Customer Service and Product Knowledge

When I was a kid every store and every distributor had people who not only knew what they had, but knew something about the product. Now you are lucky
to reach a sales person or a customer service person you don't have to repeat the exact catalog number for or have look up more than two parts without getting irritated. Sigh!
Example:
Me: I see you have 43 end mills listed in your on-line catalog that meet these minimum specs. Can you punch in these specs and tell me which ones you stock in your local store?
Them: Can you give me the catalog number on the part you are looking for?
Sigh!
Me: Ok, try this one. #xxxxxxxxx.
Them: No, but we have it in our warehouse in China. I can have it for you in two weeks.
Me: Ok, how about this one?
Them: No, but we have it in our warehouse in China. I can have it for you in two weeks.
Me: Ok, how about this one?
Them: No, but we have it in our warehouse on the other coast. I can have it for you next week.
Me: Can't you just punch in these criteria in your computer or walk out in the warehouse and see which ones you actually stock if any?
Them: What is you are looking for?
Me: Thank you for your help. Have a nice day. Click.
Sigh.
With so many unemployed you would think people might actually try to become knowledgeable and useful at their job. I tend to find myself preferring to order more and more often from companies who have an interactive inventory database tied into their computer, but even then its no guarantee that in stock means anywhere close. It just means you will eventually get the part.
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On 06/25/2011 11:06 AM, Bob La Londe wrote:

My mileage on that sort of thing has varied -- a lot.
So when you find someone good, are you going to show some loyalty and buy from them even when the cheaper places are -- cheaper? Or are you only going to go to the 'good' place when you're desperate, and then bitch about the price?
With so many unemployed I think a lot of employers feel like they can hire good people at 'dregs' prices and treat them like s**t. So they either get dregs, or they get exceedingly unmotivated good people, and they're so busy chortling over their good fortune that they don't notice the customers they're alienating.
--

Tim Wescott
Wescott Design Services
  Click to see the full signature.
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Background before my rant: I have been a licensed contractor for 18 years, and I have been employed in the field for about 25. Before that I was raised in a business family, and I worked from the low end as just another stock boy to the high end managing one our our hardware and auto parts stores. I have worked on farms, in warehouses, and in computer labs. I have dealt with vendors, employers, and employees my entire life. Literally. When I was 4 years old I didn't get to go out and blow the money sent to me as presents by relatives. I bought merchandise and put it on the shelve sin our grocery store. I took profits from that and bought more merchandise. I earned a very small allowance when I was little and if I didn't do my job every day I didn't get paid. Period.
You obviously don't know me. I have said for years in groups related to my primary trade that big companies and in particular distributors generally suck. Follow good people, not particular businesses. I have a couple sales reps I have dealt with in electronics (communications) through two or three companies over the course of 18 years because they take care of me and they know their stuff. I've even changed brands for some products in order to be able to continue to deal with the same good people. I am very loyal to those people. 18 years ago when they were new and didn't know their stuff like they do now they found out instead of being lazy. The problem is its getting harder and harder to find people who actually believe that when you agree to do a job and take somebody's money you are actually supposed to do the job. I was raised that no matter how good or how crappy the pay you are worse than a petty thief if you agree to take somebody's money and then don't do the job. Worse than a thief, because you expect a thief to rip you off. As an employee who doesn't do their job to the best of your abilities you are not only stealing, but you are betraying a trust. Nobody deserves anything other than maybe support of family. Everything else they have to earn.

Sounds like a one sided labor viewpoint there. It goes both ways (and I have been on both sides both good and bad). I have had good employees and bad employees. I have had good bosses and bad bosses. The simple fact is when I started as contractor I could call almost any distributor and the person who answered the phone (any person there) knew something about the product they sold and if they didn't know exactly what I needed they would find out what I needed to know and call me back very quickly. Now you are lucky to find one person at a branch with any product knowledge and getting a call back is 50/50 at best. Pay has not gone down at those places, but profitability due to the economy sure has.
You want to get paid more. Then freaking be worth more. Its that simple. Even if you leave the company were you are, constantly bailing out for a few cents more per hour or a different benefit package you will have more opportunities and earn more money if you can make your employers more money while you are there. Good customers will follow you because you took care of them instead of acting like a defective computer unable to even look up a part. Good employers will reward that, and if you have a bad employers you will have more opportunities to go to somebody who pays more.
Its not a one sided argument, and never has been no matter how labor tries to brainwash people that its still the coal mines of 1930 everywhere.
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I think there are several issues here:
1 - Call centers are often separate from the inventory location. Very often the person taking the call cannot just walk back to the shelf and cast an eye upon the merchandise. In many cases the warehousing function is outsourced to a company that handles is for several disparate wholesaleres 2 - Many sellers today are nothing more than shells, with fulfillment agreements in place with distributors or manufacturers who could be in Newark or Shanghai. They never see nor touch the merchandise, and often know little about the subject. 3 - It's much cheaper to invest in a superior ecatalog than to hire people who know something. And when you do hire someone with a real depth of knowledge, 90% of them inject some BS when they get beyond their real knowledge. That gets you in trouble.
In my experience, the best buying experience comes from small, closely held firms where the owner/entrepreneur opens up every morning. Once they grow to multiple locations only a very few CEOs have the capability of extending the business culture beyond the original location. I appreciate those who can do it, I was never one who could.
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Bob La Londe wrote:
(...)

It's easy for us customers to see from a 'customer' perspective. It's really difficult for vendors, though.
--Winston
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I have been a licensed contractor for 18 years, and I was raised in family business. I definitely see both sides of the coin.
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Bob La Londe wrote:

Good on ya Bob. You are the exception.
Over the last few years, I've watch many brick 'n mortar stores in my area fail and leave only the concrete walls behind as a reminder of where they were.
With rare exception, they were the same stores that adopted a set of unhelpful attitudes towards the customer. I have mixed feelings about their departure. :)
--Winston
-- Economic recovery, one hysterically angry customer at a time.
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Winston wrote:

Well, it's just not in some of the "3rd party" business models. Everyone is willing to play the 3rd party middleman, and just have the order shipped from the factory. "Is it in stock, hell I don't know, might as well list it as 'in stock' on our website." I think CPO Woodworking works like that.
Or how about this concept that I encountered recently: email received 2 days after placing order to 3rd party vender at Amazon, "Well, we don't actually have the toner cartridge you ordered, but we have one just like it (unbranded) ready to ship. Would you like us to ship it now?". Just for fun, I called the next 3rd party vender selling that toner cartridge and phoned them, and asked them whether they were selling the "actual product"--and the answer was NO! The next one on the list, NewEgg.com going by a different name, sold me the actual product... Be wary out there!
Bill
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Bill, if you doublechecked that the ad actually says "Brand X" and they're not selling that, PLEASE let Amazon know that the vendor is using fraudulent advertising so nobody else will get stung.
Nuke the damned cheats!
-- Invest in America: Buy a CONgresscritter today!
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Larry Jaques wrote:
(...)

Complaining to Amazon about fraud is a lot like ringing up John "Jackie" D'Amico and complaining about the leaves on the sidewalk in front of one of his mansions.
Neither of them are likely to respond in a good way.
--Winston
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wrote:

You'd rather he NOT complain to Amazon, guaranteeing that the vendor would go on to rape some other sucker? A fine mess...
-- Invest in America: Buy a CONgresscritter today!
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Larry Jaques wrote:

Amazon gets a taste of the rape. They are co-conspirators with the vendor. See also "Pissing Into The Wind".
:)
--Winston
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wrote:

Izzat in the Intel Management Handbook, too?
-- The whole life of man is but a point of time; let us enjoy it. -- Plutarch
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Larry Jaques wrote:

Yup. For employees trying to do an adequate job. pissing into the wind ends up being much more productive and less dangerous.
--Winston <-- And 'way more pleasant.
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Larry Jaques wrote:

I did, it's almost like they didn't know what do do with my call. Since the seller cancelled my order, I couldn't even leave feedback. I did the best I could to inform Amazon (and everyone reading this) about what was/is going on.
Bill
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Bill wrote:

(...)
Yerhonner, I rest my case.
--Winston
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On Sat, 25 Jun 2011 11:06:07 -0700, "Bob La Londe"

He's either a lazy arse or company policy prevents sales.

Really frustrating, I agree.

One of the problems is the middle management who usually say "You were hired to accept parts orders over the phone. You will stay at your phone and -not- go wandering off into the warehouse. Do you understand?" Lots of companies whose management allows the warehouse trips end up solvent and selling a whole lot more product. The poor guys who fit the first definition usually end up in unemployment lines, right in front of their idiot managers.
This is a service society. Anyone who can meet service expectations will do well. Anyone who can exceed them will do exceedingly well. GuaranFARKINteed.
-- Invest in America: Buy a CONgresscritter today!
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Larry Jaques wrote:

Isn't much of the current evidence pointing in the other direction? Walmart, Apple, and Goodle seem to be doing pretty well, and they don't provide what I would call personal service. Sears on the other hand, who makes more of an attempt at personal service is probably almost due for another reorganization...
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I tend to think "small company" vs. "international corporate conglomerate" terms, and that's strictly service once you get away from the dirt cheap commodity market. Yes, some companies get away with a total lack of service, but most do not. I'm sure there are a few exceptions at all levels.
Just remember that providing good customer service is a much better (and cheaper) form of advertising than print ads. People warn others of bad companies and spread the good word about good companies, free.
-- If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now. -- Marcus Aurelius Antoninus
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Larry Jaques wrote:

Lets start over if you don't mind. First of all, what do you mean by "This is a service society"? Not arguing, but you put that out there like we should take it for granted.
If I go spend have of my paycheck at Walmart, or on rent, and the rest on beer and pretzels and gasoline, where are the services you are talking about? You implied (earlier) that the big players don't count, but they probably account for 90% of our GDP, no? McDonalds provides high service expectations and meets them, and one can argue that they are the reason behind the company's phenomenal success. I think that gas stations are the way the are because of what people want--speed and convenience, In short, economics will see to it that what people want prevails--whether we embrace the results or not. I recently purchased an antique tool sold my Montgomery Wards partly because of the warm memory...it was right across the street from where my dad worked.
I'm not sure whether I am disagreeing or not with what you wrote, I may just be looking at things in a slightly different way.
How about this as a starting point or title: The Internet, globalization, and why US citizens can no longer afford the service economy that it had when gas was 33.9.
Bill
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