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Customer service in a snapshot (or three)

What would you expect to happen after you order a set of file crates and one of them arrives looking like this:

unboxed bundle damage alone clearly warped
unboxed bundle

It’s been almost exactly 7 years since I last wrote about a couple customer service experiences. I suppose the ideal situation is to never need that kind of “service after the sale”. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and even the best processes can result in errors, so something needs to happen when mistakes are made. And that is likely why good customer service is so hard to get right; it’s usually rarely needed if everything else is well-managed, it usually prompts priority handling that interrupts the smooth flow of regular business, and it represents an added cost to make right what should not have been wrong in the first place.

In this case, it’s almost understandable how a damaged item like this could get so far in the supply chain. From the looks of it, it really appears that the crate was hit hard (these crates are pretty strong, so it’d take quite an impact to crack and warp it this bad), like maybe by the blade of a forklift. And you can’t expect the person who did the damage to report it, if only because their job might not allow them to pause to document an incident with roughly $5 in value. Let the next handler catch the exception.

Eventually a person plucks it off the shelf to fill the order. Unless the side showing damage is directly facing them, the bundle of 3 crates is just a jumbled criss-cross of plastic meshwork. You’d like to think they’d at least spin it around to do a little inspection, but it’s just as easy to think that some bean counter calculated the trade-off between the 3 seconds needed to do that for every item and the odds of anything being seriously damaged while in the warehouse (again, it being a cheap item counts against it here). And that’s all assuming there isn’t already just a robot in use that packed it up and couldn’t exercise any sort of independent judgement in their selection in the first place.

So it ships in this poor state (there was no real damage to the box it came in, so I knew this didn’t happen during delivery), and that’s when the customer service process kicks in. I wrote to Office Depot to ask about how to process a return/exchange. I usually make most purchases like this in person, but I ordered a few things online at the end of the year because I didn’t want to be running around a lot during the last week of December. So I really had no idea how they handled this sort of thing. Do I go to their closest store with all 3 crates, or just the one damaged one, or do I deal with more shipments back and forth or what? How does the bean counter in operations do their calculation now?

They got back to me really quickly and said they were simply going to ship me another pack of 3! That’s just a fantastic way to handle it. Even if the same problem happened again, I’d still have more than 3 intact crates in the balance. Here it probably helps that it was a cheap item; the logistics of actually addressing the error would probably have enough overhead in it that it’s just cheaper to send out a full replacement. And as it turned out, the second set arrived (fully intact) at the same time a second part of my order from them was scheduled to arrive. Everything fulfilled in the same week, and now I’m a happy camper with a couple extra crates I can make use of. Sometimes little things mean a lot.