My Personal Brush With Employee Engagement. Or Was It?

That the engagement of your front-line employees affect your bottom line is almost a truism at this point. I recently had the misfortune of experiencing employee engagement (or lack thereof) in my dealings with two of my favorite companies. I have  been a loyal customer of both for years, dropping a substantial amount of money (for me, anyway)  for their goods over the years. Given the state of the economy, loyal customers should be paramount in the minds of all organizations and their employees. Hell, at this point, any customer is worth their weight in gold. As you can probably guess, my interactions with their representatives did not go so well. Let’s see what went wrong…

Encounter 1

A few weeks ago I bought a bed. Mine was old and decrepit and it was time for a change (yes we can!). I shopped around for a few days and finally settled for something relatively inexpensive to start. I was pretty excited about my selection because it allowed me an excuse to make another purchase at my favorite furniture store; if you know me, you know exactly which store I mean. My apartment is littered with stuff I purchased there. I proudly tell people that everything they see in my living room and bedroom was purchased at the same place. I suppose you could say I am a promoter of their products.

So I lug my purchase home. They don’t deliver and I don’t care. After my first night on the mattress, I realize it is nothing like it was at the store. I gave it a few more days, to see if I would change my mind, but I finally decided it was not going to work. My back was killing me, and I stunk of mattress foam. Not a problem, I would buy a replacement  elsewhere and take the mattress back to the original store. I lugged the mattress back to the store, receipt in hand and I was told I could not return it. “Sorry, it’s store policy,” said he high school kid in skinny jeans.

I can’t begin to tell you how little I care about store policy. So far as I am concerned store policy relates to employees, not customers. The “it’s policy” should never be used as an excuse in this type of exchange relationship. It is meaningful only to a single party and not usually the party with the grievance. The store has a hassle-free, no questions asked return policy, this is the first time I have ever returned something to this store and I would very much like my money back, please. Well, apparently this store has a special “
mattress only” policy. Everything is returnable, except for mattresses. Customers are informed of this exception in two ways:

1. An 8*10 sign in the bedding department I managed to miss after spending almost 90 minutes trying every bed and reading every poster and sign in the area. Seriously, If you don’t read everything at this place you may end up confusing a toilet seat with a shopping cart.

2. The policy is printed on the back of the purchase receipt. In case the problem with this method of notification is not entirely obvious, the receipt is the little document you receive after you make your purchase.

In the end, I was able to haggle for a large, mattress-only gift card, in case I ever develop the sudden urge to buy a second mattress By the way, the place I purchased te mattress I am actually using has a 30 day return policy, as does just about every other mattress store I visited.

Encounter 2

I buy all my computers from a certain manufacturer. To be clear about this, I don’t love their computers. Other manufacturers make more impressive, cheaper, prettier machines. However, up until this purchase, I loved their customer service and technical support. Last week I would have sworn no one does it better. Today, I am not so sure.

So a few weeks back I splurged on a new netbook. My old laptop is dying and I did not feel the need to spend 2 large on the rig I wanted. All in all it was a decent compromise. I logged into their website, made my selection, changed my billing and shipping address (I had changed addresses since my last purchase) and hit submit. A few days later I impatiently check the status of my new gadget and I discover it is being shipped to an ex-girlfriend’s apartment. I have no idea why she is on my list of addresses, but stuff happens. I will update the shipping address field and the problem will be solved. After all, the computer is still being assembled, so this should not be a problem. Well, it turns out that sometimes problems show up in the strangest places. I could not make the change myself. I called customer support and again discover that I can not change the address once I hit the submit button… it’s policy. For my security, my shiny, new netbook will be shipped to an address that we both know is incorrect. Seriously, this is a security policy. The packaging is not discrete, by the way. Anyone erroneously getting this package delivered to their address knows what is in the box. Three calls later and I am still waiting for my netbook [by the way, to top it all off, they were missing some parts, so they had to delay shipping even further].

Engagement Please?

So, how do these customer service encounters inform employee engagement? Let us consider what the “engaged” employee would have done. On both occasions, I presented a customer service representative with an opportunity to solve a problem directly bearing on my satisfaction with my experience with them. Instead, I hear an awful lot about how they could not solve the problem they had a significant role in creating. In both cases, “it’s policy,” is sufficient to get me out of their hair. When I talk to people about employee engagement, I talk about how an engaged customer service employee thinks about ways to resolve issues and does the best they can to make sure this problem becomes a reason for a subsequent purchase. Does my experience suggest these employees were not engaged? The simple answer is yes. However, a more complete and accurate, is maybe. Only some of this experience might be attributed to lack of engagement. The majority of the issue is probably attributable to other factors.

Check out the second part of this post for my analysis of the role of employee engagement in these experiences.


~ by George Guajardo on June 15, 2009.

2 Responses to “My Personal Brush With Employee Engagement. Or Was It?”

  1. Nice post. The other thing your experiences make me think of is a culture that is focused on the company and perhaps the employees, but not on the customer. It’s going to be very hard to have employees feeling engaged about “making a customer’s day” if the organization lacks at least somewhat of a service culture.

    • That’s a great point. Sounds like you are thinking about an “us versus them” mentality. I see that a lot and it certainly could contribute to this type of behavior.

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