Home Depot Staff Needs Down Home Lesson In Manners

I spend a lot of time on the telephone. I wake up each day with a simple itinerary of about 83 million calls to be made by nightfall. But, I’m happy about that. I like being on the phone. Today, the call I was most looking forward to was one to Mike Belasco of SEO Overflow. We had some nifty things to discuss. Hence, my disappointment when I got a very weird message telling me my long distance service wouldn’t allow me to call Mike’s number in Colorado. This had never happened before, and I was bewildered.

So, I got on the phone with Verizon. Or, at least, I tried to. First, the number I called, located on my phone bill, took me to a Spanish-only service department. I love Spanish, but I was kind of startled. I speak enough Spanish so that I understood what was going on. *If this ever happens to you, remember that ‘V’ in Spanish is pronounced a little bit like the English letter ‘B’. So, if you hear the recorded voice talking about Berizon, never fear, you’re at the right place.

After explaining, in Spanish, that I didn’t feel educated enough to conduct my entire call in Spanish, I was transferred…this time to a fun department that had something to do with large businesses. I have no idea what that was, but it was in English.

Then I was disconnected.

Then I called back and spoke to an incredibly snobby woman who was devoid of pity for my wasted minutes and frustration. I received no validation of my inability to get an answer to a question and not even the merest of apologies for my inconvenience. Upon stating my simple question, “why can’t I phone Mike Belasco in Colorado?” she replied,

“Who in the world is Mike Belasco?”

No, she didn’t really say that. But what she did say was not at all helpful. Apparently, Verizon would have to call me back after their ‘team of investigators’ could look into my problem. Hours have now gone by and neither Verizon, Berizon nor anyone else has called me back. Sorry, Mike. Maybe we can chat tomorrow.

My next phone call was even more fun. I needed to call Home Depot – the West Coast’s biggest Home Improvement Chain – to inquire if they carry a specific color of house paint for a repair I need to do. Rather than burning up 40 minutes worth of gas, I thought I’d just give a ring and get an answer to my simple question.

Well, after sitting through an exciting but long set of automated instructions, I finally got to a person who routed me to the paint department. Only, no one was there. I sat on the phone for 5 minutes before the operator reappeared. She tried the paint department again. Another 5 minutes on hold. Operator again.

Then she disconnected the phone.

So, I called back (deja vu!) and said, “Hello, I believe you disconnected the phone. I’ve been waiting for 10 minutes to speak to someone in the paint department.”

Her reply, spoken in a cold and merciless tone,

“No, I didn’t disconnect you.”

“Okay, well, I’m still waiting to speak to someone in the paint department.”

“Well, there’s no one there, I guess.”

“Okay, so, can I speak to someone who can walk over and check to see if you have the paint I’d like to come in and buy from you?”

“Hhhhhhuuuuuuuhhh (a sighing noise). Hold on.”

This time, I’m on hold for almost 10 minutes before a zippy sounding man answered the phone.

“Is this the paint department?” I quavered.


“Well, would you be able to go over to the paint department and locate a product for me, if it’s in stock? I’ve been trying to get assistance for the past 20 minutes now and have had to call twice.”


“Can you assist me?”


Anyway, the conversation went on in this idiotic manner until the zippy guy agreed to walk over to the apparent ghost town – the paint department – to see if this paint was in stock.

Another 5 minutes later, he returned with my answer which was, yes, they have that paint.

Again, I received no apology for my inconvenience of a 30 minute wait to get the simplest of questions answered, but the zippy guy did bid me adieu with an unctuous sounding, “have a great day.”

My day would have been a lot ‘greater’ if Home Depot had spent 5 minutes training their staff in basic customer service.

The simple rule of business etiquette is this:

When A Customer Is Frustrated, Offer An Apology, In Words, With Your Mouth, Directed At Their Ear, So That You And Your Company Don’t Come Off As Insensitive, Ill-Bred Dumb-Dumbs

None of the 5 or 6 people with whom I spoke today in the Verizon-Berizon-Home Depot Debacle knew how to say those simple words, “I’m sorry.”

So, I’ve made illustrations and I would suggest that both Verizon and Home Depot share these with their staff if they ever decide to buckle down and hold an honest-to-gosh training session.

Dissatisfied Customer #1
“I’ve been on hold for 20 minutes, and no one seems to be able to answer my question.”

The Nice Guy: Oh, I’m so sorry for the inconvenience, Ma’am. I want to get your question answered as quickly as I can. Please, let me help you. Please just explain your question to me and I will find the right person to answer it promptly for you. I know it’s important.

The Dumb-Dumb: Oh, uh, I’m going to put you on hold.

Dissatisfied Customer #2
“I’ve been waiting for 3 weeks for my product I ordered. It was supposed to come in 5 days. Why haven’t I received it?”

The Nice Guy: What an inconvenience to you. Clearly, we’ve made a mistake somewhere and I need to get this resolved for you. I’m really sorry for your trouble. Please, let me help you.

The Dumb-Dumb: You probably wrote down your address wrong. We never get things wrong like this here.

Dissatisfied Customer #3
“My product is broken. It fell apart when I took it out of the box here. I’m really disappointed.”

The Nice Guy: Gosh, I really apologize for that. I’m sorry for your disappointment and we’re going to get this fixed. Please, let us replace the product or refund your money immediately.

The Dumb-Dumb: Dur…you musta done something to it. Customers are always breaking things.

You Get The Picture
Refusing to acknowledge fault and admit that the customer has been inconvenienced may, in some weird primal way, seem to protect your pride, but in fact, it alienates your customer and earns your business a reputation for bad service.

Perhaps there is an impulse in all of us to profess blamelessness because we fear humiliation over the discovery of our errors. It’s one thing if you’re like that in your personal life (though a dubious virtue) but in the business world, staying in business means building and maintaining a good reputation. If your employees are acting rude, impatient or are hiding behind a wall of inaccessibility, your customers won’t forget it.

The antidote is staff training. If this means teaching staff to overcome their natural impulse to avoid blame, so be it. Teach them to use language to communicate. Silence and ‘uhmm’ are not enough. Teach them to empathize with the potential customer, to view themselves as aides who are employed to make the customer happy and satisfied. Shifting blame or never saying you’re sorry may be great if you’re trying to run away from a problem – not if you’re trying to solve it and make a sale.

Friend or Foe?
I want to add that I’m not talking through my hat on this. I have a small business that delivers digital downloads to customers. Sometimes, there is a technical glitch that causes a delay in the customer receiving their download link automatically. Sometimes the customer doesn’t follow the directions correctly. It doesn’t matter to me how they ended up not getting what they paid for. All I care about is getting their download to them to keep up my end of the bargain.

Just this week, I’ve been dealing with a customer who couldn’t print out her download. Turned out, this really wasn’t any fault of mine or my website – her printer was broken. Now, it’s not my ‘job’ to make up for someone having a broken printer. But it is my job to make customers happy and turn them into evangelists for my product. So, I found a solution that made this lady glad. I emailed a free, additional download of the product to her best friend whose printer isn’t broken so that she could still receive and print her product.

Yes, it was a little bit of a hassle for me. But what did it hurt me to apologize to her for the frustration she was experiencing? It showed her I was her friend, not her foe, and we found a solution to her problem. She’s now my company’s fan and is really excited about what she ordered.

But I’m a small business owner. I am my staff. I handle my customer relations. If I was hiring people to stand in my stead with the customers, you’d better believe we’d start the process off with a quick lesson in Ps and Qs. So many people seem to lack these basic social skills these days and it makes doing business really unpleasant. Staff must be thoroughly, carefully trained in handling a variety of difficult situations with grace and aplomb. Skip this step at your company’s peril.

Manners are important in all business dealings. And, I’d add that they are especially important in local business dealings. How that customer gets treated on the phone is likely to determine whether or not they walk in the door. The happy customer is the key to success.

4 Responses to “Home Depot Staff Needs Down Home Lesson In Manners”

  1. on 27 Jun 2008 at 12:37 pm Will Scott

    Ok, k, k (as Joe Pesci might say),

    Last Friday I went to an “advanced” training with my BNI Chapter (a must for small business) and part of the event was to tell a story in which you had seen dividends from giving first. The mantra of BNI is “Givers Gain”.

    So I told the story of a client of ours who all evidence to the contrary insisted we hadn’t lived up to our contract: 6 of 10 phrases on page 1 of G w/in 6 months. He was wrong, I was right and doggone it I was sick and tired of hearing about it.

    So, I crafted a very nice email stating my case which I closed with a paragraph beginning something to the effect of “our work has put you in a great position that whomever you work with next for search engine marketing should be able to do wonders for you”.

    — you get the drift —

    I saved it in my drafts and went off to the Small Business Marketing Unleashed conference. I don’t recall the speaker (probably Debra Mastaler, my new love — don’t tell my wife), but I was inspired to pull the email out of my drafts and rewrite the last paragraph.

    It now went something like “even though I’m confident we’ve met our guarantee I’d be happy have my team continue working with suspended billing for 60 days after which we can reassess our mutual benefit”.

    Guess what… 60 days later we got back on the phone with the customer (and his boss) to rave reviews. Turns out they were now ranked #1 for “[their town] plastic surgery” and in the 10 pack too!

    I’m sure I said “I’m sorry” once or twice, but the more important thing was putting his needs ahead of mine. And as it turns out I got my needs fulfilled as well — I got some goodwill.

    So maybe it’s being the owner / principal or maybe it’s just a service mentality, but I’m totally satisfied with my decision to eat 2 months billing in exchange for a happy customer.

    Maybe it’ll pay me back in referral business :)

  2. on 28 Jun 2008 at 11:18 am Miriam

    Hi Will!
    That’s quite a good story!

    I know, it can be so hard to apologize, especially when you know you are right and the client is being unreasonable. It goes against the grain, somehow, of our natures, I think.

    But customer service is a difficult animal. And with user reviews becoming so powerful, I think it’s becoming increasingly important to realize that money is less important than a good business reputation.

    Case in point: I left a poor review for a hotel recently because the room was dirty and when I expressed this to the manager, they did not offer to refund my money. Doubtless, the dirty room was the fault of someone on the staff, not the owner, but she should have offered recompense for my spending a horrible night in her hotel. She tried to brush me off, instead, and now has a hulking bad review in Maps as a result.

    I bet she’d pay the $90 she could have returned to us if she knew that review would go away.

    I’ve talked to a number of folks in our industry about the art of customer satisfaction and all of them agree that reputation is worth more than money.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s a great illustration!

  3. on 29 Jun 2008 at 11:11 am Will Scott

    Hey Miriam,

    You are so right. One of the bad things about the internet is that bad reviews live forever.

    I’ve often thought that a great way to explain the value of reputation management online is just to show the client a business name search for which the #2 result is ripoffreport [dot] com.

    Always a pleasure dropping by. Hope you all are suffering your move well enough.


  4. on 06 Jul 2008 at 8:49 pm Mike Belasco

    Good points here. Will your example was great. It is always interesting to figure out what will make certain people happy. Can’t wait for that call Miriam! ;)


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