Companies often don't realize how little it costs to treat customers well. A happy customer might tell two or three people. It actually pays to keep customers happy, since at least one of those three people is likely to become a future customer on the happy customer's recommendation.
When I was in college, they taught us that an unhappy customer would tell ten people about their experience. Today, an unhappy customer can tell the world.
Harbor Freight Tools Introduction
What follows is the story of how it took 1 day short of two months to get a refund from a company who obviously has no clue how to treat a customer well...
And worse, doesn't seem to care. In the course of two months, trying to get a refund, Terry and I talked or had contact with a dozen customer service reps. Of those people, only one even remotely came close to apologizing for the difficulty we were having. In fact in one case, Terry was forced to interrupt the CS person who was interrupting her yet again and say, "EXCUSE ME, BUT I'M THE CUSTOMER! IT IS YOUR JOB TO LISTEN TO WHAT I HAVE TO SAY. SO PLEASE, DO YOUR JOB FOR A MOMENT HERE!"
For the self righteous among you, those who can't resist correcting other people and might feel compelled to write and tell me "All you had to do was click on Shipping Info"... As is posted below in the saga, Harbor Freight has seen fit to improve its web site since this was originally posted two years ago. In fact, it has gone through three iterations since. The shipping information simply was not available when I placed my order. The only place they even mentioned fifteen working days was in a section on overseas shipping.
Apparently their customer service attitude has remained essentially the same as my email continues to reveal customer after customer who has been either totally ignored or unable to get a refund when the shipment is faulty or the products not as advertised. Assuming of course, the product arrives.
As I told the last numb nuts who wrote to tell me what's what in web sites, the customer service industry and the retail world at large: (This person, told me that as a retailer, he's not open for the convenience of his customers... oh that's rich.)
Thank you for your critique. I build web sites, I know how to navigate them and ferret out the information I'm looking for. The information was not readily available when I did my shopping.
Based on the struggle I had with those folks, they significantly improved their web site. It has actually gone through three iterations since I posted my page. In fact, they also instituted company wide customer service policies that didn't previously exist. Things like oh Let's NOT reply to customers in 18 pt bold face emails. Simple things like that. This information is all included in broad detail on my page.
But thank you for taking the time to point out the changes I've managed to effect by my complaints
Their web site may be improved, but apparently Harbor Freight's Customer Service attitude has not improved. At least that's what the flow of letters I receive would indicate.
Harbor Freight Tools, the saga.
I'd heard good things about ordering from Harbor Freight Tools, so I decided to give them a try. In retrospect, I was hearing those things from people who would drive across town to save a nickel. In other words, people more concerned about price than service. And even the price wasn't that good, I knew at the outset I could get the router I wanted for the exact same price at the local Lowes... I merely wanted the convenience of not having to hassle with people, just to buy a tool... Ultimately that's the exact opposite of what happened.
It's gotten to the point where I really avoid going to Lowes for anything, and my favorite lumber yard / hardware store doesn't carry the Milwaukee Router I wanted. So, on the weekend of 16 November, I ordered a Milwaukee Router from Harbor Freight Tools, via their web site. I didn't see any information about shipping companies and based on the size of the package, made the WRONG assumption that it would be shipped UPS. Since I've never had anything take longer than 5 days to get to me when shipped via UPS ground, I figured I'd have the router in my hot little hands by the next weekend and be busy making those raised panel doors for the Entertainment Center which I'm building. Well, was building. After all, I've been at a point where I've been waiting for a router for 3 weeks, now.
On Wednesday, November 20, not having received any order confirmation or shipping confirmation other than the web site accepting my order, I sent Harbor Freight Tools this little email inquiry.
From: SpamBlocker.email@example.com [mailto:SpamBlocker.firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Wednesday, November 20, 2002 4:28 PM
Subject: Order Status
Name: Tim Fuhrmann
Mailing Label Info:
Address: 23090 Esperanza Terrace
City, State: Lexington Park, MD
Please inform me of order status on order # 9052923
Now, my wife Terry has spent a lot of time working in Customer service. In addition to working for the world renowned Tarp, (customer service gurus of some sort) She used to train people in Customer service and train the trainers. I used to just go away and never do business with a company that treated me rudely. But, Terry taught me what to expect from a company providing good company service. One of the things I learned is that it is in the company's best interest to treat you nicely, and it actually pays for them to woo you back. So, when I sent off my little note, I fully expected a reply which apologized for their lapse in not informing me of the status of the order. Not quite what happened.
This was the reply I received:
Your order shipped on 11/19/02 . Please allow 14 working days for delivery.
Thank you, Eldie Michel
Not exactly rude, but not exactly customer service oriented or heaven forbid, warmly apologetic. It did stick in my craw though, and when the long anticipated four day weekend arrived, where I fully expected to be making sawdust, I sat twiddling my thumbs and this 14 day delivery time really began to irk me. Don't forget, we're not just talking 14 days here, we're talking 14 business days, which translates into 3 weeks, or in the case of a week with a 4 day weekend, almost 4 weeks to deliver a lousy router I could have gotten from anybody in the country, in a day. So, over the Thanksgiving weekend, I fired off another email.
From: Sailing Bum [mailto:SpamBlocker.email@example.com]
Sent: Friday, November 29, 2002 9:35 AM
Subject: Re: Order Status
I'm not very pleased at all. In fact I'm downright upset. If there is notification on your web page that delivery will take 14 working days, I didn't see it. Had I known this, I could have driven down to the local hardware store to buy the router I ordered at the same price. I ordered from you for convenience. What I got instead is a four day weekend with a project waiting on the router I ordered and no router. In addition, you provided no method of tracking the shipment. I placed this order a week and a half ago, fully expecting to be working this holiday weekend with my new router. Instead, here I sit, ready to spit nails. I've heard many good things about buying from your company, but my experience so far has been a complete exercise in frustration.
This time, surely I will get some assistance in tracking the shipment, or an apology of some sort for leaving me stranded when there's so much to do.
To: 'Sailing Bum'
Sent: Monday, December 02, 2002 4:47 PM
Subject: RE: Order Status
Here's information from our web site under "About Us" and there's also information under "Customer Service."
Thank you, Eldie Michel
Now, you may be thinking I'm just bolding their reply for effect. In fact, I merely bolded the typeface in html. The actual email used Times New Roman, 18 pt type, where the previous email from the same source had used Times New Roman 12 pt. Someone has developed an attitude and is not being pro-actively customer service. Not only did it upset me, it got me downright pissed off. Especially when I went to the links in their web site, which were purported to have said information available. I may have missed them, but I did not see anything, certainly not anything prominently displayed which told me I would need to wait 14 days for delivery. What I did see, was a lot of information praising themselves for having free shipping when no one else does and that they've negotiated favorable rates with a variety of freight companies. I'm sorry, but the only company I know of that takes 14 days to ship anything anywhere is the U.S. Postal service. So, the more I thought abut it, the more upset I became. Not only was there a nasty attitude on the part of this customer service person, but the purported information if it existed, certainly wasn't prominently displayed... so of course, I fired off another email.
From: Sailing Bum [mailto:SpamBlocker.firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Monday, December 02, 2002 4:29 PM
Subject: Fw: Order Status
Here's information about me. Thanks to your attitude, I will not ever order from you again.
And I even resisted the temptation to put it in 24 point type.
So, on December 4, I received this email from a different person, but same return address,
We apologize for the inconvenience
HAVE A GOOD DAY
This email, in Times New Roman, 24 point. So now of course, I'm so upset I have to wait a few minutes for my blood pressure to drop below 200 before I can breathe. The rudeness of these so called Customer Service people astounds me.
This morning, (12/3/2002) I went to Lowes and bought my new Router. If the Harbor Freight Tools Router ever shows up, I will return it. Meanwhile, I'm snail mailing their president this link. And while that's en route by snail mail, I will be sending the delightful people at customer service this link, in case they want to apologize or make nice nice before they hear from Mr. Smidt. Were it me, I'd be getting real smart about refunding my money, because I am not a happy camper and I will be satisfied in this matter.
December 13, 2002 - Of course, the day I bought the substitute router from Lowes, Harbor Freight's arrived by mule train. Which I promptly sent back. That was ten days ago. As of this date, still no apology and no refund. In fact, not word one from anyone at Harbor Freight.
December 27, 2002. - The Entertainment Center is finished and installed in our home. Still no refund from Harbor Freight Tools, nor any contact of any sort.
January 2, 2003. - Still no refund and still no response from Harbor Freight Tools.
January 3, 2003 - Terry called Harbor Freight Tools. After spending an interminable amount of time in phone queue limbo, Terry actually got to speak to a human being. Harbor Freight Tools had no record of having received the returned package. So, the Harbor Freight Tools rep told Terry they would put an "Urgent Trace" on the missing package. We'd be able to expect an answer in 14 Business Days! (Three weeks in human terms)
Terry's immediate response was, "14 Days! It's always 14 days with you people"! And she proceeded to tell the rep how horrible this experience has been with lousy customer service et al. She told the Harbor Freight Tools rep in no uncertain terms that 14 days was wholly unacceptable. They've had our money for very nearly 2 months now and it's time for them to refund it.
So after Terry got done opening her Verbal can of whup-ass, the Harbor Freight Tools representative agreed to put an "EMERGENCY URGENT TRACE" on the package. To which we should know in 48 hrs, whether they intend to refund our money.
Emergency Urgent Trace... is that just too funny? I wonder... what do you suppose an emergency non-urgent trace would be???
January 8, 2003
riter1115 (3:41:57 PM): Okay. A request WAS put into receiving to check with UPS. They have not received a response from UPS. I told her they needed to press the issue with UPS and get us our money pretty quickly or this was going to go into a legal arena AS WELL AS on the Web site describing this nightmare of a situation which has tied up our money for two months. Tammy was very apologetic, said she would go check on the status of the situation and email me back. I also told her we expected a call from Mr. Smidt with a PROPER apology, which we had not had throughout this whole wretched experience, except for the one she just gave me.
January 9, 2003 line still busy...sending to their customer service dept web site:
This is Tim's wife, Terry Cohen. ONCE AGAIN, you have FAILED to respond to our needs. We STILL have not received a call back re: our refund. We STILL have not received a refund. You have had possession of our money for nearly two months. The number of hits on our Web site re: this debacle is growing, and now includes hits from within Maryland state government. Full resolution of this is required by 5 p.m. EST tomorrow, Friday, Jan. 10, 2003.
(Note to myself: I specified Friday because I expect money to be in the account. WILL call to get resolved TODAY.)
25 hits yesterday, on the Harbor freight page, 130 hits total. The hits have doubled since Friday, about the time when it started showing up on the search engines.
January 9, 2003 - Supposedly, this will all be over, tomorrow... What follows is a series of Instant messages Terry sent me at work while she was trying to resolve this issue.
January 9, 2003
riter1115 (4:44:16 PM): i am being firm ... told her i don't care if ups isn't responding, that is their problem, that i need to talk with someone who can resolve this today, that they are losing a lifetime customer, and i had to interrupt her interrupting me to tell her she HAD to listen to me because I'm the customer
riter1115 (4:47:19 PM): I am talking to Lori...she is tracking this, I reiterated that this is their problem with ups, not ours, and we want our money. I will repeat that as long as it takes.
riter1115 (4:50:46 PM): oh, and i had also pointed out to Gretchen that we had spent a LOT of our business time on calls trying to straighten this out
riter1115 (4:51:09 PM): they show ups delivering it the 9th of December, even worse, lol
riter1115 (4:52:32 PM): i just told Lori that it was refused, unopened...and that someone needed to give me a refund TODAY, a credit back to my account TODAY.
riter1115 (4:55:44 PM): Lori is going to track down the person in charge of ups and call me back. Told her, okay, but I'd better get a call back this time, or tomorrow, I take action. If I do not hear back from her, I will still call back tonight, and tell them...no more checking. I figure she's going to have to find another higher up to get the credit made anyway. They are open 'til 7 our time.
riter1115 (4:56:48 PM): yep...I was going to not let her call back, but she actually sounded breathless, like she was hopping-to to get this over with. She has one chance
riter1115 (5:52:53 PM): Lori just called. They will be refunding $169.99 back to the credit card account today. She didn't offer any further explanation. I didn't ask for any. Simply said I'd check the account tomorrow.
(Would have been interesting to know if they took action with or without resolution from UPS, but doesn't matter.)
January 10, 2003
Terry received this email, today. As yet, the mentioned credit has not hit our account. Notice that ritebyte.net is a misspell and it still got through.
January 10, 2003
Subject: invoice 9052923
Date: Fri, 10 Jan 2003 06:46:23 -0800
just wanted to let you know your item was refunded on 1/9/03
HAVE A NICE DAY
January 13, 2003
[12:36] riter1115: You there?
[12:36] Write Byte: hey
[12:36] riter1115: hi...Harbor Freight update. Ready?
[12:37] Write Byte: sure
[12:39] riter1115: Didn't see it in the account, sooooo, I called the bank. He checked and did see a credit on your card. Now, I don't know whether it didn't arrive until Saturday (i.e., HF issued a refund to the account Thursday, but what does that mean administratively?) or whether HF INSTRUCTED it to be posted Saturday, but whatever, he said it showed as a Saturday credit, would be posted on Monday, so we wouldn't see it online until after midnight today. But it was there, $169.99.
[12:40] Write Byte: Jerks had to get that last day's worth of use out of it, didn't they?
[12:40] riter1115: Could Beeeee.
[12:41] Write Byte: Or, could be one last in your face from the worst customer service experience, ever. Unbelievable, two months to get a refund...
[12:41] riter1115: Yeah, that's it...
January 14, 2003
So today, after all that, we get yet another warm and fuzzy customer service email from Harbor Freight Tools.
Subject: RE: Failure to rectify situation
Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2003 12:44:22 -0800
I show we issued the refund on 1-10-03 for the amount of $169.99.
All previous emails must be attached
Now isn't that just too funny? I'm simply overcome with their desire to please me and their sincere and abject remorse at having screwed up everything about this entire transaction. And it only took two months, almost to the day.