Friday, September 25, 2009

Really Bad Customer Service? Take it to the Top to Make it Right

We try to teach our kids how to handle problems for themselves, but in a world where customer service is often lacking, that’s not always an easy task. My son, who is in college, purchased a Polaroid TV from Walmart a couple of years ago. When moving from one apartment to the next, the cord disappeared.

He tried Walmart, Radio Shack and similar places, but it turned out the TV had been discontinued. He then called Polaroid and they told him they’d send him a new cord for about $30. That was a tough call given the fact that you can get a new TV pretty cheap these days, but he decided to buy the cord. The person who took his phone order had seemingly never heard of Washington DC before. He kept insisting that he was mailing the cord to Washington Minnesota (or some other state, I can’t remember for sure.) Despite my son correcting him, sure enough when the cord didn’t arrive, he called Polaroid and was told it went to Washington Minnesota.

Finally getting the address straight, the cord finally arrived to the right address, but it still didn’t work. When my son called again, he was told he only bought half the cord – the other half would cost another $40. At this point he knew he should just buy a new TV so he asked how he could return the first half to get his initial $30 back. The customer service representative was rude and unhelpful, insisting that my son should have known better in his order, and refused to refund his money.

He asked for a manager who gave him the same answer and finally called me in frustration. He had done all of the right things but without a positive result.

Unfortunately, I have had situations like this occur many times throughout my life, and I’ve learned how to ultimately get satisfaction. You have to go to the top. So, I googled “Polaroid executive phone numbers” and got the President of the company’s direct line. He answered the phone himself on the first ring.

I explained what had happened and that my son wanted to handle this, I was just trying to get him to the right place. The President was very nice and apologetic, and gave me the email address for the person who could help straighten out this mess. I also wanted him to know how his customer service representatives were treating customers.

The story isn’t over yet – we’ll see what the resolution is when my son sends the email, but my experience tells me it will all work out ok. It’s just a shame it had to go so far. In the past, I have spoken with either the top executive, or that person’s executive assistant, at many companies. When I had problems at Comcast, American Express, my mortgage company, and on and on, it finally took a phone call to the top to get satisfaction.

Of course, you have to go through appropriate channels first to try to get a resolution, but when you are at wits end, it usually helps to go to the top. When you get there, be calm, explain exactly what happened, and be appreciative that the person is listening and wants to help you. Top executives don’t often hear directly from consumers, and I have found that they are happy to have these conversations.

Good luck!

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