September 17, 2007


Here's a classic lesson in how not to do business: I have been buying writing supplies at Utrecht's, a national manufacturer and retailer of art supplies with stores around the U.S. Their store near me in Southern California is staffed by surfer dudes. Maybe that is a mean way to put it. How about "young artsy guys with black t-shirts, long curly sun-bleached hair and pookah shell necklaces"? They don't seem especially helpful or knowledgeable about the store's products. They are basically cashiers.

Over the past months, I have purchased a rather expensive portfolio from Utrecht's, to transport and show my writing samples. Then, more recently, I bought additional pages for the portfolio at Utrecht's. These pages have a clear cover and a stiff back, with holes to insert into the ringed portfolio. I have become a regular Utrecht's customer, eschewing another large art supply retailer just down the block.

When I brought the replacement pages home and opened the package, I found to my dismay that the pages are open on the sides, which allows the papers put inside them to fall right out. It's a rather silly design flaw, and one that I never dreamed could exist. So, last Friday, I came back to Utrecht's with the pages in their package, and my receipt. I explained the problem and asked to exchange the pages for a pricier brand that I assumed (and of course would confirm beforehand) has enclosed pages. I was very surprised at their response.

The first surfer/artsy cashier guy said he would have to check whether I could "return" the pages. He asked another pookah-wearing curlyhead, who presumably was more senior. The second guy came over, and this was our conversation:

Pookah: We don't take returns.
Me: This isn't a return. It's an exchange.
Curly (scratching curls): Huh?
Me: A return is when I ask for my money back. I want to exchange these for your fancier pages that are enclosed, and pay the difference.
Surfer: We can't take back packages that are opened.
Me: There was no way to know that the pages aren't enclosed until I opened the package and took one out.
Artsy (turning package over): You had the chance to look at the package before you bought it.
Me (very insulted): The pages are laying flat in the package. There's no way to see that they don't close, and there's nothing on the label that says so.
Cashier: We don't take returns on opened packages.
Me (trying different tack): I'm a regular, loyal customer here. I have a Utrecht's card. Would you really be willing to lose a good customer over this?
Bong Hit Guy: Sorry.
Me (spinning around and walking out the door): Thanks, I'll just go to your competition from now on.

When I got home, I found the Utrecht's website and sent an email to their customer service department, explaining what had happened. I further explained that, in my two careers thus far, including one as an attorney at a high-priced law firm in Washington, DC, I have learned that the best way to do business when clients have complaints is to work with these clients to resolve the problem, rather than turning them away to my competitors. I have found that, even if I could come up with a good argument against a customer who is complaining over a financial or other matter, the better course is to accommodate the customer and make them feel that they are important. This way, whatever minor, short term loss I may experience by reducing their bill or otherwise helping them is more than made up for in repeat business not just from that client, but from their friends, colleagues and family members whom they refer to me. This is what is known as "good business practice."

Apparently, the skater boyz at Utrecht's have not learned this lesson. Perhaps they have not been properly trained. Perhaps (no, definitely) they have no financial stake in the store or the company. Hopefully, my email to Utrecht's will cause them to work with me to solve this problem and keep me as a customer. Otherwise, I'll just head to their competitor, and to me and those around me, Utrecht's will forever be known as U-Trash-Us, or, more topically this week, U-Betray-Us.


At 11:36 AM, Blogger Barbara said...

You are absolutely right about customer service. It is sometimes even advisable to take a loss in order to keep a regular customer. It sounds like the surfer boys didn't take customer service 101. I would be surprised if the head office didn't offer you something at no cost to compensate for your bad experience. If not, then go elsewhere and never look back.

My $8,000 worth of free equipment for the High Holy Day services fits this model. Their representative slept in and failed to show for the initial meeting. I called and voiced my unhappiness threatening to go elsewhere next year. At the next meeting (when he did show), he made the generous offer. Some people understand this concept.

At 12:34 PM, Blogger media concepts said...

I received an email from the store manager. She apologized for the "misunderstanding" and said that of course I could exchange the pages. She also wrote that she is mailing me a gift card to the store. I knew that they would use the term "misunderstanding" to cover their behavior. I was tempted to reply that there was no misunderstanding, just shoddy treatment. But instead I just replied "thanks."

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

Yep. That's about all you can do. If more people would report on these lunatics, maybe they would be fired, but unfortunately most people don't pursue a problem, preferring instead to just accept the word of the employee.

As another example of this, when my son moved from Tucson to SF last December, he put some really crappy furniture in storage in Tucson, where he has been paying $100 a month to rent space. He was prepared to fly out there to dump the furniture because some idiot told him that was the only way to get rid of it and the monthly charge. I just spoke to the manager who laughed and said, "I wondered how much longer he was going to leave this stuff in storage. Just mail the key with a letter and there will be no more charges." A good rule of thumb is "always ask for the manager."

At 12:33 PM, Blogger Ghetufool said...

whew! india is better. here they would have definitely taken it back.


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