WTF happened to customer service? part 1

I used to be awestruck by the customer service here in the US. It was legendary. Remember, I came here via Israel and then the UK, neither of which have a great track record. In Israel the customer is never right, and in England the stiff upper lip prevents them from admitting if the customer is right.

What a breath of fresh air the United States of America. The place where you can return stuff a year after you purchase it, for no good reason other than you decide you don’t want it, and get your money back. The place where you can put thousands of dollars worth of clothes on a credit card, bring them  home, try them on and return what you don’t want before the credit card is charged. The country where customer service representatives call you “Ma’am” and “Sir” and tell you to “Have a great day”.  All that seems to have changed in the last few years.

Target now asks for a driver’s license if you don’t have a receipt to accompany your return, and they limit the number of returns without a receipt that you can make within the calendar year. Many stores have put 30-60 day limitations on returning items, even gifts, and some will only refund you on a store gift card. Could it be that they finally caught on that they were being ripped off? And then there are the companies providing services, with whom we have to speak to on the phone. Gone are the day when you could ask to speak to a supervisor and know that you would get what you wanted. Now you may well be told that the supervisor is unavailable. Many of my friends will blame this shift on outsourcing of customer service centers to India and elsewhere, and complain miserably about not understanding the agent’s accent. I’ve even heard people asking to speak to someone from the United States who speaks proper English: I got news for you dude – American’s do NOT speak proper English.

But this is not my grumble today.
Today’s blog is brought to you courtesy of 3 separate incidents involving two well known companies.

1. Toys R Us

A household name, even in houses without children. You can’t help but know who Toys R Us is, with their giant colorful letters on the storefronts, and Geoffrey the Giraffe in the TV commercials. This past Chanuka Keith & purchased a 7″ Android Tablet for our kids from Toys R Us. We did our research, they had the best price on what we wanted, so on Thanksgiving night Keith stood in line at our local Toys R Us store to purchase one. (Actually, I purchased it from the comfort of this very chair and he came home, but nevermind). We also purchased the extended warranty plan, covering the Tablet for an extra 15 months. The plan is called “replacement plan” – the wording here is extremely important.

3 weeks later, we were driving up to Orlando and the screen on the Tablet cracked. No one had touched it, it just was cracked – not the top of the screen either, but a surface underneath the glass on the screen. Kids are devastated and couldn’t believe when Mommy & Daddy said “don’t worry! We have the replacement plan. All is good”.

Or not. We called Toys R Us. They told us they would send a return label for the broken Tablet within 48 hours. Via email. ? It now takes 48 hours to send an email? Ok. And that they will issue us a full refund. ? Um, no, we don’t want the refund, we just want a replacement thanks. Oh no, we  can’t replace it, we can only offer a refund and then you can purchase a new one. This first call was placed  by Keith, who decided to wait for the return label to arrive before proceeding. 3  days later he still had not received any return label email from them. This time I called.

I explained the situation and that we had the replacement plan and would like a replacement tablet. I was told by the customer service agent that she cannot replace my Tablet under the plan, only refund my money. If I wanted a replacement that would be covered under a service contract. Um, no, a service contract is for fixing stuff. a replacement plan is for replacing stuff. She tried to tell me that I was wrong about the terminology, but I asked her to define the word “replace” and the word “service” and she stopped trying after that.  She again told me that they would email me a return label for the item, and that I could expect it to show up in my inbox within 48 hours. Again?

At that point I went to the Toys R Us website and filed a complaint via their online forms. I reiterated everything that had happened and told them that I would not be happy until my kid’s tablet was replaced. A refund would not help me purchase a new one, as the price had since gone up by $70. I received a reply via email that read as follows:

<<Thank you for contacting about filing a claim for your Buyer
Protection Plan.

Filing a claim is easy!  Simply follow the steps below and be sure to
have your order number and your Electronic Buyer Protection Plan
Fulfillment email handy when you call.

* Call N.E.W. at 1-866-212-1975 for referral to the nearest authorized
service center.  You may call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
* Tell the NEW representative which product needs service and the nature
of the problem.
* You must call N.E.W. prior to having service, as all repairs must be
authorized in advance.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call us at either
of the numbers listed below or just respond to this email.  Thank you
again for contacting  We value your business and look forward
to serving you in the future!


As you can imagine, my reply once again explained what we had done and asked them to please rectify the problem without telling me to do what had already been done.I received another reply telling me that my “problem” had been forwarded to the “Guest Resolution Team” – I’m guessing they are very busy people. They called me within a few hours and after quite a lengthy conversation, during which, once again, they tried to refund me my money, I got them to agree to simply replace the tablet. Not without further argument, however. Initially I was told that I needed to return the original Tablet (with a return label they would email to me, you guessed it, within 48 hours) and that once they received it they would process a refund and then a new order. I put my foot down once again and insisted that this be conducted as a simple replacement. It took a while, but I did use the great example of Keurig, who when my coffee maker stopped brewing immediately sent me out a replacement (and a better model no less) and just asked that I return the broken one within 30 days. This is what the Toys R Us representative eventually agreed to. While I was still on the phone with her, she gave me my new order number, and someone managed to email that to me. I did receive the return shipping label within 24 hours for the original tablet.

Guys, the story does not quite end here either. The new tablet arrived within a week, and once we had it, we boxed up the old one and shipped it out. In the meantime, I received a further three, yes, 3, return labels via email – way past any 48 hour of time had passed.

About 5 days after we returned the original Tablet, I received an email reminding me that I had less than 30 days to return an item. I ignored it. The following day I received the identical email, at whcih point I went to UPS and tracked the Tablet we had returned – as I assumed, it had been delivered and signed for a few days previously. Eventually, I received an email thanking me for returning it, and telling me that my “case” was now closed.

Yes, it is, but I know one thing – I will never again purchase any “big ticket” item from Toys R Us.

Stay tuned for part 2 – the other two incidents involved a Cable Giant that we all know and hate.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Northern Lights
    Feb 01, 2011 @ 16:43:16

    I am so impressed with your persistence! You really stood your ground! Good for you!


    • vanessabrooksceo
      Feb 01, 2011 @ 23:56:15

      I believe in good customer service. I’ve worked in customer service – retail and via phone. It’s not an easy position to be in, especially when you’re dealing with customers who are unhappy. But you have to use your brain. You can’t just throw stuff out there. You have to bend over backwards to make your customer happy. Because when you don’t? The customer gets out there and blogs about how bad your company’s customer service is, and how she will never purchase from you again, and she will share with everyone she knows that she will never purchase from you again and why!


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