Customer service is alive and well

It appears that retailers are now putting the customer first! You remember the customer don’t you? He or she is the person who supports you and your company by buying products from you or using your services. For awhile, it appeared that customer service went the way of the Model T. Now I’m not so sure.

A couple of days ago, I went to Lowe’s to purchase light bulbs for a ceiling fan. I did not bring the burned-out bulb with me, but thought I could find a replacement for it anyway. I found some bulbs, paid for them and went home. It was then that I discovered that I bought the wrong size. There are three bulb sizes for ceiling fans — regular, intermediate and candelabra. I bought the candelabra size instead of the intermediate. I returned to Lowe’s and returned the unopened bulbs for credit on my bank card. The clerk then called someone in the electric department to help me find the “right” bulb. This time I brought the old bulb with me! We searched high and low for its replacement, but could not find it. At this point I was ready to go somewhere else, but the sales clerk offered to call the fan manufacturer for me to find out what replacement bulb to use. Imagine, a sales clerk calling the manufacturer on my behalf! We went over to his station and he looked up the phone number on his log sheet. He called and, of course, was immediately put on hold. After a few moments, he was once again connected with the manufacturer’s customer service rep and asked the type of bulb I should purchase. That is when everything went off the track as the manufacturer needed to know the exact model number of fan that I had. I never thought about bring the model number with me so we were unable to get additional information. He hung up and then started going through more ceiling fan specs. After a few more minutes, it was obvious that Lowe’s did not have the bulb I needed. The clerk then suggested Home Depot, Menard’s and a couple of electrical supply stores for me to check. I thanked him for his time and effort and left feeling bad that I did not buy something from him.

I drove to Home Depot and was immediately met by a sales clerk in the lighting section. I repeated my story and discovered that Home Depot did carry the replacement bulb. I picked up the 2-pack of bulbs and prepared to check out. The clerk then asked if I wanted to see the CFL bulbs that would fit in the fan. I was intrigued by that as I prefer going the low-cost and ecological route whenever I have the opportunity. She took me over to the display fans and showed me the light bulbs that were now coming with the fans. I did end up choosing the CFL bulbs (although they do cost more) over the incandescent bulbs. I made an off-hand remark about the safe disposing of CFL bulbs and she said that Home Depot accepts the bulbs for safe disposal. She took me over to the kiosk in the store where CFL bulbs and batteries can be safely disposed.

Home Depot was always a place that I avoided if I could. I am not the most mechanically-inclined person and always felt a bit overwhelmed when I went there looking for something. Although the clerks in the past were helpful, they assumed that I had greater mechanical knowledge than I really had. Lowe’s entered the Chicago market a few years ago and promoted its customer service. Home Depot must have gotten the message as this recent experience has become the norm rather than the exception. In both stores, it is hard to spend more than a few minutes without someone asking if they can help.

I’m sure the recession is also impacting their level of service. Customers have so many choices these days. Stores such as Meijer now carry a lot of hardware items and there is always Costco or Sam’s Club for the most common tools or hardware items. I was just very surprised to receive what I consider to be very helpful service within 15 minutes of each other from the two major home centers. I will continue to shop at both stores.

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