One of my frequent topics is customer service. I am old enough to remember when that term was mandatory, not optional.
If you have taken a few dozen trips around the sun, you remember when customer service was a priority. When you called a business, a human answered the phone. Actual people filled your gas tank and cleaned your windshield. A nice lady at the bank cashed your check, carefully counting the bills to make sure you got the right amount. Now we push buttons at an ATM in the rain, with a suspicious person standing right behind us. Progress?
So I’m turning over the remainder of this week’s column to my wife Cindy, who joins me in celebrating the joys of a store that excelled in actual, human-contact customer service. Cindy, tell your story:
“Finding the perfect gift in this holiday season is never easy, so when I saw one I loved on Belk’s website, I checked to see if it was available at Belk’s nearest store. It was not, so I ordered the gift online. A few days later, I received an email that the item had been delivered at my home address, and I was thrilled. Gee, that was quick, I thought. But there was no sign of any package delivery.
“I had been home all evening. No delivery truck had come. We reviewed our Ring camera footage and there was no activity detected. These cameras usually pick up a stray cat running through the yard, so I felt confident no delivery person had been at our home. I called the Belk customer service number, put the phone on speaker, and waited. Forever. We listened to possibly the worst piano solo ever.
“After 59 minutes David asked, ‘Doesn’t this pianist get tired of playing?’ and we both had a good laugh. A few minutes later, there was dead silence. The call had disconnected. I had waited more than an hour to talk with a representative, and got nothing. I was not in a good mood.
“So I called the number again, this time opting for a “text chat” with a representative. When Belk sent the link, my phone notified me the link was fraudulent: DO NOT OPEN. So I did not.
“I posted about the missing package on our community Facebook page, and asked if our neighbors had seen it, knowing that deliveries occasionally end up on the wrong porch. They had not. So our package had been delivered all right, but to who knows where.
“By the next afternoon, there was still no sign of any delivery. I decided to visit the nearest Belk store at the mall, just to see if anyone there could help. It was a long shot, since online and in-store are not always compatible, but I felt I had nothing to lose.
“After telling my sob story to two women at the jewelry counter, they paged the store manager. I showed her my online receipt, and she dialed the same number I had dialed the night before. As we waited, and waited for a human being to respond, I gave the manager the tracking number, order number and my contact information. Then, much to my surprise, I saw the very item I was trying to track down. Despite what it said on the Belk website, the item WAS available in-store. I told the manager if I had known that, I would have bought it at her store.
“Eventually, a living, breathing customer service representative interrupted the bad piano music, but the store manager and I had a hard time understanding her. The rep had a heavy accent, but we did learn a critical piece of information—my item had indeed been delivered somewhere. Despite our clearly stated Tennessee address, my package had been dropped off more than a hundred miles away in Georgia.
“We’ll never know how that happened. We asked to discuss the matter with the service rep’s supervisor. We were put on hold, again. When we were 33 minutes in, the Belk store manager had had enough. Let’s just say she took care of me in a most unexpected, satisfactory way, and I will never forget her willingness to help, her sense of humor, and the way she managed to make me feel better.
“I know many of you have a similar story. Workers in department stores are difficult to come by, and when we do find one, it’s hard to get their attention to get what you need. But the people I encountered at Belk were kind and patient, and determined to solve my problem. So if you’re tempted to buy online, please try your local store first. You may be pleasantly surprised.”
Thank you Cindy. Technology is great. But good people are still a business’s best asset.
David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Hello Chattanooga: Famous People Who Have Visited the Tennessee Valley,” available at ChattanoogaRadioTV.com. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or RadioTV2020@yahoo.com.