of dealing with this, I decided to call rather than use online chat. The phone agent informed me that I now had two accounts, but I had simply not been given the user name for the second account.

Customer Service Lessons

This was another time-wasting series of annoyances.

  • If you have a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system for tracking guest issues, the notes need to be clear enough for the next agent to handle the situation seamlessly.
  • If you have to transfer a customer to another agent, be certain that the person receiving the transfer has the training and ability to handle the concern.
  • If your customer is requesting account information, it is usually advisable that you provide it and don’t let them assume something erroneously.

I did not yell or scream at anyone. I was, however, frustrated and disappointed by the service I received. In the case of Spectrum, I finally resolved the problem after an additional phone call. In the case of Office Depot, I just gave up and started shopping elsewhere because, honestly, I didn’t know what sort of service recovery they could provide that would win back my confidence or business. They had proven themselves broken on multiple levels of their organization.

Supply chain issues I understand. Policies I understand, as long as they are explained to me correctly. My questions are:

  • Is this the new normal?
  • Am I dealing with employee apathy?
  • Are these situations the result of training issues?
  • Is it all of the above?

In any case, these two situations have lowered my expectations for companies handling customer complaints. No, I don’t expect every company to be like Disney. I do expect employees to do things correctly, explain their actions correctly, and apologize if neither of those is forthcoming. Or am I expecting too much?

Graphic suggested by my mentor buddy D2…what direction WILL customer service take in the future?

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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2 Responses to Is There a Customer Service Crisis, or Is It Just Me?

  1. Larry Kunz says:

    I agree with Josh Bernoff, who says the problem is almost always with the company’s processes and policies, not with its people:

    And when they ask for feedback, many companies don’t distinguish between people and processes. So they force us to choose between praising the employees, who did their best under difficult circumstances, or criticizing the whole customer experience — processes, employees, and all.

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