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When the customer no longer counts

In the past, I have written a couple of columns about customer service and how retailers always need to be aware of the way they come across to the buying public. Just recently, I told you of a trip I took to Colorado, the car trouble I had, and the exemplary service I received from businesses along I-70.

This time I want to tell you about a business that absolutely did not want to make my shopping experience even moderately pleasant. If I knew where else to go for this product, I would do so.

My mom is 95. She doesn’t need a thing. She has been downsizing for a number of years and she is not a collector of anything. Her vision is failing so she no longer enjoys reading magazines. She has more clothes than both of my daughters and that is saying something. Shopping for her for birthdays and Christmas is tough.

But everyone has to eat, right?

A number of years ago I heard about this nifty apple business in Illinois that shipped hand-selected specialty apples all over the country. I found the company on the Internet, found their site easy to navigate, the product attractive, and the price reasonable. The apples were packed individually in a divided box and there was an identification label on the lid for each corresponding apple. I ordered them for her that year at Christmas and she thought it was a grand gift.

The company did a good job of describing the varieties — both in the online description and in the box to recipients. Over time, they added heirloom and foreign varieties, kitchen gadgets, and even suggestions for apple tasting events. It looked like they really wanted to develop their customer base.

But somewhere along the way, those customers got lost in the shuffle.

I have ordered apples for seven or eight years. I send them to the same person every year. My name and address are the same every year. I don’t use a credit card, but I do send a bank money order. I am now paying $22 a box plus shipping for 12 apples to be sent to my mom. That is $2 plus per apple. For that, I expect a little consideration.

This year I decided to send them early and then send an additional order at Christmas … just because. Mother likes them, I will send them. She is the woman who brought me into this world, right?

I picked out the variety I wanted from the online listing, noted that they still ship every Monday, and jotted down the phone number to call to find out shipping costs.

It was shortly after 11 a.m. The phone rang and rang. I was getting ready to hang up when someone finally answered. I explained that I wanted two boxes of apples sent to my mother and just needed to know the cost of shipping. She told me I could order online. I explained that I wouldn’t be ordering that way and why. I told her I had been doing it this way for seven or eight years, that I was a regular customer.

She said, “Well, I just shut down my computer to go to lunch so you will have to call back. I don’t know what the shipping is to that zip code without getting on the computer.”

I asked when she would be back and she said she didn’t know. Silly me, I was thinking, “Well, she is going to lunch and will be back in about an hour and I can call back then.” But she didn’t know.

Now, I was about to order TWO boxes of apples at better than $2 an apple because I love my mother and wanted her to have this product. I was calling from Kansas just to find out how much more they could charge me to ship their already over-priced product that I was HAPPY to purchase because it fit my needs and the person I was talking to could not re-boot her computer to give me the information I needed.

Eventually she did take my e-mail address and promised to let me know the shipping charges. I gave her my phone number in case technology didn’t work (which does happen). She sighed and maybe wrote it down — or maybe not.

THEN, she told me that she was not sure when they could ship my order or whether the order I placed would even be what my mom receives. HUH?

The disclaimer is that the product is available subject to availability … well, of course. Makes sense to me. It is only available if it is available. You bet.

Later in the day, I received an e-mail telling the charge for sending two boxes of apples to my mom in Fort Morgan, Colo., was $12.86. So, I purchased two boxes of apples at $22 each and added $12.86 for a grand total of $56.86 to send my mother 24 apples. I sent them a bank money order for that amount. And that would not have been a problem if I had just had terrific customer service, or even a thank you!

But, guess what? I think they stink! They insulted my intelligence. They over-charged for their product. They were less than friendly — barely even pleasant — and whoever was on the phone with me said, “I am not sure when we can ship your order or whether the order you have placed will be what your mother receives.”

So what am I sending and when? Will they tell me or will I have to guess? I bet that before Christmas I figure out a way to send my mom anything but apples from this bunch.

And that is an example of what NOT to do if you have a retail business.

— Susan Marshall

Last modified Oct. 21, 2009

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