The Shock Of Good Customer Service

With the precision of a Rockettes' dance number, one by one the windows in my house have all snapped the little doohickey that lets them slide up and down smoothly and keeps them from going off-tilt. If I were a window repairman, I'm sure there would be a real name for the broken part and with that real name, a real expensive price tag and a real expensive labor call.

But karma intervened and a handyman who I had asked over for a repair estimate wound up being both knowledgable and honest. "Milgard windows?" he said, as I waited for the proverbial kicking of the tires that always comes when one craftsman disses the work of another. "You don't need me. These have a lifetime warranty," he said instead. "They will just come out and fix them or replace them for you." He scribbled down the number while I waited for my dropped jaw to close.

Still unconvinced that anyone in this day and age offers a lifetime warranty on anything, I called the number. The woman dutifully checked my name and address in her computer and asked "When would it be convenient to have a serviceman there?"

"No charge, right?" I asked.

"That's right, Ma'am."

"Not for labor or parts or anything?" I asked again.

"No Ma'am. We offer lifetime warranties."

I was in shock. Speechless.

"Ma'am? Would you like to schedule a service call?" she interrupted my stupor.

"Aha! How much for the service call?" I asked, the "gotcha" element oozing in my words.

"We don't charge for the service call."

They are coming next week. At my convenience. Not an eight-hour window during which I have to wait, but I will be the first stop of the day. And it will be free, all covered by a warranty that is now 12 years old.

I am flabbergasted: An honest contractor told me how to not pay him gobs of money and an honest company honored an agreement that I long ago forgot about if I ever even knew it.

I was unprepared for the shocking value of good customer service.

We live in a time when products are designed and made for obsolescence. We don't repair appliances, we replace them. We anticipate that when we make a call of complaint it will fall on deaf ears. We spend hours listening to Muzak to get nowhere with our banks, our credit card companies, our health insurance carriers. We complacently wait on hold to talk to a live person at the cable company. We agree to punch in our account numbers on our phones as directed by a computer, only to have to repeat those numbers to the "customer service representative" when they finally get on the line. We allow a call center "manager" to read from a script and repeat how sorry he is but can do nothing. We are treated like pond scum by repairmen who are incapable of estimating when they will show up and often just don't. The lines at the bank are long, longer at the supermarket, and longer still when we try to fight our way to a parking spot at the mall -- and yet we wait in them all like good lemmings. Restaurants expect us to make sure their workers are paid a living wage through our tips whether the service is good or not and workers in stores of all kind are trained so superficially they don't know the inventory or store policies.

Customer service? It doesn't exist anymore, at least not in any recognizable shape. Stores have overhauled their return policies. Old Navy won't give you a store credit without a receipt. Target, which used to allow exchanges for store credit regardless if you had the receipt, now demands a receipt and items can only be exchanged for something similar in the same department. Then there's something called a "restocking fee" which Target and other stores impose on returned electronics -- even those never opened.

I remember when Sears replaced my father's hammer after a lifetime of use, but I only vaguely remember it. I'm told that most of those Craftsman tools no longer carry that same lifetime warranty. I love that Nordstrom and Zappos pride themselves on good customer service, but I know they are the exceptions to the rule.

As for Milgard and my windows? I am shocked at how shocking good service has become. Go Milgard!

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