By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

     The lovely blanket

On Christmas Day, as I arrived home from a wonderful celebration with family, I noticed a large box on my doorstep.  I had just been with everyone who might possibly send me a gift, so my first thought was that once again I had ordered something from Amazon and completely forgotten about it.  But no, the return address was Nordstrom Rack.  I opened the box to find the most squishy, soft blanket, in colors that exactly match my decor.  The only problem was there was no gift card.  I perused the label looking for a clue and literally tore the box apart looking for a gift insert.  Nope.  Nothing.  I decided to call Nordstrom Rack to see if they could help.  After all, Nordstrom is known for their outstanding customer service.  I called the customer service number for Nordstrom Rack and was immediately connected to someone in the far reaches of Southeast Asia.  I explained my situation, told him the order number on the label, and asked if he could provide me with the name of the sender.  “Oh, no, madam”, he says, “you would need to give me the name and email address of the person who sent the gift in order for us to provide that information.”  Okay, maybe we had a language problem here.  I explained again that if I had the name and the email address of the person who sent it, I wouldn’t be calling him.  Again, he said that if I couldn’t provide that information, he couldn’t provide me with the name of the sender.  Privacy issues, he stated.  I tried another tack – I asked if he could provide me with the zip code of the sender.  I thought at least that would narrow it down.  Well, apparently the zip code request is the equivalent to the nuclear bomb codes and is not in the manual.  He had to put me on hold to find a supervisor.  When he came back on the line, he once again told me that for privacy reasons, I would need to give him the name and email address of the sender.  I hung up … and gave up.  The blanket is still intact, I feel too guilty to use it without having thanked whoever sent it.

The whole experience got me thinking about the state of customer service, or more accurately, the lack of customer service.  Granted, there are still great examples of it out there.  I recently had two unfortunate experiences with tires, and the good people at Discount Tire could not have been more helpful or kind.  But generally, good customer service is an anomaly.  I’m not alone in thinking this.  I found a wonderful interview by Amas Tenumah, who wrote the book, Waiting for Service: An Insider’s Account of Why Customer Service is Broken and Tips to Avoid Bad Service.  His research shows that Americans are incredibly gracious when they start out with customer support: on a scale of 1 to 10, he says most people start with expectations at nine or nine and a half.  He describes how it goes downhill from there:

People start with a positive outlook about resolving a problem. But then they are met with an automated system — press one, press two — or a voice-recognition machine that asks the customer to state their name, account number, nature of the problem, etc.  But oftentimes, the voice-recognition machine isn’t so good at voice recognition, or they are directed to a chatbot on a website.  Once they’ve offered up all of their personal information (again) they might be connected to a human, and the human asks them to repeat the information. The goodwill at the beginning of the interaction that started at a nine, is now down to a four, and then, God forbid, the human says they need to transfer the call to another department.

Tenumah says there are a number of reasons why customer service may feel worse – a shortage in workers in some industries, the proliferation of tech as a part of the process, and a lack of incentive for companies without competition. As he accurately points out – have you ever tried to contact your internet provider about anything? His suggestion is that we need to change the social contract and not think of customer service reps as “low skill workers.”  As he points out, by the time an issue reaches a human being they are usually complicated requests. If the problem was an easy one, a bot or a machine could have handled it.

I’m not sure it’s “we” who need to change the social contract as much as it is corporate America.  I’m convinced this issue will not change in my lifetime, so I’ve learned to set my expectations low and reserve my DefCon 1 outbursts for truly egregious situations.  All I know at this point is that due to Nordstrom Rack and their customer service policies, someone out there thinks I’m an ungrateful oaf who doesn’t know how to send a note of thanks.




By Suzanne Sparrow Watson


Tahiti – where I hoped to write this blog

I think it’s fairly safe to assume we all like to spend money.  Come on, admit it, when you think about things to buy you rarely think about  a new vacuum cleaner or getting that pesky crown replaced on your back molar.  Nope, in general we all fantasize about how we can spend money on “fun” stuff.  Last fall on our long car trip home from our summer travels my husband and I dreamed about some of the fun things we’d like to purchase over the winter.  My husband mentioned some ridiculous items – among them a Shelby Cobra.  I’ve heard him ask for that car so often that I’m now like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon –  his lips move but all I hear is “wonk,wonk, wonk”.  I, on the other hand, came up with some practical items – new furniture, season tickets to the theater, perhaps even a trip to Tahiti where I could ensconce myself in one of those swim-up bars and spend weeks writing a travel blog through the lens of too many Pina Coladas.  Then reality set in and the spending of “un-fun” money began.

money with wings

First up was a new washer and dryer.  We had noticed over the summer that our clothes came out a lot less wrinkled when we were using someone else’s appliances.  I hate it when my off-hand attitude toward domesticity rears up.  How could I not have noticed that our washer and dryer were so obviously sub-par?  Clearly there is some “housework gene” that I am missing.  But since I’ve never liked being on the working end of an iron, I was all for buying a new “laundry suite”.  That’s a term I learned at the appliance store, where  I was faced with an overwhelming array of choices.  It is astounding to learn the tasks these hunks of metal can perform – remove spots, steam clean, sanitize!  I kept looking for a dryer that would fold and put the clothes away but I guess that’s a bit down the road.  In any event, a couple thousand dollars later we were the proud parents of a new washer and dryer.  Sad to say…I’m not sure that our clothes are any less wrinkled but I’m pretending that they are so I don’t feel like we wasted our money.

The next month my husband was doing a walk-around of the house and determined that we really couldn’t go one more winter without painting it.  So we got a couple of estimates from painters. Clearly they assumed we wanted to paint the whole neighborhood.  Wow – I know they have to caulk and power wash before they slap some paint on, but really, you could feed a small nation for what they charge.  Four days and several thousand dollars later, more “un-fun” money had been spent.  Unfortunately, once the house looked so snappy it became evident that much of our landscaping had given up the ghost during the blazing hot summer so more “un-fun” money was forked over to the landscapers.

In January one of my front tires mysteriously had a rather large piece of rubber torn out (I’m taking the Fifth).  A trip down to those friendly people at Discount Tire resulted in an inspection that necessitated purchasing FOUR new tires.  Tires, or generally anything having to do with car maintenance, is the height of “un-fun” money.

dishwasherFinally, this week our dishwasher decided that nine years was long enough to do dishes.  Jeez – I was “the dishwasher” growing up and I lasted 18 years.  (Isn’t it funny how our parents “suddenly” decided to get dishwashers when we moved out?).  Anyway, we found ourselves on another trip down to the appliance store – I’m thinking we may have to put their address in the “Frequently Visited” category on our nav system.  I asked the salesman if that super-duper washing machine he sold us four months ago might also be put into service doing dishes.  He was not amused.  Thirty minutes later we were separated from more of our hard-earned “un-fun” money.

So, to summarize, we have a new washer, dryer, paint job, landscaping, tires and a dishwasher.  Not a pina colada in sight.  Oh well, my brother is better at writing about tropical bars anyway.  I’ll just sit home and wait for the next thing to break down.  Hopefully it won’t be me.