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Mar 31, 2011
Mar 31, 2011
"Customer care" does not apply.
Now that I've joined the ranks of a much-smaller company than I've worked for in the past, a lot of my job involves trade show prep work. Quite a bit of what's required there involves design and production of promotional materials, including business cards, name tags, pens, graphic design, etc. My company has a pre-existing Office Depot rewards account, so I was directed to use them from the very beginning.
Our first purchase was made in-store, a new laptop. Despite my objections, my boss made the decision to have Office Depot, for the ridiculous sum of $250, take care of complicated tasks like removing OEM crapware (while installing crapware of their own), "optimizing the system," and installing Microsoft Office for me, which, of course, had to be purchased separately. The original statement made was that it was easy, and it would be done by lunch. So when I went back at lunch to pick it up, I found that not only was it not finished, but the guy who sold the plan to my boss has gone to lunch, and hadn't even started the process yet! I was annoyed, but Office Depot isn't too far from the office I was working at that day, so I went back. When I received a call three hours later telling me it was done, I went and picked it up. I got it home, took it out of the case, and saw that they'd placed a sticker below the keyboard to identify the laptop as mine. No problem, lots of places do that, and they all come right off.
Except this one.
When I peeled it back, the back of the sticker separated and left that price-tag style residue behind. I called the store back, understandably further annoyed, and the guy who sold us the plan said to come back in and he's take care of it. So I did. And he must have used a Goo Gone-type of product on my laptop, because the black plastic chassis has that "oily" distortion on it to this day. I am not amused.
The time came shortly thereafter to order business cards for myself and an associate before a trade show in March. I placed my business card order about a week and a half in advance. It was only for 200 cards total, so I figured that would be plenty of lead time. FedEx/Kinko's, which I had worked with previously, was able to produce much larger business card orders inside of a week, and at pricing comparable to (if not slightly below) Office Depot's. The order screen doesn't tell you beforehand when your order will be delivered; you can't find that out until after the order is placed and paid for.
So, of course, when I opened the order tracking page the next day and saw that the 200 business cards were slated to arrive one week after the trade show, I was disconcerted. I called Office Depot's customer support and asked if those could be expedited. The rep I spoke to wasn't sure, as the Escalations team handles that, and they're off on weekends (this was a Saturday). She did assure me that she'd forward the concern to them, and have someone from the Escalations team call me first thing Monday morning.
To their credit, that's about the only thing Office Depot has gotten right so far. "Grant" called me back at 8:30 AM Monday morning. I put his name in quotation marks because I sincerely doubt that "Grant" is his real name. See, when I answered the phone, I heard my favorite kind of customer support voice on the other end of it.
The kind that comes from India.
It's not that Indians are incapable of providing great customer service, it's that they're usually not allowed to. Most companies give them key words to listen for, and scripts for responses to those words. That's all they're allowed to say. Period. Same thing with e-mails--they don't read your e-mail, they scan it for key words or FAQs and copy/paste scripted responses in that may or may not actually answer your question. For some background on my history with customer service reps based in India, see here and here.
But anyway, back to "Grant." He assured me that he would get in touch with the vendor to see if they could expedite delivery, and said he would call me back one way or another within half an hour. I was impressed, and thought I might have to change my opinion about Indian customer service reps if this guy pulled through.
Needless to say, he lived down to my lowest expectations. At lunchtime, knowing that I was running out of days to get a replacement order in if Office Depot's had to be cancelled, I grew frustrated and called back. I asked the rep that answered to transfer me to the Escalations team, where I spoke with someone other than "Grant," and asked why "Grant" had told me thirty minutes, but four hours later, he had yet to call me back. The CSR's response was that all she could do was put a note on my account for "Grant" to call me back ASAP and apologize for the inconvenience.
Office Depot, in my experience, does a lot of apologizing for the inconvenience.
She also said she'd try to get in touch with "Grant" herself, and that she or he would call me back within two hours to let me know the status of my order.
That was 12:30 PM. At 5:00 PM, I'd had enough, and I'd found an alternative vendor that could deliver the business cards in seven days, which was cutting it close, but still doable. I called back, and explained to the CSR that answered how I had been promised prompt phone calls twice that day and received none, and how I was up against a tight timetable and needed to know right away if the cards would be done in time. When she was unable to do anything more than tell me she'd send my inquiry to the Escalations team and put a note on my account for "Grant" to call me back, I told her to just cancel the order. If that's the type of service I can expect from Office Depot, I want nothing to do with them.
Then things got interesting. She told me she could not cancel the order because it's a custom item, and the Escalations team would have to do that. Once again, my message was passed along to "Grant" for resolution.
At 6:30 PM, my phone finally rang (good thing I work from home, huh?). It was "Grant," calling back to tell me that he'd spoken to the vendor, and they can not expedite the order. Because the order was already processing, however, it could not be cancelled, and the charge could not be removed. The cards would arrive on the original delivery date.
So we went to our trade show. Without business cards. A week later, they arrived, and even though we had upgraded the paper and printing style to the nicest possible (at a significant cost), the cards came back looking discolored and blurry. And the 600 dpi image file of our logo? Pixellated and blocky. Rather than argue with the red tape involved in returning a customized, "non-returnable" item, we just dealt with it and reordered our cards elsewhere.
Now, we've got another trade show coming up shortly, only we're exhibiting at this one instead of just attending and schmoozing. For that, we need promotional items. In this case, new business cards, name badges and pens. The business cards are being purchased from FedEx/Kinko's, of course, but I was instructed to use Office Depot for the name badges and pens.
Learning from my experience, I gave them two and a half weeks lead time. This is for four name badges and 600 pens. Six hundred pens sounds like a lot, but it's not. I've dealt with promotional items before--that's *maybe* five days for production with a vendor who operates efficiently. So, when the order confirmation screen came up, I was pleasantly surprised to see 10 day turnaround on the name badges--but somewhat annoyed to see three weeks delivery time on the pens. Three weeks for an order that would take an efficient vendor five days tops (but probably three) to do.
I decided to bypass India this time, and go through e-mail instead. Office Depot's e-mail Escalations team seems to actually answer your questions instead of copying scripts, which is a good sign that you're dealing with an American.
I explained my dilemma, and that I needed the pens done by a certain date to have them in time for a trade show. I also explained my disappointment that a company as big as Office Depot relies on a vendor who needs three weeks to do a 600-pen order.
I got a response back the next morning from e-mail Escalations. Short and sweet. There is no way to expedite a pen order. Sorry.
I sent a reply back to the Escalations rep, asking what he could do about it, as the delivery date wasn't any good, and I wasn't going to pay for promotional materials that arrive a week after the trade show (sound familiar?). I suggested expedited shipping. Maybe, as I've often done in the past, call the vendor and tell them that if it isn't delivered by X date, they lose the order. I've used that tactic before, and it always works when needed. I sent an e-mail basically saying that "Sorry, you'll get them when you get them," isn't good enough.
Then it occurred to me: I'm the customer. This guy is the customer service rep. Why am I suggesting solutions to him instead of the other way around? This speaks to either poor training or laziness on the part of Office Depot. Neither one's a good sign.
After not hearing back from him for a day, I sent in a new request to cancel the order. I have another vendor who can deliver the same pens in less than a week, and for a lower price. Within an hour, I had a response from a customer service rep, as well as two responses from the Escalations rep saying that the vendor would try to secure an earlier production slot for my order, and would call me directly.
Which raises another question in my mind. If Office Depot's vendor is so backed-up that they can't do a 600-pen order for almost a month, why would they not either add another vendor, or change to a larger vendor? Office Depot is big enough that they could say, "Here are the prices we pay you for each item, take it or leave it," and still have vendors lined up around the block to print for them. Why they use a single vendor that is either mind-numbingly inefficient or backed-up into next year is beyond me, but it doesn't win them any customer service points.
I fully intend to carry out my cancellation of the pen order, and if I get the same, "We can't cancel because it's already in production," response, I'll simply refuse delivery of the package and dispute the charge. That's how upset I am with Office Depot's pathetic customer service, poor quality and ridiculous production times at this point.
Customer service involves being proactive to solve concerns as they arise. I should know--that's the business I'm in. If your response is, "Sorry, there's nothing I can do," right up until the cancellation is received, at which point you're suddenly willing to explore alternatives, then there's a serious problem with your business model.
Hey, maybe it has something to do with why your company is consistently on the bankruptcy watch list...
**Review updated 4/8/2011:
After finally getting sick of dealing with people who clearly didn't want to help, I went to consumerist.com and launched an "Executive E-Mail Carpet Bomb." One e-mail found its way into the CEO's inbox, who had Executive Customer Relations contact me to resolve the issue. The rep was extremely helpful, and she offered me and delivered expedited delivery of the pens, along with 50% off that portion of the order.
The pens arrived yesterday, and I'm underwhelmed by the quality (again). The ink is smudged in place and blotted in others, and they just look amateurish. While I'm pleased that Executive Customer Relations was finally able to help me, I'm not happy that it took copying an e-mail to the CEO to get resolution, and I'm not particularly thrilled with the quality of the pens either. I will be doing my company's business elsewhere in the future.