Customer service (revisited)

This is a story of bad and good customer service, and how a little customer care goes a very long way.

My son stepped on one of my foot stools last night and broke a piece of dowelling holding one side of it together, so today we went in search of a short length of dowel cut to the right size.  Since we were in Colchester for his latest gaming accessories anyway, and he Colchester Homebase store in Stanway was en route home, we started there, heading directly to the customer service desk where wood and board are cut to size.

There was a timer promising that if we were not served within 2 minutes we would be offered a 10% discount, so I pressed the button and waited to be served.  The time expired but a miserable-looking chap by the name of John turned up after about 3 minutes and grudgingly asked what we wanted.  I told him and was told the dowelling was there.

We found the correct diameter but were told he would not cut any to order since the machines were not made to cut dowel and couldn’t I cut it at home?  Pointing out that I don’t own a saw, I asked politely if he could find a way of doing this for me, given that Homebase is a store full of tools.  No, he replied, and it would cost £5.40 for the full length.  What if he cut it and a piece went in his eye?  Surely, I suggested, that is what goggles are made for, as used in cutting any other sort of wood?

Not only that, but the final insult came when I asked if the piece would be reduced by 10% since he arrived late.  Nope, he said, that only applied if we were getting board cut – not as if I had not asked for a piece to be cut.  Besides, the timer made no such distinction, only claiming to offer a discount where service was not offered within 2 minutes.  That cut little ice with John!

By this time I had formed a clear impression that Homebase staff are negative in the extreme.  They are apparently not prepared to do anything to solve a problem for a customer, but insist on arguing the toss and offering no service whatever.

In disgust, I left the store there and went instead to the excellent Staines and Bright hardware store in Tiptree.  In total contrast to the Homebase experience, the young lad there couldn’t do enough for me: he found the right dowel, found a saw and cut the wood to size. Then he charged it at 40p as an off-cut!

Moral of the tale: I won’t bother going to Homebase again, but will go to my local shop, even if they charge more for some items.  At least they care about their customers.

This does of course open a wider debate about being loyal to small local suppliers who offer a friendly, personal service – even if for many items you may end up paying a little more than in the faceless impersonal big chain.  Granted S&B probably made a loss on this particular transaction, but they will more than make up for it by the goodwill and word of mouth created.

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