When a Company Is No Longer That into You
November 14, 2013 Editor 0
Companies are often better at romancing than they are at long-term commitment.
I entered a relationship with Lowe’s almost four years ago. Sure, we’d been acquaintances. I’d seen it when I went to the store next door. I even visited once to buy a hard-to-find light bulb.
But then I bought a house.
Suddenly, Lowe’s was there for me. Before long, I found myself there every weekend — buying everything from plumbing supplies to paint to appliances. When I had an issue, Lowe’s had the answer in stock. And, after a year, I was ready to take our relationship to the next level: a backyard fence.
Lowe’s listened to my needs. They understood what I wanted and offered to help. And, when I decided to buy, the salesman even came to my house on a Sunday afternoon to seal the deal. Soon, they were in my backyard, installing the fence. And Lowe’s offered to answer any questions I had. “Be sure to give us a call if anything ever goes wrong,” they cheerfully told me as they drove away.
It was around a year later that I had to make that call, when my gate opener quit working. Lowe’s didn’t come running immediately like before, but I understood. They had other customers, too. A few days later, someone was out on my property to check things out.
I was in luck. I was in the grace period of my warranty, so Lowe’s would cover the repair completely. I was grateful.
First, we resolved a paperwork issue. Then some weeks passed by.
Every time I looked outside, I thought about Lowe’s, but I knew they’d call soon. Finally, after the weeks had turned into multiple months, I called them. The company that made the gate opener was no longer one of Lowe’s suppliers, but they were figuring out how to get in touch. More months pass. I called again. They had sent an order out to the company, but it was rejected. They were going to resubmit, since it was a warranty replacement. They’d call when they had news.
More months. More calls. The part was in, and a repairman was scheduled to come over. When he did, though, they noticed that the gate’s hinges were breaking and the battery was dead. Not to worry: they’d fix both.
More weeks. Then months. I called. No one answered. I left messages for the department manager. No one called back. Finally, I talked to the store manager. He said he’d get to the bottom of it. No one ever called back.
Just when I’d almost given up, I got through. They’d taken so long, I was told, because the hinges I had were no longer being made. I’d take any hinges they had in stock, I told them, even in a different color. He said they’d replace it in short order.
Days. Weeks. A month. I called. The manager wasn’t in. So I went in person. The team seemed surprised they’d never fixed it. So they walked me over and showed me the hinges they had in stock. They said they’d have a repairperson over later in the week. I called the next day and was again assured it was a priority.
Last month, the one-year anniversary of my broken gate came and went. I didn’t even get a phone call from Lowe’s. Perhaps I could get the store to fix it if I wanted to take some time off work and hang around outside their place until they have time to talk to me. But I don’t want to become “that guy.”
The deterioration of my personal relationship with Lowe’s points toward a larger issue companies face: companies struggle with relationship management. In my situation, the salesperson was great. The install/repairperson seemed helpful and dedicated. The department manager seemed to genuinely want to help. But if this is a hardworking team trying to do a good job, then, how could my experience have gone so wrong?
- Communications is not considered an important part of the work flow. For this team, communications is not a primary job function. Even when they were working diligently on my behalf, I wasn’t kept in the loop. From their perspective, they may have been working toward a resolution of my problem at many points along the way. But that was rarely translated to me.
- The infrastructure is designed from the company’s perspective rather than the customer’s. The company is most interested in the customer touchpoints at which it derives the most immediate value. The department that sold me the fencing is called “installed sales.” When I encountered a problem, the department I had to take it up with was, again, “installed sales.” I feared I wouldn’t be a priority from the moment I figured that out.
- Success is measured primarily by sales. My guess is that this “installed sales” team at Lowe’s is measured–and rewarded–by, well, sales. By that logic, I can’t blame the professionals on that team for putting me at the bottom of their to-do list. From what I could tell, their schedule stays busy, selling and installing.
- A sale is the climax for the company but often a milestone in an ongoing relationship for the customer. For most companies, the focus is on driving the customer to the point of purchase. Little emphasis is placed on that customer as a human being with an ongoing relationship beyond those purchases. Yet, the relationship Lowe’s had been building with me would likely have led to loyalty as my go-to resource for home improvement.
Service and communication throughout the customer experience is key to building sustained relationships and driving customer recommendations. Companies often don’t realize the impact their philosophy on relationships has on customers’ lives and the company’s reputation over time. Only when serving the customer who has made a commitment becomes as significant a priority as driving the customer to that choice will a company be able to sustain the sort of customer loyalty it seeks.
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