Moments of Truth: A Tale of Two Companies

When your company has an opportunity to either build or destroy a relationship with a customer, that’s a moment of truth.  Moments of truth are everything; everything that your company does is in preparation of those moments.  If you get it right, you’ve kept a customer and perhaps built some loyalty or even word-of-mouth; if you do it wrong, you may chase a customer away and start terrible stories about your firm.

The bad news

“Honey, I have bad news to report,” my wife said when I arrived home that day.

Never a great opening phrase when you arrive home.  Was one of the kids sick?  Was there a death in the family? An earthquake? A fire? Were we… out of ice cream?!?!

“The master bathroom shower has a crack in the floor. I think it’s leaking into the floor.”

Whew.  So the ice cream was safe.

Our shower was made out of three fiberglass walls and a fiberglass shower pan on the floor.  While inconvenient, a cracked shower floor was a hassle but hardly the end of the world.  I started demolishing the old shower enclosure, then hopped online and started shopping for a new one.  Home Depot had a reasonable choice, so I ordered it for home delivery in a week.  Four people, one shower for a week – what could go wrong?

An unwelcome visitor

The next morning I was preparing breakfast when I heard an annoying buzzing overhead.  Expecting a wayward fly or mosquito, I instead got my morning adrenaline rush from seeing a yellow jacket hovering a foot above my head near the ceiling.

Image result for swarm of yellow jackets

Aiggh! Too close! Too close!

I hate yellow jackets.  Most of the painful stings in my life have come from their pointy rear ends.  I found a magazine, reached up, and crushed him out of existence, silently congratulating myself on one more tiny victory in the war on Vespula maculifrons.

Heading to the power room to brush my teeth, I found another wasp on the wall. The morning was cool and this one was lethargic, so another swing of the magazine and another victim fell. Despite my crushing victory I was uneasy.  One yellow jacket could just be a wayward visitor, but two within 20 feet of each other wasn’t good.

I finished cleaning up breakfast, then decided to check back in the powder room just in case.  I didn’t really want my daughter to walk in to brush her teeth and discover a bunch of angry wasps. That’s just not fair to the wasps.

Now there were three on the wall.  That’s not good.

Again, they were lethargic, so a couple of attacks with my now well-blooded magazine and they were down, but they had to be coming in from somewhere.  I went outside and popped my head around the corner of the house, facing the exterior wall near the rooms where I had seen them.

There, flying in and out of two crevices near my back door and the accompanying light fixture, were dozens of wasps.  They were flying in and out of the nest at a rapid pace, like some sort of tiny, evil, vespid aircraft carrier.  So many wasps were returning to the nest that sometimes they would pile up at the entrance, waiting for their turn to get in like they were being stacked up behind traffic at La Guardia.

Image result for swarm of yellow jackets

The neighbors didn’t seem bothered.

Those wasps had to go, so as I left for work I called our pest control company, J.C. Ehrlich. “We’ll get someone out there today,” the lovely human being on the other end of the phone assured me.  Sure enough, their technician arrived later that day and sprayed the nest. “They’re pretty mad now,” he said, “so stay away from the area and give the poison a couple of days to work.”

They’re mad now? What were they before?  Either way, staying away sounded reasonable to me.

The shower arrives

A few days after the wasp incident, the new shower enclosure arrived. The delivery company hadn’t given us any warning that they were coming, and they required a signature.  I was at my office and my wife was on a client call in our home office when the package arrived, so she had to give it a very quick glance before signing for delivery and running back to her call.

When I got home, the boxes containing the shower pieces were a bit crumpled-looking and thrown haphazardly on a palette in our driveway. I wasn’t encouraged.  Opening one up, I could see that one of the fiberglass panels was totally wrecked, cracked right across the middle. It was going to have to go back.

The wasps return

Worse yet, I peeked around the corner of my house on my way in and saw that the wasp nests were still operating at peak, murderous insect efficiency.  They didn’t even look like the pesticide had made a slight dent in either their population or their perpetual pissed-off approach to life.  A couple more wasps had shown up in our powder room and laundry room since the first technician visit and, since we were starting to run out of clothes, I really needed to get the situation under control.  I briefly considered burning the entire house down and moving to another state, but then I remembered how much my daughter whines when inconvenienced.

I’d rather take my chance with the wasps.

Girding for battle

So now I had two calls to make, one to J.C. Ehrlich to try and get another technician to attack the wasps, and one to Home Depot to return the damaged shower and get another one shipped. It was time for two moments of truth.

I fully expected one of these conversations to be easy and the other to be difficult, and I was right.  Much to my surprise, I was precisely backwards in guessing which company would present a customer experience challenge and which one would pleasantly surprise me.  I took a deep breath, sat in my chair, and made myself ready.

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I’d be that angry if I still had a rotary phone too. And those glasses.

Moments of Truth Part I: Home Depot

As I called Home Depot’s customer support line, I prepared for the arguments I expected to receive.  We had signed for the package.  How did they know we hadn’t damaged the item ourselves? The delivery fee alone was $99, so would they make us pay a restocking fee or another delivery fee even if they agreed to take it back?

A couple of button presses with the automated attendant and I reached a human being.  “Good afternoon, thank you for calling the Home Depot.  My name is Aaron.  How can I help you today?”  And we were off.

I explained the situation calmly, working hard to suppress the adrenaline pumping through my veins.  I had my Can-O-Rage all ready to unleash upon this hapless individual the minute he told me that I was going to have to suck it up and pay for return shipping, a new shower, or both. I was prepared to unleash a verbal fury like no other.

Aaron’s response, however, ruined my pending conniption. “I’m very sorry to hear that, sir.  Let me see if I can order you a replacement.  Yes, it looks like I can order that for you.  Let me get that ordered and then we’ll handle your return and refund your cost plus the delivery fee.  For the replacement we’ll give you a ten percent discount for your inconvenience, and I’ll instruct the shipping company to use extra packing materials and special care on the replacement unit. Will that be ok?”

Amazing.  Home Depot had $84 billion in revenue last year.  By my math, that means I represented about 0.000000952 % of their business last year.  Enormous companies are not well-known for providing exceptional customer service to everyday customers, but that’s exactly what they did.  Better yet, they did it easily, proactively, and effectively – like they had it planned.

Fantastic.  Except for my wasted conniption.  It’s not easy to get a good conniption going, and having it cut off mid-connip sucks.  But don’t worry, because J.C. Ehrlich is here to save the day.

Moments of Truth Part II: J.C. Ehrlich

J.C. Ehrlich has been our residential pest control company since 1998, when we first moved into our house across from a large wooded lot full of mice, snakes, insects, and the occasional black bear.  We’ve loved all of our regular technicians even though they don’t always stay with us:  Wesley was promoted, Frank retired, and Chris has been with us since Frank.  When I first called about the wasps, Chris wasn’t available, but he had always made it very clear that he would take care of any issues we ever had. I assumed that promise would extend through his colleagues.

With that in mind and fresh off of my great Home Depot call, I thought it would be a piece of cake to get Ehrlich’s help with the continuing wasp threat.

Image result for enormous Yellow Jacket Nest

Maybe I’ll avoid sitting out back today.

I called Ehrlich and immediately got the automatic attendant.  “We’re sorry, but due to higher than expected call volume all of our agents are busy helping other people…”

Argh.  Don’t make excuses.  Just tell me “call centers are expensive, so we optimize for utilization, not speed.”  For twenty minutes I enjoyed the pleasure of Ehrlich offering me advertisements for their mosquito abatement services, horribly distorted saxophone music (protip: 3,400 Hz is not high fidelity), and the occasional suggestion that I leave a message and someone would call me back.  The last time I did that, no one ever called, so I wasn’t falling for that again.

Twenty minutes of distorted sax isn’t improving anyone’s mood, and I was getting agitated by the time an operator picked up. “Thank you for calling J.C. Ehrlich, my name is Jessie, how can I help you?”

Despite my agitation, I kept my tone polite and told my sad story.  “Hi Jessie.  I’m a residential subscriber to one of your protection plans, and we have a serious yellow jacket nest growing in one of our walls and wasps have been coming into the house.  One of your technicians came and treated it three days ago, but the activity hasn’t dropped off at all and the wasps are still getting into our house. I’d like to get another technician out to work on it.”  I left out the part where I thought about burning the house down.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Jessie said, “but if it was only three days ago I can tell you that the technician won’t want to come out until it’s been at least a week since the last treatment.”

I sat for a moment, stunned. This wasn’t what eighteen years of working with this company had led me to expect.

“I don’t think you understand.  The nest is just as active as before the first treatment.  The wasps are getting into my house.  Waiting until next week is not a viable option.”  While I was saying all of this I found myself wondering what kind of inhuman monster Jessie must be.  Didn’t she understand that these were yellow jackets?  Burning down the house was starting to look like a decent Plan B again.

“I’m sorry sir, but they’re going to want to wait.”  Jessie seemed unimpressed by my situation.  I started thinking about how maybe I could buy new clothes rather than return to the wasp-infested laundry room.

At that point, my previously unused conniption returned, and in a reasonable but definitely angry voice I explained my position. “Well, that’s not going to work for me.  If you’re unable to get somebody to address this nest quickly, I want you to cancel my subscription and I’ll go call another company that can get someone out there right away.”

There was a brief silence, then an irritated, “Please hold.”

Twenty more minutes of bad saxophone Musak filled my ear.  I wasn’t sure if she had actually hung up on me, hoping that I would call someone else instead and give them the benefit of my wasp-stoked pique, but she actually came back.

“Thank you for your patience,” began Jessie, as if we were still on civil terms and she wasn’t a wasp-enabling monster. “I found a technician who can come out sometime today to treat the nest again.  If you’re still unhappy then I can go ahead and close your account.”

I was gracious in victory, but still puzzled why I had to press the Big Red Button to get her attention. “Thanks, that will be fine.  But please help me understand:  why did I have to ask to close my account to get an effective response from you?”

Jessie did not enjoy my question. “I never said I wasn’t going to help you, I just said the technicians wouldn’t want to come out.”

Ah, so clear now.

The importance of moments of truth

When your company has an opportunity to either build or destroy a relationship with a customer, that’s a moment of truth.  Everything that your company does is in preparation of those moments.  If you get it right, you’ve kept a customer and perhaps built some loyalty or even word-of-mouth; if you do it wrong, you may chase a customer away and start terrible stories where your staff is made out to be wasp-loving curmudgeons.

Home Depot did it right, and they kept me as a customer and gave me a good story to tell.  For a very large organization, that shows extra effort.

J.C. Ehrlich did it wrong, and even if I stay as a customer for now the relationship is mortally wounded.  I won’t refer them to anyone now, and here I am telling a terrible story.  The long hold time, the crappy sax music, and the incessant advertising in my ear all primed me for a bad experience.  When the customer service representative then made me threaten to drop them before she would really address my need, she blew that moment of truth.  The opportunity was ruined.

You don’t get moments of truth back:  every one represents a unique opportunity.  What are you doing to ensure that you take advantage of each one when it arrives?


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