Adventures in Customer Service


We’re in limbo waiting for our house to sell so we can embark on our new travel adventures.  It doesn’t mean, however, that we’re just sitting around with nothing to do.  On the contrary, we have a long “to do” list that we’re tackling now so that once our house is under contract, we can move forward expeditiously.  As you might expect, some tasks have gone swimmingly, while others have been more challenging.  Some companies have provided exemplary customer service experiences, while others have fallen far short, and a whole lot in between.  In this post, I’m taking a break from the fun stuff we’re doing to share some recent experiences with various companies and other entities.  And yes, I’m naming names . . . .

Best of the Bunch

These four retailers all get an “A+” for customer service.  No issues whatsoever.  You go to their customer-friendly websites, you search for stuff you want, you order it, and it arrives undamaged in a timely fashion.  Home Depot also gets kudos for its ‘no hassle’ return policy.   If only shopping were always that easy and predictable!

The four entities shown below also made my “A” list for excellent service.

Bill and I both had employer-based retirement accounts (mine was with Ascensus, and Bill’s was with Fidelity) that were eligible to roll over into our Edward Jones IRAs.  It couldn’t have gone more smoothly!  Our Edward Jones adviser made it easy – all we had to do was say something along the lines of “I do.” So we did, and it’s done.

Bill’s driver’s license was due to expire in July, and the renewal process was surprisingly quick and easy.  Although you can now make an appointment in advance, he waited too long, so he took his chances and just showed up.  Fifteen minutes later, he was out the door, new temporary license in hand!  Kudos to the state of Colorado for its customer-friendly process.

Good Service with Room to Improve – A Solid “B”

Heritage is my health insurance carrier – a small outfit based in Florida.  When I retired at the end of June, I signed up for COBRA coverage for the next 18 months until I’m eligible for Medicare.  Luckily, the transition went smoothly, as far as I know, but I haven’t actually used it yet.  The reason Heritage doesn’t deserve an “A” rating is because I have to send in a paper coupon with my monthly payment.  Yep, that’s right.  Because of all the info printed on the coupon, I’m hesitant to sign up for my bank’s bill-paying service for fear that the payments won’t be properly credited to my account.

Comcast Xfinity scored higher than I expected, given the horror stories one hears on a regular basis.  We had two things on the Comcast list: 1) return the cable modem that we were leasing (because we purchased our own), and 2) reduce our monthly internet bill from $139 to something more reasonable.  The upside from the Comcast experience – you can now make an appointment instead of waiting in line, and our new monthly bill is $81 for super high speed internet.  The downside?  The local office couldn’t change our monthly plan – that required a separate phone call, and it’s annoying that they don’t reach out to their current customers and proactively offer better deals as a matter of practice.

I recently ordered a loveseat from West Elm – it’s for the condo, since most of our current furniture is too large to fit.  Everything has gone smoothly so far (we’re scheduled to have the loveseat delivered next Tuesday), but I downgraded them to a “B” because 1) they don’t have an on-line option for scheduling delivery – you have to call, and 2) they can’t tell you what the 2 hour delivery window will be until after you select a specific date.  Addressing both issues would warrant a higher grade.

Needs Work – No Better than a “C”

The entities in this category landed here not because they were rude or unresponsive, but because getting my questions or issues addressed required more of my time and energy than they should have.

It took four separate visits to the local Social Security office to successfully submit a form and associated documentation for reducing our IRMAA surcharge for Bill’s Medicare Part B and Part D premiums after I retired.  I won’t bore you with the details of why it took four trips, but thankfully the office was only a short distance from our house.  On the plus side, we received a refund for the excess year-to-date premiums within a week after my fourth visit – a pleasant surprise.

The stories for Overstock and Hayneedle are both similar – we ordered furniture for the condo from each company, and in both cases, it arrived with significant damage.  Both companies have excellent customer service support by phone and made appropriate amends for the damaged merchandise.   The reasons for the “C” scores?  1) the time lag in getting the issues resolved – specifically, waiting for them to contact their supplier and ship a replacement part, and 2) disappointment in the quality of their merchandise.  Not sure I will order from either company again.

The last example in this category is Magellan Rx – my mail order prescription company.  Their services just aren’t up to par with their competitors.  The website is rudimentary at best.  I had to call them with my payment information, because they didn’t provide an option to do so online.  In this day and age?

Two Contenders for Last Place

We unfortunately have two contenders in this category otherwise known as the race to the bottom.  I could vent for quite some time about my experience with DirecTV this week, but I’ll spare you (most of) the details.  The reason for contacting them was to cancel our service, because we’re cutting the cord at the end of the month and replacing it with a streaming service to use with our brand new little Roku Ultra.  Like other misguided subscription services, you can’t actually transact the business of discontinuing service online – you must call.  To their credit, I was connected to a representative right away.  It was all downhill from there, however.  Suffice it to say they don’t want to lose a customer, so they argue and simply try to wear you down with options you don’t want.  Curiously, the one service we might have been interested in – DirecTV Now – wasn’t one of the choices!  Our rep was rude, and so was I.  The whole process was infuriating, and while I was successful in terminating our service, I also made a “Never Again DirecTV” pledge.  Plus I’m spreading our story far and wide.  They earn a “D” for customer service.  It’s no wonder they keep losing customers . . . .

The Solatube story is still unfolding.  We have two in our current house, and the outside cover of one unit was broken in a recent hailstorm.  So we found the phone number for our local Solatube distributor, which happens to be in Denver.  Bill called and was told they would get back to us with a solution.  That was a month ago, and despite numerous follow-up calls to which he only has the option of leaving a voice mail message, we haven’t heard a thing.   Also infuriating, because we’re not sure what other options we have.  So I give them a big, fat “F”.  Be sure to tell your friends!

Lessons Learned

Here are five takeaways from our recent experiences:

  1. Give preference to online retailers that have a solid track record of meeting customers’ expectations.  It’s not worth trying out an unknown entity just to save a few bucks.
  2. Just say “no” to ordering budget furniture online.  Chances are good it won’t meet your quality standards once it arrives, and returning it is a huge inconvenience even if it’s free.  Lots and lots of duct tape . . . .
  3. Persist in seeking an acceptable resolution when your expectations for quality and/or service are not met.  Take advantage of third party leverage (e.g. Better Business Bureau) if you aren’t satisfied with a company’s responsiveness.
  4. Provide feedback, both positive and negative, so that others can benefit from your experiences.
  5. Steer clear of DirecTV!
Categories: Odds and EndsTags:

4 comments

  1. Marlene’s experience with local SSA was complete opposite of yours. One visit; less than 1/2 hour; IRMAA surcharge eliminated. But then we are in Florida. SSA has plenty of experience with retirees down here.

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    • Hi Steve – thanks for your comment. It’s a given that we will have future interactions with the Social Security people, and I hope they go as smoothly as your recent experiences. For sure, I will let you know . . . .

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  2. Couldn’t agree more on DirecTV. Our XFinity/Comcast experiences have been worse. (too long a story to repeat here.) SSA, pretty good over the years, although calls sometimes take a long time to get answered.

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