A Customer Service (or not) Story

Generally speaking, I don’t write about problems I encounter in purchasing goods or services whether on-line or in a retail store. Stories are just not that interesting as they usually involve a little inconvenience in the time and effort it takes to return the item and get reimbursed. You ask yourself, “Why do I care?” The answer is that you probably don’t care but this particular transaction merits attention from an application systems perspective. My experience has been in design, building and implementing business solutions. In an Internet-connected world with the demand for instantaneous, accurate, results, it is imperative to get it right and get it right the first time. Here’s my story.

I shop at Staples because they are in close proximity to the Level 7 Tech Group office, have a good selection of things technical like cable modems, routers, USB flash drives, printers, ink, paper, pens and other office supplies. Also, that $5.00 reward for recycling all of those ink cartridges, believe it or not, does tend to entice me into the store. I’m even enrolled in the Staples Reward Program. How’s that for customer loyalty?

Dear diary:

October 12 – Wednesday

I needed a replacement Ethernet over Powerline adapter as my Cisco adapter decided it was going to be flaky and drop the network connection to my router. It took a while to isolate this because who would think a piece of hardware would go bad. It’s almost never the case. I went to the Staples store and found they didn’t have single adapters only WiFi extenders and they were sold in pairs.

One of the associates in the store offered to help me and we went on-line to the website. We found a low-cost device made by TP-Link, a AV500 Nano Powerline Adapter (TL-PA-4010). She ordered it for me and I paid for it with a credit card. It was scheduled to be delivered to the store on Monday.

I had some business later in the day in Palo Alto, so I decided to stop at the Fry’s Electronics store there and see if they had something in stock. Remember the saying about the bird in the hand. It was too good to be true. There on the shelf was the exact item I was looking for, the AV500 Nano. It was the last one. I purchased it and installed it when I returned to Level 7 HQ. It worked fine. It’s still working fine.

October 13 – Thursday

I decided to call Staples to cancel the order. I dialed their 800 number on my receipt. Ever get on one of those calls where the call volume is set so high that people in the next county can hear the conversation through your earpiece? OK, lets dial down the volume and proceed. The phone system understood I wanted to speak in English and I wanted to return an item. It didn’t recognize the order number that I said and then keyed in using the touch pad on my phone. Let’s try something else, enter your phone number. Same results. Would you like to speak with an agent? Sure. Ringing… Hello, can I have your order number? I don’t recognize this number did you purchase the item in a store? I’ll have to transfer you.

Question #1. Why did I get a number to call if I had problems that didn’t handle items ordered in the store?

I was transferred to another group that did, indeed handle orders placed in stores. Unfortunately, they couldn’t cancel the order because it wasn’t completed. Apparently, this becomes a drop-ship order where the manufacturer fulfills the order and nothing can be done until the order is accepted by the store. I had to wait until Monday when the item would appear in the store.

October 17 – Monday

The promised delivery date arrives. I was going to call the original 800 number but then I thought, why don’t I call the store directly. After all, it is a store order. Ring, ring. I explain the reason for my call. The person, says to call an 800 number and guess what, it’s the same 800 number that I was calling. I explain this to the person but it goes no where.

I call the 800 number and punch in the code to get me to returns. The phone system doesn’t recognize the order number or the phone number so I have to speak to an agent. Before calling, I logged to the Staples web site and went to my orders and there wasn’t an order listed there. Why? Because I didn’t place the order through the web site. The store placed the order and the store owns it. Unfortunately, the employee at the store couldn’t “grok” this.

I’m connected to an agent who can’t find my order. This is “Ground Hog Day” – the movie. I get transferred to an agent who can handle store orders. She finds the order.

“Did I pay by debit card or check?”

“No, I paid for it with a credit card.”

“Can you return the item to the store?”

I reply that I was hoping to avoid a trip since the item was not delivered to me.

She replies, “It shows that the order was delivered.”

“It’s probably because the item was delivered to the store and not to me. Do I have to go to the store to return the item that I don’t have?”

“Let me call my Help Desk”, comes the reply. I’m on hold.

She comes back. “It’s all set you should see a credit on your credit card statement in three to five business days.”

“Super”, I say. “Can you give me a confirmation number?”

“It’s your order number.” The dreaded order number that only a select few know about and is only actionable on by the Help Desk. I thank her. Sensing my good nature, she asks me if I would like to participate in a survey after the call. I say, I would have nice things to say about the interaction but not about the Staples “return” process. She presses the transfer button.

“Please enter your employee number in order to transfer this call to the survey line.” Well, so much for trying to be a nice guy.

October 18 – Tuesday

It’s 7:30AM and I get a call from the Staples store by a real person informing me that my item has arrived in the store and I can pick it up any time that is convenient. I reply that I cancelled or “returned” the order yesterday.

“Ok” is the reply.

October 20th – Thursday

Checking my credit card on-line – there is no return pending. I decide to call the store. The phone tree has difficulty routing me but eventually I’m speaking with a person. I say that I’m calling about an order that was placed in the store. He asks for my name, and the name of the item that I ordered and puts me on hold while he has an associate find my order. The associate tells me that he has located my item. I tell him that I want to return the item and get a refund. I also mention that I have been trying to return the item since Monday. He says to come into the store. I ask him why I need to come in to the store to return an item that the store has in it’s possession. It’s so that they can put the amount on my debit card. I mention that I paid with a credit card. This conversation is going nowhere, so he asks if I want to speak to his supervisor.

Great initiative! I take him up on his offer and speak to Mohammed. I explain the situation. Mohammed takes the initiative and calls the appropriate Staples department to find out how to process a return and says he’ll call me back.

Less than an hour passes and Mohammed is on the line. He asks for my address because they need to cut me a check. Apparently, the department that processes the returns is not able to post a credit to my charge card and was preparing a refund check. The only address that they had on file was the store’s address. That stopped them cold and the effort would have ended there. So Mohammed gave them the Level 7 Tech Group address and a refund check is supposedly on its way.

When I was in the store, I could have used my cell phone to logon to my Staples account and place the order and had it delivered to the Level 7 Tech Group office. There would have been a delivery charge. To my understanding, since it was an online order, I could have cancelled it immediately and my credit card would show the return. That would have been the “happy path.”

A store order is paid for in the store, so it is not an online order. Delivery can be made to the store or to a mailing address. If it was delivered to a mailing address, the item would have to be returned to the store. They would be able to credit my card. Another “happy path.”

In this case the delivery was to the store. The store had the item. They know the credit card that was used to pay for the item. Still I can’t get a return without apparently having to go into the store to present my credit card.  I admit, that I’m still trying to wrap my head around this.

The takeaway (I think)

If you go to Staples and the item your looking for is not on stocked then if you need it right away:

  1. look for it at another Staples store
  2. look for the item at another retailer
  3. order it using your Staples account online.

If you choose the last one then you have to weigh the implications of where to take delivery.

Best of luck.

This posting is provided “as is” with no warranties, guarantees or rights whatsoever

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One Response to A Customer Service (or not) Story

  1. Laurel says:

    Awrggggg! Maddening!

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