Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Complaint Department (See Next Window...)

I ordered eyeglasses a while ago from Costco and I finally picked them up the other day. The wait seemed interminable and was actually twice the timeframe promised, so I was getting a little cranky about the delay.

Like many people, I’ve become used to instant gratification. As soon as the charge clears my account (and you know that’s pretty instantaneous these days), I want the stuff. Like, now!

I used to buy all my eyeglasses from Lenscrafters because I wanted them in an hour. Once I graduated beyond single vision lenses, however, I realized how pricey those specs were getting. So I moved on to less expensive places that forced me to wait a week or more for my new glasses, which I suppose has been a good lesson in patience.

So this was my first experience buying glasses from Costco. When they said the wait was “10-14 days” I figured they were under-promising like they do in restaurants when they tell you the wait will be 45 minutes and so you’re happy when they call you in 20 minutes to tell you your table is ready.

I guess I was wrong about Costco. (That thud you just heard was Vince hitting the floor.)

I patiently waited until Day 10 when I called. They weren’t in. Day 13 and…nothing. On Day 17 I was told that there might be a problem; that possibly they had broken in production and they were being redone. This was not, as you might expect, what I wanted to hear.

On Day 19 I enlisted the aid of “The Enforcer,” er, Vince. He called the manager and firmly expressed our displeasure with the situation. The manager gave him all sorts of excuses and apologies. Finally, on Day 21 they called to say that my glasses were (finally) in. We live near Costco so we were prepared to drive right over – only to be told that the store had already closed for the day. Grrr.

When we went in to pick them up, the technician was all apologetic about the delay. I wasn’t happy, but wasn’t sure what could be done to rectify the situation. After all, I’d already paid for them and I wasn’t sure how much “waiting impatiently” would be worth in dollars. Vince, who is a stickler for good customer service, kept his cool, but stated our disappointment with the experience. That if someone had only called us to give us a status update, we’d have been more patient. But we had heard nothing from them.

I will say that Costco didn’t slough off our complaint. Actually, we were given a fairly decent refund, which was way more than I was expecting. I’m not much of a complainer, so I probably would’ve been happy with a free bottle of eyeglass cleaner or one of those polishing cloths.

But the refund was enough to pick up a ginormous bottle of ibuprofen, 3-pack of soy milk, and a multi-pack of paper towels that took up the entire trunk of the car and will probably last us through the end of the year. So complaining isn’t always a bad thing.

But I have also learned that there are “rules” to complaining.

The first is: don’t lose your cool. Screaming at the person to whom you’re directing your complaint doesn’t accomplish much. Usually that person hasn’t caused the problem, but is probably at that moment wishing they’d gone in a less stressful direction with their career. Like maybe “Bomb Squad Technician.” Also, refrain from finger pointing unless you want the confrontation to become physical. And just know that most bystanders would be rooting for the clerk you’re abusing.

Be selective. Don’t complain about every little thing – life is full of disappointments and, believe it or not, the world isn’t out to make your life perfect. If you send back every burger you order because it’s not cooked to your exacting standards, the problem might not be with the cook, but with the complainer. Besides, you don’t want to piss off the kitchen help. You don’t know what they’ve done to that burger before returning it to you.

And, finally, understand that most businesses do want to hear about the problem you’re having so they can make it right or can learn better ways to satisfy their customers.

Oh, and one other thing. Consider offering kudos when you get great customer service. I’ve become better at this from watching Vince. He will give compliments when we’ve had a great experience at a restaurant or retail establishment, even going so far as to talk to the manager. It’s very cool to see their faces light up when they realize someone isn’t out to complain, but to compliment.

So now I’m wearing my new eyeglasses. I like them and Vince likes them, too. But the bifocal is stronger than I’m used to and I’m beginning to get a bit of a headache from holding my head at the precise angle with which to clearly see the computer.

Good thing we got that ginormous bottle of ibuprofen, huh? Let’s just hope that I don’t need to send these eyeglasses back to be adjusted. I don’t think I could stand the wait!


  1. Sorry you had the problem with Costco Optical. Joy and I both have gotten our glasses there for years. Although a couple weeks is typical they always seem eager to please and their prices, especially for no-line bifocals is the best.

    As for complaining I completely agree. I have always found that speaking with a manager can do great things. I always start with "I just wanted to share my experience so that you as a manager can be informed and correct a situation that you may not otherwise know about...). I seem to do this a lot at hotels and restaurants. Our kids used to find it very entertaining, usually asking "What did you get this time Dad?"

  2. I did think their prices were pretty great - they weren't on sale and they were VERY reasonable.

    I was okay with waiting two weeks, but three weeks, well, not so much.

    No wonder you and Vince hit it off - he's the same way! Usually speaks to the manager. And most of them are willing to go out of their way to make things right. But again, Vince does both the complaints and the kudos.