Thursday, November 10, 2005


One of the big knocks against big businesses is that they can’t provide the same level of customer service as the mom and pop shops. It’s just hard for a faceless corporate entity to give you the same personal attention as your friendly, neighborhood boutique down the street. But things are definitely changing, my friends. Here’s an example…

I routinely order my contact lenses through the online service 1-800 Contacts and have never had a problem. My last order, however, was taking a bit long to arrive, so I called to check on the status of my delivery. The customer representative on the phone politely acquiesced that my shipment should have arrived long ago and agreed to send out another shipment of $210 contacts absolutely free. She then told me that if the original ones should arrive at some point, I should just send those back. But, of course, we both knew that was code for, “If the original ones show up at some point, keep those, too.”

A week later I received a hand-written apology by that very same customer rep. She’d included a coupon for money off my next order. All because my package had been lost in the mail – it wasn’t even their fault! But they valued me as a customer and wanted to keep me happy. Now THAT’S service.

By contrast, here’s an experience I just had with the friendly dry cleaner located in my building. The shop is very small and always staffed by the same, polite Korean woman who not only remembers me, but remembers my name and unit number. Last week I brought in 7 button-down dress shirts to be laundered with light starch. I dropped them off on Monday and she told me they would be ready on Wednesday, which was a little longer than usual for laundry – but I was in no hurry, so whatever.

I returned that Friday to pick up my shirts. She saw me walk in and immediately went to the rack. I waited patiently while her mechanical closet spun full wardrobes of plastic-covered suits, shirts, dresses, and coats past us. She ran the motor for awhile, checked a few tags here and there, stopped and started the machine over and again, moved the line forward and reverse, and finally started digging through the clothes as they went by. You can probably guess what happens next. Mine were missing.

After an uncomfortable five minutes, she finally gave up and told me they were lost and that she’d have to call me back. Good thing I gave them a couple of extra days, I thought.

An hour later she called me at work to let me know that my shirts had been located, but were not laundered. “You come Monday,” she said. I wasn’t sure if she was asking me or telling me, but I realized I didn’t really have a choice, so I agreed. At least I’d get a discount, I thought.

I went back in this week to pick up my shirts and, as usual, she remembered me right away. After apologizing profusely for the delay, she proceeded to ring me up for the full price. I probably could have negotiated a discount of some kind, but I knew the mistake had been unintentional and was just glad to have my shirts back. I paid her the full amount and left.

On the way to the car I looked at the shirts and realized one of them wasn’t mine. So I headed right back in and told her one of the shirts did not belong to me. One was still missing. She showed me two other shirts on a nearby rack and asked if either one was mine. They were not. She asked my size, then took one of the shirts off the rack and told me it was mine. “You take shirt,” she said. Certain it was not my shirt, I declined. She insisted. “Maybe you take shirt and see if fit.” At this point I understood everything. She was offering me someone else’s shirt to replace the one she had lost. Aside from the fact that it would have been loose on Marlon Brando, it was simply wrong. She was running her dry cleaning business like a community closet.

“This is not my shirt,” I said. “Mine was white.” I then pictured her offering up and giving away my white shirt to the last guy who lost one. She apologetically jotted my phone number down and told me she’d look for it and give me a call back.

This morning I put on one of the shirts (that was actually mine) and noticed a button had disintegrated somehow to a fragmented little nub. Not only had they misplaced my shirts, forgot to wash them, delivered them late, charged me full price anyway, lost an entire shirt and tried to replace it with a tablecloth – they’d now fractured a button, rendering it unwearable.

That was the last straw. I dug through the trunk of my car for an empty gas can and marched over to the dry cleaner. I barged in angrily, startling a couple of patrons, and sending a set of door chimes flying across the tiny room. The gas can in one hand and a book of matches in the other, I stared across the counter and uttered: “You burned me, now I burn you.” Everyone scrambled in a panic as I began…

And then I woke up and realized I hadn’t really set flame to the dry cleaners. That was the good news. The bad news was that the rest of the story was true. Funny how a big company like 1-800-Contacts could provide better customer service than my friendly neighborhood dry cleaner. It just goes to show that companies, like people, should be judged individually, on their own merits, and not as a function of blind assumption.

And I still haven't heard back from the dry cleaner.

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