Lowe’s finds 13 ways to undermine customer experience in a single transaction

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Customer service usually sucks. That’s not news. So I reserve my commentary for companies that manage to screw up in more interesting ways.

That’s what Lowe’s just did. It not only failed, it failed 13 different times in one transaction. And it’s worth reviewing, since nearly all of those failures are due to the same cause: a failure for corporate IT and customers systems to interoperate properly.

All I did was order a Webber gas barbecue grill, which was supposed to be a present for my wife’s 60th birthday yesterday. It was just the one she wanted. And I ordered it from Lowe’s, not the Home Depot right across the street, since Lowe’s offered free assembly and free delivery. (It’s not much of a birthday for her if I have to spend it assembling the thing, cursing, buying tools I don’t have, and wondering if I did it wrong and the resulting gas leak is going to blow up our entire house.)

The service in the store was excellent. They promised delivery on June 22. They said I’d get a call the day before telling me exactly when it would arrive, and sure enough, I got an automated call that promised delivery between 8am and noon.

Let’s count the customer experience failures

It’s noon on June 22. No call. No grill. No contact whatsoever.1

I call the number on the receipt. An automated attendant asks what I’m calling about. I say “Delivery of barbecue grill.” It connects me to the garden department.2

An employee answers from the garden department. When I explain what I want, he says, “You should talk to customer service.” He tries to connect me. No sound, no response, then the call drops.3

I call back. This time, I tell the automated attendant I want information on “Delivery.” It asks for my phone number. I tell it. It says “I don’t have a record of that number.” This is odd, because the phone number is right there on the receipt I got, and they called me on it the night before.4

It asks if I have some other number. I say “No.” Then it says it will connect me to someone who can help. The phone rings for five minutes.5 Then it drops the call.6

The recording I got while being on hold said I could check the Lowe’s web site. Sure enough, there is an order status form.

To check the status, you need to enter your Order Number. That must be on the receipt, also known as “Order Confirmation.” So I look at the order confirmation email. Here’s what’s on there:

I’m not going to ding them for using “like” instead of “as,” or for the lack of an Oxford comma. But as you can see, there’s no Order Number on there.7 However, there is a Transaction #. So I entered that. And here’s the result.8

It takes sharp eyes, but you can see what’s wrong — it’s an eight-digit Transaction #, not a “9 digit minimum valid order number.”9 So I guess a Transaction # is not the same as an Order Number. And I’ve carefully scrutinized the receipt: it has several item #’s (five or six digits), an invoice number (five digits), REFIDs (12 digits), and lots of other numbers, but no Order Numbers.

So I call back and asked for customer service again. After four minutes they answer. They say they will put me in touch with somebody who can help, and after another four minutes on hold, a person answers the phone with “Receiving!”

I say “Receiving? I am looking for someone who can help me with deliveries.”

He says, “That’s probably me.”

I tell him I was supposed to get a grill delivered today.

He says, “Can you give me your last name?”

I tell him my name.

“Just a minute.” Then he puts me on hold for another minute or two. When he comes back he says “What’s your name again?”10

I tell him my name again.

He says, “Yeah, I see it. We didn’t put it on the truck because it’s not assembled.”

“Why not?” I ask.

“They didn’t know somebody needed to assemble it.” (Which it says, right on the receipt, and presumably in their point of sales system.)

“They called last night to say it would be delivered,” I point out. “Was somebody supposed to call me and tell me it wasn’t coming?”

No response.

“What can you do?”

“Well we can . . .” and at that point, inexplicably, hold music starts playing. What happened?11

Suddenly, the guy comes back on. No explanation for the interruption. “Our assembler only works on Tuesday. I can get him to assemble it, and then we can deliver it next week on Wednesday.”12 That’s a week after the original delivery date.

“When on Wednesday?” I ask.

“I don’t know.”

“Why did your customer service people promise me a delivery date when they couldn’t actually deliver it?” I asked.

“I don’t know. They didn’t know it needed to be assembled or something.”

My receipt has assembly and delivery right on it as line items, and I had discussed it with the customer service clerk who rang it up, so somebody wasn’t paying attention.13

I knew it was futile to argue further. So I arranged delivery for next week and ended the conversation.

What do you think? Will my grill arrive next week?

Why things go wrong

Nearly all of the problems in this interaction are systems problems.

The system that included the assembly and delivery in the sales receipt didn’t communicate with the people doing the assembly and delivery.

The system that notified me about the delivery didn’t communicate with the system that required the assembly.

The point-of-sale system that had my phone number as documented in the receipt didn’t communicate with the automated phone attendant that asked for my number — even though the phone attendant system is clearly expecting to have access to that number.

The system that allows you to check your order online didn’t account for the system that failed to put the order number into the receipt.

Add long hold times as a result of what are presumably staffing challenges and you get 13 customer experience failures in a single transaction (and that’s assuming I get my grill as rescheduled next week). That’s an impressive amount of failure.

When your systems don’t interact properly, your company doesn’t work. Customers get screwed. And that costs money — and customer loyalty.

Investing in marketing when system failures are screwing up your customer experience is like putting premium gas in a car with four flat tires. You won’t go faster. You won’t go anywhere.

Fix your systems. Or pay the price with customers.

16 responses to “Lowe’s finds 13 ways to undermine customer experience in a single transaction

  1. Why does it always feel like a roulette game with any big box store?

    I would be _the most loyal_ customer to the business who pretended to give a hoot about me and they could even charge more!

    1. I will try to give a real answer to this question. Each incremental choice to fail to fix a problem or fail to invest in a system seems like no big deal, but taken together they add up to screwing the customer. So they become terrible one poor decision at a time.

      I believe this has begun to happen to Whole Foods since Amazon bought it, for example.

      It takes concerted effort to remain customer-focused and invest in customer systems as you grow. This is why the companies that do this, like USAA and Zappos (which runs as an independent Amazon subsidiary) stand out.

      In retail, Jordan’s Furniture does pretty well. (It’s owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, but he bought it because of its reputation with customers.) Trader Joe’s does pretty well. So do Nordstrom and Sephora. But big box = low cost = low investment = poor customer experience. It’s a damning equation.

      1. “It takes concerted effort to remain customer-focused” resonates. The companies that remain focused stand out more and more and more as those around them talk the talk, but don’t walk it.

  2. You hit the nail on the head, Josh. This is a systems issue, not a personnel one. I wonder if a single customer experience officer actually ordered a product from his/her company.

        1. It’s not hard to imagine why. I once worked at a company with $100Ms in revenue that had one person worldwide monitoring all of social media, community boards like Redditt, etc. for complaints.

  3. The last paragraph resonates with me, a former Marketing guy. Companies will pay a small fortune for TV advertising and incessant mailers but fail to invest in core customer-facing systems and processes. Macy’s used to drive me nuts: carpet-bombing with ads but no one in the store to take my money (lines a mile long). Safeway grocery store near me is my current gripe: no carts!? Companies are failing to nail the basics.

  4. Uh, Mr. Marvin Ellison, I am quite sure you want to put your best people on fixing this–you do NOT want to be on The Josh Sh*tlist.

  5. Lowe’s did away with the Chief Customer Officer a few years ago and here is the result.
    Thus, there is no one accountable:
    1. No one at Lowe’s that is responsible for making sure your problem is addressed.
    2. No one is listening to the voice of the customer, not in the company, store or on social media.
    3. No one is looking at the process issues that over promise and under deliver.

    You are an influencer. The greater problem is that most people tell others when they have a bad experience and most people listen to this changing the buying decision. It is not supply issues or even the pandemic that is holding people back from shopping, it is inane situations such as this.

  6. Well, you handled this way better than I would have. I truly hate poor customer service and a seeming unwillingness to put the customer first, or at least acknowledge and accept that the service was poor, and then fix it!

  7. If the grill doesn’t come through by July 4th, you should arrange for a cook-out at your local Lowe’s store on their floor model to square you up.

  8. To get the underlying system(s) problem(s) fixed you’ll first need to find an interested advocate at Lowe’s with enough clout to make things happen. Good luck with that, Josh.

    But if you’re interested mainly in solving your personal grille problem I recommend you contact the local store manager. It seems to me that all the people that can get you what you want when you want it report to this person. The people you’ve been talking to have a much too narrow view of the situation and little to no ability to move things along. The store manager, on the other hand, should have the ability to make things happen at the store level and should be interested in helping you. They probably provide input to their own periodic performance evaluations and would love to include evidence of their ability to improve customer satisfaction. They might also be able to locate an interested, cloutful (is that a real word?) advocate within Lowe’s to work the larger system problem.

    Hey, it’s worth a shot isn’t it?

    Tom

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