Yes, it was a little painful to write that, given that I make my living playing with words. But as obsessed as I am with them, words often can be meaningless if the actions they promise don’t support them. Making a promise, keeping your word, that’s one thing. But telling me how much you care about me as a customer, while your customer service falls far short of that claim, is quite another.

It’s the start of a new year, and it’s a good time to take a look at business practices and principles – most especially customer service – perhaps with the aim of making sure we live up to those mottos and mission statements. And so I’ll share a cautionary tale of how one very large, very reputable company has lost my business.

I won’t share the name of the business whose lack of support has frustrated me so, but I’ll share their motto: “Pleasing People … Since 1936.” Good for them. But I’ll also tell you that certainly haven’t pleased me, not by a long shot. And they know it.

I purchased a rather large, big-ticket item and had it installed on September 1. “Large and big-ticket” are critical descriptions here, because if the purchase was something I could have picked up, put in my car and returned to the store, I would have done so on September 2. But it’s a refrigerator.

On Day 2, the freezer compartment was completed iced in and the fridge was flooded. A call to the company and, thank you!, a visit scheduled for that very day. The technician opened the freezer door, fiddled a bit and said, “This is defective, no doubt about it. We’ll have to replace the unit.” He left a message with my salesman to call me ASAP.

No call that day. No call the next day, despite several messages that I myself left for him. So I took photos of the ice jam and the flood, drove to the store (several suburbs away), and stood in line at the service counter to be told, “We’re really busy; we can send someone out in a couple of weeks.” Not to replace the fridge, as was recommended by their own technician, but to inspect it and then, “we might just try to fix it.” A brand new appliance. I questioned the “might try to fix it,” and was told, “Well, you did buy a Frigidaire.”

Well, you sold it to me.

  • First, never tell a customer you’re too busy to take care of their problem.
  • Second, make sure your sales people follow up.
  • Third, stand behind your products.

The further details of this sad little saga are too numerous to repeat here, but suffice to say that, as I write this, it took three and a half months of calls and non-solutions, a grand total of six different techs, and reassurance upon reassurance from service managers that, and I’ll quote directly here: “We care about each and every customer, and we’re not satisfied until you’re satisfied.” My response to the last manager: “Do you understand that your words mean nothing unless you demonstrate that to me?”

Her response? “Yes, ma’am. We care about each and every customer, and we’re not satisfied until you’re satisfied.”

Empty words.

In the grand scheme of things, this is not going to change my life, although I did have to throw out a lot of food (Ben & Jerry’s AmeriCone Dream among the lost). It will, however, cost the company at least one customer. No, I won’t Yelp about it; revenge does nothing but raise the blood pressure.

But I will consider it a lesson, both for myself and, if “pleasing people” really means anything, for the company. One little customer? I’d hope so, because each and every customer should count. You know what they say about disgruntled customers: Only about 4 percent will tell you about it, giving you the opportunity to make things right. Four percent. The rest? They won’t let you know, but they’ll tell between nine and 15 people about their unsatisfactory experience.

As we begin a new year, we’ve each got an opportunity to start with a clean slate. Maybe this is a good time to be sure that our words – those things we tell our customers – really mean something. Standing by your word means as much as selling a good product, because earning your customers’ trust is worth as much as earning their dollars.