There’s a Lesson Here…..

No politics today. Just some observations from a consumer, underlining the fact that–despite Americans’ reverence for “entrepreneurship” and the private sector– incompetence is just as prevalent there as elsewhere.

Over the past week, I have had three experiences with service providers. Two of them could learn a lot from the third.

Experience #1 was with the website of Thermador, a high-end manufacturer of kitchen appliances. My husband and I were in the market for a new range and refrigerator. Architects get discounts from some manufacturers –not large, but worth pursuing. In order to determine eligibility for the program, we were directed to the company’s website.

What followed would have made a great comedy sketch. The form we were instructed to complete read: Go to [URL] and click on the link for [X ]. Except there was no such link. Called the company; held for a considerable amount of time because (cough) they were “experiencing unusual call volume.” It turned out that the link didn’t show up if you were using Firefox as your browser. We changed to Safari and clicked; it appeared. We were then told to enter additional information–except, again, there was no visible place to enter it. Another call. The woman who answered said their website only works correctly if you use Chrome as your browser. (And no, nothing on the page said that.)

This is a national company. They manufacture pricey appliances, and could probably afford a competent web designer. Let’s just say I hope they pay more attention to their products than they do to their abysmal website.

Experience #2 involved another appliance. Our dishwasher began making awful noises. We called Epic Appliance Repair, a service we had used once a few years ago; they said to expect the repairman between 2 and 4. I rearranged my schedule and waited. When no one had come by 4:30–and no one had called to say there would be a delay–we called and were told it would be around 6:00 pm. No apology.

Six came and went. No repairman, no call. We called; the man who answered (again with no apology) said “let me check and get right back to you.” He didn’t. After a half-hour, we called again. No apology for not calling back, and no explanation. “We’ll be there at nine in the morning.” Right.

No one came at nine. Or ten. Or Eleven. No one answered their phone, and no one ever came or called. Needless to say, we called a different repair service– one that did come when they said.

Experience #3 was refreshingly different. I wanted my outdoor cushions cleaned before putting them away for the winter, and my regular dry cleaners can’t do those. I went online, found a service called Fire Dawgs, and–through their very user-friendly website, requested a time the next day. (I really expected they wouldn’t be able to come on such short notice, but I was wrong.) Within half an hour, I had a call confirming the time and cost, followed by an email reiterating the information and price.

Twenty minutes before the scheduled time, I got a text–and then a phone call–identifying the workman who was on his way, and giving me an estimate of how long it would take him to get from where he was to my house. He came promptly, cleaned the cushions, charged what I’d been quoted and left. I received an emailed receipt shortly after he left–and an email the next day thanking me for my patronage.

Guess who I’ll use again?

Guess who I won’t.

I’ll admit that I am flabbergasted by #1 and #2. You would think, in this day and age, that large national companies would understand the importance of a user-friendly website that works properly on all browsers. You’d think a company purporting to provide a repair SERVICE would understand that people have lives, and need to be informed when a schedule cannot be met. (You’d also think they might apologize for failing to do so or let you know they weren’t ever coming.)

You might also think they’d want positive reviews and maybe even repeat business…but evidently not. (Some of us do know how to post to Yelp.)

Tell me again how competition guarantees that the private sector will always be superior to those ineffectual government workers…


  1. And the answer: is that private sector corporations go out of business, government sectors seldom do.

  2. Sheila; this is a complaint I have had for years…about countless attempts to get service and/or purchase products. One of my primary problems was with my health care provider and primary physician. Think of all the “recalls” we see on the news for everything from SUVs to foods to the advertisements from attorneys regarding damaging prescription and over-the-counter medications causing serious health problems and/or death.

  3. JoAnn has hit on something. Take a look at it this way: the economy employs more people by businesses screwing up. PR personnel have something to work on to gloss over, someone has to collect the bad products and dispose of them, and lawyers get new cases. In this society where competency too often goes unnoticed, mush less rewarded, it is a win, win, win! What a world!

  4. Or they don’t, Anthony. In Bloomington, IN, there are only 2 healthcare providers–IU Healthacre and Premier. Both offer about the same less than adequate service, but contain all of the physicians in the town so you will choose one or the other. Approachable–one is the State of Indiana and the other is at least a regional corporation out of Hamilton, Ohio. Nobody’s going out of business.
    Further, I would challenge the notion that there is an essential difference between private healthcare providers (as one example) in the current business environment and the federal government. Both are essentially bureaucracies and will provide the kind of solutions that can be suitably made in a bureaucracy–about as private and individual as an actuarial table (or an accounting balance sheet).

  5. Art, one needs to define “private business sector”. IMO any business that gets part of its support from the government is not private. The medical industry is anything but private.

  6. If you haven’t made up your mind yet, don’t get Dacor appliances either and try to find appliances without computer boards! They are prone to failure and ridiculously expensive to replace. It’s a challenge to find something with analog controls these days. I won’t go into computerized cars!

  7. One of the best companies I ever did business with was a referral from a co-worker. They do not advertise. Their business is wholly from word-of-mouth. It was Bone Dry Roofing. Very professional. Did everything they promised. Were VERY price competitive and left NO debris on my property.
    I wish every business was like this! 🙂

  8. Just think: if you’re poor you can multiply the aggravation factor by ten, and it is non-stop – AND you usually lose anyway, both in terms of time and money.

  9. I remembered my experiences ordering a new coffee pot through Amazon about two years ago. No problem with Amazon, always fast, quality service; the supplier sent me a different brand, different model and different color coffee pot. They quickly responded to my request to return and gave me the option of exchange or refund; I opted for a refund and readied the item for pickup. Then the supplier told me to keep the coffee pot at no charge and reorder through them. I refused this option, had already purchased another coffee pot – how long can one go without morning coffee? Received more responses from the supplier; they DID refund my Amazon account the full price and shipping & handling but argued with my option not to reorder. When the usual E-mail requesting feedback regarding service arrived; I responded truthfully. The company posted another notice on Amazon web site that they did not understand my dissatisfaction – they gave me a FREE coffee pot…which I gave to friends who appreciated their FREE coffee pot.

  10. Customers have become abstractions to many businesses, like profit margin and fixed costs. If they would just treat customers like humans beings with questions, their transactions could be so much more positive and rewarding for both parties.

  11. Good customer service should be taken as a gesture of honesty on the part of the company. That includes honestly taking care of a situation when things happen beyond your control.

  12. Mass merchandizing and the human component are oil and water. Corporations are designed to make money, not provide service, though their ads emphasize the latter to entice unwary consumers. Always keep your BBB number handy when ordering goods and services, and don’t be afraid to use it, since it is the only effective way to get some measure of reform among the moneychangers.

  13. Good customer service is rare in both public and private sectors. If the organization has made a mistake, the consumer is generally looking for an apology. In the public sector that is easier than in the private sector. The private sector seeks to minimize costs by minimizing liability. Many companies advise their staff not to apologize because that is tantamount to an admission of wrongdoing.

    Having spent many years in each sector, my experience has been that it’s a great idea to apologize when your company is at fault. It disarms the customer and lets you get down to the resolution of the problem.

  14. Gerald; the BBB has no legal standing, can take no legal action. They can send letters, which are often ignored but…you can get information regarding customer complaints after a specific number of complaints have been received against a business. I learned this after a severely botched new roof on my home; my son and daughter-in-law used their Home Maintenance Deed to provide a repair service – they went 17 days with on hot water after 3-4 failed attempts to find a solution – needed a new water heater. they found several complaints with BBB against the business used by the HMD, reported the problems to HMD and they dropped the company from their list of service providers.

  15. The advantage of Amazon is that you can read reviews of products and sellers. No matter how much sellers have screwed up Amazon has always corrected the problem.

    The advantage of the internet is you can read and write reviews. This still leaves you with this type of experience, but at least you can have better odds.

  16. Nothing personal , just business.
    We had similar experience with the ACA website , and Assurance wireless – provider of Obama-phones . I am NOW waiting on my 5th replacement in less than 2 years .

  17. That’s why we are Costco customers. No matter what, they have an excellent service record and we have been members since we moved to Indy in 2010 way back when. I’ve returned things, no questions asked…we bought our car and truck through their vehicle purchase plans. We will stay members as long as they continue that service level agreement.

  18. Interesting article today, and “right on” from my point of view. I keep learning something new every day about general incompetence. I am old enough to have enjoyed the convenience of “walking with my fingers through the yellow pages.” These pages today are something like “fake news.” I think that, after paying the tremendous cost of their yp ad, a number of the businesses bankrupt before the book is published. Phone numbers are incorrect or improper for the area. The organization of material is illogical, and major companies have not subscribed to this advertising. The coupons yb promises are non-existant. Angie’s List monthly is gradually “dumbing down” in a similar way.

  19. So to reduce it to a tweet (as everything must) “competition does not guarantee competence.”

  20. Really this is all about Ethics. We expect ethical behavior (trust), indeed it is the keystone of any transaction, whether it is friendship, marriage or a purchase of a product or service. Now here is an interesting story about ethics from the Guardian:
    House Republicans have gutted an independent ethics watchdog, putting it under their own control, in a secret ballot hours before the new Congress convened for the first time.

    The unheralded vote severely weakens the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which was set up after a lobbying scandal in 2008 to investigate corruption allegations against members of Congress. The move, led by the head of the House judiciary committee, defied the Republican congressional leadership and was reportedly supported by several legislators currently under OCE scrutiny.

    The amendment was voted through by the House Republican conference over the New Year’s holiday with no prior notice or debate and inserted in a broad rules package the House will vote for on Tuesday. It turns the formerly independent OCE into the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, a subordinate body to the House Ethics Committee, which is currently run by the Republican majority and has a long history of overlooking charges of malfeasance by lawmakers.
    Ethics we do not need no Stinking Ethics. Ethical behavior starts at the top. This is what I believe: It is rather obvious the Elected Officials in Congress will do almost anything to protect themselves. It is all about Elected Officials lining their own pockets one way or another, and of key importance ensuring their campaign contributors have ready access. Our system is so rotten, it smells like an open sewer.

  21. When I started my career, the customer was king. Then about halfway through it we were informed “sorry, that was in error, the shareholder was king”. To those of us actually creating wealth that was obviously not true, but it entertained corporate management whose real purpose, it turned out, was wealth redistribution.

    Anthony no company values customer satisfaction more than elected officials. They actually get fired for ignoring it.

    All big institutions though are inherently bureaucratic meaning too big for anyone to know all of the details. That’s just as frustrating for the CEO as for the customer abused by that fact.

  22. After living 28 years of my adult life in Virginia, I grew fond of a government monopoly, the state-owned liquor stores known simply as the ABC Stores. Beer and wine are available at supermarkets and convenience stores; however, all hard liquor must be purchased at the state-owned ABC Store.

    Booze is not a public good so why is the state in the business of owning and operating all the liquor stores in Virginia and in a few other states such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Utah, Idaho, and Alabama? As explained to me years ago, liquor is not a public good but for some, it’s a public bad to be controlled, a harm reduction strategy. Whatever the reason, the state does enjoy an important source of government revenue. The state makes at least $230m a year from the ABC stores, $110m from taxes, and $120m in profit.

    Of course, the ‘snooty’ part of me approved of the state-owned ABC Stores because there were no vagrants loitering around parking lots or entrances, no gaudy neon light advertisements anywhere on the premises, and no opportunities for armed robberies as the single entry doors are equipped with metal detectors.

    A link to the Virginia ABC Stores is here.

  23. Your comment about the cushions makes me want to go out an buy cushions just so I could call that cleaning company to experience such a high level of customer service. Bravo to them and I imagine you have used every opportunity available to tell your friends and anyone else about their high quality service.

  24. I happened to hear some private sector news a few minutes ago on CNN where it was announced that Ford Motor Company has canceled its plan to build a plant in Mexico. Instead, Ford will invest $700m in an existing plant in Flat Rock, Michigan for producing electric and self-driving cars. According to the Ford CEO, this investment will add 700 new jobs (paying $20-$30 per hr) to the Michigan plant. The CEO stated up front that no deals were cut with the incoming administration. I located the CNN link to the story.

  25. It seems like it’s always feast or famine.
    – Had a tree fall on my roof in a windstorm, and received exceptional service from Allstate, TreeO, and Bone Dry in putting my life back together.
    – Had an anchor bolt for my electric line come loose from the house and called Broad Ripple Power & Light to fix it. If it was more than 45 minutes between call and having it fixed, I will be surprised. On Dec. 23rd, no less. Super job, fast, and reasonable.
    My Star carrier retired and I haven’t received my paper the last two days. I used to be able to call the office and have everything fixed in a few minutes. Today, it was a half an hour phone wait (zip taken care of), filling out an online form for each day without area for comment about the problem, and then going to “live chat” that wasn’t very “lively,” causing another wait. While I waited on the phone, the same 20 second recording played over and over encouraging me to sign up for special “insider” treats they set up for subscribers. How about just using that money and all the money they are saving from cutting customer service to hire a few reporters to cover Statehouse shenanigans?

  26. The vast majority of us are worker/consumer/tax payer/voters. It’s our country. It’s our economy.

    We have been somehow demoted in the public eye to servants of the wealthy and powerful.

    It’s time for us to tell them how to serve us.

  27. Hey Louie: The Pussygrabber In Chief’s spokeswitch was interviewed today on ABC, and her explanation for dismantling the independent ethics agency was that the government doesn’t need to get bogged down in these petty little beefs (you know, like bribing members of Congress) because they have more important things to do. Yeah, we know, like doing away with Obamacare, turning Medicare into a voucher program, reducing taxes for the wealthy, and doing away with Dodd-Frank, so Wall Street can regain its license to steal. Then, of course, she did the pivot as usual, blaming the Democrats and President Obama for everything. Problem is, these tactics worked during the election, so expect more of the same until enough Republicans grow a pair (testicles or ovaries) and agree to impeach this fool. That’s about all we have to hope for.

  28. This is worthy of being placed in a UX ( user experience…yes I know. why ‘x’?) forum. It’s a classic tale. You outline a case study in design principles.

  29. Ahhh! Stricken by a fit of conscience, House Republicans have changed gears on the independent ethics issue. It really did look awful, didn’t it? Domestic oversight in the House lives to fight another day. Always, but always thinking about re-election, I would guess.

  30. Betty,

    “…..Republicans have changed gears on the independent ethics issue……
    Always, but always thinking about re-election, I would guess.”

    Betty, you guessed right. They were worried about their base. Our answer lies with the Republican base.

    Along with the inauguration, the Republicans have planned UNITED WE STAND celebrations around the U.S. No doubt, the planned marches on Washington on the 2lst are a must, but they will play right into the hands of the Republican strategists.

    Our utmost strategy, at this late date, must be one of DISENGAGEMENT. The Republicans pulled back on the independent ethics issue because it wasn’t going to “fly” with their base. Our only hope at this point is for the Republican base to DISINTEGRATE.

    As I have mentioned before, Donald Trump, the COCKEYED OPTIMIST, has forced the issue too early for the Republicans. The WORLD has now seen that it is not going to be that easy for them to “cover the tracks of the monster.”

  31. cock’eyed’ adj. [<cock, v. + eye] l. cross eyed 2. [slang] a) awry b) silly; foolish c) drunk

    cock-a-ma-mie (kak' e ma me) adj. [decalcomania: see DECAL] [Slang] 1. inferior 2. ridiculous

    ~Webster's New World Dictionary

  32. Sheila, I am pretty sure there are people and places where your experience might not recur. It’s possible to get services from those who are not robotic, who have good listening skills, who are sensitive to the needs of the caller, who know if their firm can actually provide the required service, and if they have personnel who can perform.
    I’m in my 90s now so you may imagine that I have had plenty of experience with poor performance. Despite not wanting hassles in my remaining time on Earth, I had to risk it with a firm I then knew nothing about and now know little more.
    But I was lucky: they sent an electrician who knew exactly what to do. I’m very satisfied with the result. Guess who I called when I unexpectedly needed more service a month later and guess whose name I specified to perform that service. Guess how completely satisfied I am again with the result.

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