how high should I jump?

After a recent experience at a large home improvement store, I began to wonder, given that I’m in the professional services industry, should I be a more “enlightened” consumer than others? Shouldn’t I understand that a services business is a difficult business to be in and I should be a better customer? And yet, I still find myself just as frustrated as anyone else would be when I can’t accomplish what I wanted to.

A short digression to illustrate…

I purchased a cordless drill about a year ago and after light use, the rechargeable batteries were no longer charging, rendering the drill completely useless. So, I checked the manufacturer’s website for warranty information: lifetime warranty on the mechanical components and three years on batteries. Simple then, find where to send the old batteries, get new ones. Called the manufacturer and the person who answered said they contract with a local home improvement store to do their service. I could find a service center either in their Manhattan or Queens location.

Perfect. Hopped the subway, walked into the manhattan store. Asked the folks in power tools where to go. They said rental desk. The rental desk said professional services. Professional services said customer service.  I explained that I had been sent there by the manufacturer. They got annoyed, were none too polite and said, we don’t have a service center at this location, go to the Queens store. You can see where this is going…

And I have been on their side of the service counter before as a consultant delivering on a project or similar. I should have known how these situations happen. The customer did everything  right; gathered information on what was supposed to happen. Followed the directions given. The person at each stage did their best in answering the question presented to them. But in the end, there was misinformation at each part of the process and the customer became increasingly frustrated. And by the time the last interaction happened, the person who was really supposed to be able to handle the question got a tired and grumpy customer. So it is no surprise that the reaction to the customer was terse, indignant and completely not helpful.


I should be a more patient as a customer. I should be more patient when I’m in the customer service role. But it’s hard to remember that in the moment. Instead, the reaction on both sides have in their mind… they want me to do what? No way, no sir.

I’ve witnessed customers in stores asking (and demanding) unreasonable requests of sales people, waiters and store managers. I see those same people be dismissive of customers. Have we just been trained that it is going to be an adversarial situation? And therefore our flight/fight response kicks in as if we were our ancestral hunters defending our kin against a predator?

A day later I found myself in the Queens store and at the customer service desk. With the salesperson explaining that they don’t have a repair center either. Still exacerbated. But instead of an indignant response, the customer service person was overly nice, listened and said, “let me see if I can find someone to help.” And in the moment I knew that there wasn’t really anything he could do. He couldn’t repair the drill. He couldn’t figure out why the manufacturer and others had sent me to his store.

The customer may not always be right. The customer may not always have the power. And the person in customer service need not jump at every demand of the customer in order to make sure that the interaction is a positive one.