Sunday, September 19, 2010

Is Customer Service Running Out Of Time?

What ever happened to good old fashioned customer service? To a time when companies seemed to value their clientele? It seems to be that the pendulum has swung completely from “the customer is always right” to “if you don’t like it, buzz off!” While I don’t necessarily agree that the pendulum has to swing all the way back, somewhere in the middle would be nice.

I’ve used “time” in the title and “pendulum” in the first paragraph, because right now I have a beef with a very famous watch maker. It seems to be that the company known for their products that “take a licking and keeps on ticking” still make wonderful quality time pieces. Their straps, however, are something to be desired and their telephone bedside manner is rather lacking.

I have been a loyal Timex watch wearer since I got my first time piece. I was four. I’m now 52 and all of my watches have been Timex. Besides Coca-Cola there isn’t a company I’ve been more loyal to for almost half century. But all it took to change that was a bad strap and even worse customer service.

It was less than two years ago that I purchased my latest Timex. It was the Timex Ironman, pictured above. I didn’t really need a new watch, but I had been a good boy and I decided to be nice to me by treating myself to a new trinket.

While I loved the watch, I didn’t care much for the strap. It was one of those rubbery type ones that come with various models of watches. I had had them before, they rarely last, but up until now they were easy to replace.

In the past, when they would eventually snap, I would simply go to either the original place of purchase or a neighbourhood jeweller to change the strap for a similar one, leather one, metal one or any other strap of my choosing. But that’s not an option with this latest watch.

I was informed, first by a jeweller, that they couldn’t do anything. I was then told by Sears, the place of purchase, that I had to deal directly with the company (by the way, kudos to the folks at Sears for being thoroughly helpful in giving me all the information I needed in a friendly manner. Now, that’s customer service). Apparently the intricate design and fused melding of the watch and strap can only be circumvented by ambidextrous gnomes locked away somewhere in the Timex basement.

So I called the number I was given (allegedly it was in Toronto, but for all I know it could have been Bangalore). When I informed the person of my plight, she told me where to send the watch. When I asked if I could get a leather strap, I was informed that it was not possible, but a replacement similar to the one I had could be obtained for a price, plus shipping and handling and of course I would be without the use of my watch for the time it took to repair and return.

When I mentioned that putting on the same strap would mean that probably the same thing would happen to it in less than two years, precipitating yet another round of mailing and waiting, the rather cold response was “well what do you expect, sir, that’s normal wear and tear.”

Now call me madcap, but I find it hard to believe that for however long I have this watch, I will be forced every two years to mail it away to replace a watch strap, waiting at the door for its return like a forlorn prom date. Not only does this not make economic sense, but it’s extremely inconvenient. However, it was the terse response in the phone conversation that put me over the top.

I’m a person with a very long fuse. Not much ticks me off. But this woman somehow managed to do it with one snarky sentence. So here’s what’s happening now. Rather than mail the watch out to replace the strap and wait during that time without a watch, I am going to go out and simply replace the watch. In the meantime, I have written to Timex to let them know how I feel (so far, I’ve yet to hear a response. If I do, I’ll share).

I’ve let them know that for the first time in 48 years, I will not be wearing a Timex. I explained in my letter that they can thank the person who answered the phone at customer service for that.

Have you ever had a customer service situation that just put you over the edge? I would really like to hear your story. And just to make sure that this doesn’t turn into a complete “bitching-fest” I would also love to hear from people who have had wonderful dealings with customer service.

I’m hoping that my faith in humanity, consumer confidence and yes, even customer service can be restored (I am, after all, an eternal optimist). Apparently loyalty isn’t worth as much as it used to be. That’s why I’m taking my watch business elsewhere. I’ll also stay away from rubbery straps. At least I still have Coca-Cola.

That’s the Stuph – the way I see it.


  1. I usually have very good customer service Bangalore or otherwise. My grief is with a certain medical clinic's receptionists. It was a hot day. I step into the office. Noticing a water fountain I wondered where the cups were. Interrupting the receptionist by asking her where they were I apologized. The next day I received a phone call explaining when the receptionist is busy wait until she's not busy to ask a question. I agreed. A year later I had a very important meeting with my doctor. I walked up the carpeted steps, into the office & to the receptionist. She asked for my medicare card & I realized I did not have it. I was soooo upset. She said don't worry it's on file. The next day I received a phone call telling me I was no longer welcomed to their medical clinic. Since then, their carpeted stairs had its carpet removed & not replaced. I heard a rumour it's because the staff shamed themselves for not reverifying the lab they sent blood tests (it turned out to be a fake lab). It may be mean to say but if customer service belittles its clients it's bound to be belittled itself.

  2. I must buy a watch for 13 yr old who really wants a cell [no way that] b/c he must be on time now he's in H.S. and can leave building for recess and lunch.
    Timex? Not.
    He breaks and loses everything.
    I want a time piece and gps embedded into his body.
    Where I get that done?

  3. It's all about cutting staff and moving the customer along as quickly as possible, half the time to a dead phone line. T

    The most dreadful service I had wa with Blinds to Go. Their warranty isn't, and the best by far, for a provide of interenet etc. services is Cogeco. You speak to a person for as long as it takes, then they follow up next day with a call to see how it went. M Hale, Oakville

  4. I hear you Peter and I can see both sides. I think businesses are trying to catch up in this "relationship building" approach to marketing. All this time, consumers were in a one-way relatioship with an indifferent partner. Now that the partner sees the value of, oh I dunno, conversing/learning/growing with the consumer there are challenges. Not only are they generally bad at the process so far but we, the consumers, feel a tad gilted. Ah well, they're trying. Maybe give Timex another chance? :lol:

  5. I liked your piece.
    If you have the time and desire try reading "No Logo" by Naomi Klein. She talks about how customers have gone from being the reason for a business to serving the business. As I am sure we have all had experiences similar... to yours (I know I have!). I am certain that the world has morphed into a place were to be a good citizen our main responsibility is to buy as much as we can. In a way we have returned to Caveat Emptor.
    (I really hope that I have not expressed this in a way that makes me sound like some whacked out conspiracy theorist!!)

  6. Here's the problem as I see it, and I have many years of customer service experience myself, which is what I still do for a living.

    First of all, there is no excuse for a CSR telling a client "well what do you expect?" under any circumstance. The answer to that question is fairly simple: I expect you to make a product that lasts a reasonable length of time, and I expect you to treat me with respect when it doesn't. Peter, Timex clearly failed you in that department.

    The fact that Timex made a watch strap that is permanently fixed to the watch is, IMHO, a design flaw, and whoever thought to do that should be fired. Granted Timex wants to ensure that people can only buy their watch straps for their watches, but this is a very poor decision, and one that would see me looking elsewhere for a watch myself. This is Timex's bigger fail, because it shows that they care more about their bottom line than your rights as a customer.

    My wife bought a 1995 Pontiac Sunfire, a vehicle that Pontiac had taken over from Asuna the year prior. When a headlight burned out, they wanted to charge me not only the $15 for a new lamp, but also an hour of labour to replace it (about $85) which is their minimum labour charge. So I called GM and explained my situation. I told them that all they had to do was put a screw on the headlight cover which would allow the customer easy access to change the lamp. When I finally convinced someone at GM head office of how unfair the charge was, they gave me $100 credit at my dealership which completely made up for my grievance, and so my next car was another GM. Later on the dealership then changed their minimum labour charge to 30 minutes which was also nice.

    I learned many years ago that your words speak loudest when your wallet does the talking. However, in your case I would ask to speak with a person at Timex's head office so that someone up there understands the issues that arise when they make a decision to put crappy straps that cannot easily be replaced on their expensive watches. It's not something that a call centre representative is capable of handling.

  7. Great piece on the decline of customer service. I had a similar bad experience with RBC a couple of years ago that compelled me to make alternate arrangements that I am now completely satisfied with. As for Coca-Cola, although I can't drink the stuff anymore, the good ol' red and white will forever have a special place in my heart (and whenever you get the chance to go to Vegas, check out the Coca-Cola Store on the Strip ... three floors of anything and everything Coke).

  8. Great customer service is a sign of a company that might just survive the recession. Not always, but it helps.
    -Frank Kermit

  9. Peter, you couldn't have hit on a better subject than CUSTOMER SERVICE. I've been in Customer Service for over 25 years and I can tell you that the service you get these days is unacceptable. If I had ever talked to people on the telephone or in person like some of the people I come across in my daily life....I would have been bodily removed from my place of questions asked! Thanks, for bring this topic to light. We all need to practice our Customer Service skills everyday!

  10. Not being a brand name junkie I avoid these problems by buying $10 watches at Wal-Mart. They usually last about 2-3 years, keep accurate time, and look good. I have to change the battery maybe once during that time so my total investment is about $3 - $4 per year. Problem solved!

  11. In my experience, the best customer service comes from those who chose the profession as a career. In the last year, I have been well served at Brooks Brothers, and Macys (I live across the river from Michigan). I actually wrote Macys a letter about their outstanding service. I did the same when I recently had a problem with RBC Insurance and three people from the branch helped me without hesitation.

    The worst service, again from my experience, comes those who are just doing it as a job, and generation "ME." Ever been to a store where the clerks are so engaged in their conversation they don't even notice you? Same over the phone sometimes; they can't be bothered.

  12. It seems that the lifetime value of a customer is perceived to be zero. Why do companies spend millions of dollars attracting new customers when it is easier and much more cost-effective to retain the ones they have? I am not saying that a company shouldn't grow their business, but why do companies offer little-to-no incentive to continue to do business with them? Has the continuing evolution of technology completely replaced almost ANY kind of face-to-face or voice-to-voice communication?

  13. It might be time for an "Excetuive E-Mail carpet Bomb"

    BTW The Consumertist's website does get read by many compaines and the press; you may want to send your story there too.

  14. 2 years is normal wear and tear?'s not like you're doing construction work with it on. Give me a break.

  15. Peter, I remember my mother bringing something backl to Eaton;s two years after she had purchased it and getting it replaced without a question. Both Eaton and those days are gone.

    I've had many similar experiences but have taken a different tact. I persevere. I ask to speak to the supervisor, customer relations and if that still gets me nowhere, then I write letters with the names of all the employees who did NOT give me customer satisfaction.

    To my way of thinking, if consumers don't fight for their rights, we all lose in the end. My experience has been good. When I persist, I get consumer justice.

  16. IN 2004 my laptop developed a problem. When I went to the Apple store in Beijing, they said nothing could be done and I would have to pay for the repair. I would mention it was 3 days outside the warranty. Not remember when I had a Powerbook 185 years ago it was outside the warranty by 3 weeks and Apple fixed the problem. When I explained this to Apple in Beijing hey said "to bad, you can either pay to get it fixed or buy another brand". Well at that point I decided to call the head office of Apple for the Asia/Pacific in Singapore. The young woman I spoke to was very helpful. She asked me to send her a detailed email. Well I did that and some. I have been using Apple computers since 1986, in fact I still have every apple computer and original receipts. So I took pictures of each of them, plus every original sales slip going back to 1986. Within 24 hours I got a phone call from the Director of APPLE Asia/Pacific. I think they were surprised that I kept every receipt for every apple product I have bought in almost 20 years. He said sorry over and over for the service I got from Apple in China. And said he would contact me back. 2 hours later I received an email that he CC me of which he sent to the Apple location in Beijing. Telling them and I quote. "Considering it's only 3 days outside the warranty and Mr. Perron has been a loyal Apple customer since 1986 you are to provide him with a new Macbook Pro." 12 hours later I got a call from the Apple shop in Beijing asking me to come pick it up. I can tell you the Apple customer service rep I originally dealt with even had to say sorry. If it had been weeks outside the warranty I would not have said anything.
    Sometimes you need to go right to head office.

  17. I think Timex would have preferred you to simply cave in and buy a new one. If that is the case thewn they are missing the point.

    Where's John Cameron Swayze when we really need him?

    I just had the clasp on my Wenger 'Swiss Army' type watch replaced. It took a while - three weeks - but I love this watch for its elegant simplicity and it works just fine. More importantly, it was a present from very special people.

    (Attention, Timex: read that last sentence until you really understand it!)

  18. Don't get me started! if I were to write a book based on the arguments that I've had with Bell Canada, I'd be rich and famous!! The latest irritant is their Bell Mobility outfit! I saw their ad in the Globe and Mail for the Palm Pre. It was delivered with a dead battery. I've spoken to 2 phone reps and the story is the same, I have to go out of my way to get a new battery. In the meantime they've sent me a bill for a hundred plus dollars and I've barely used the phone! Now you would think that in this a digital age where citizens have outlets like this one that they would stop resting on their laurels and goo out of their way to deliver value. I call this type of merchandise/service the disposable age- give them your money and they dispose you. Timex thinks that it is right for you to dispose of a watch every two years and Bell Mobility sees absolutely nothing wrong with selling you dead goods! It's all I can do not to go postal!!!!!

  19. Until someone from at least middle management or higher spends a few hours a week either on the floor or behind a counter, customer service will continue to decline.

    They higher ups are just like contemporary politicians.

    Too out of touch to get it.

  20. Guilty by association

    In this situation, I do not believe Sears should be off the hook. A company as large as Sears should be accountable for the products they sell in their stores.

    Sears made a profit on the watch that they sold you and while Timex should have seen you as a valued customer, you were also a Sears customer.

    Great customer service is not merely providing telephone information and sending a customer on their way to fight with a supplier or a manufacturer when a problem arises.

    I would lodge a complaint with Sears and see exactly how they handle the situation.

    Great customer service is about providing a great service to customers to ensure repeat business and in this situation, I believe both Sears and Timex failed you.

  21. Recently I did decide to stop being a client of a recruiting company I had been loyal to for years, because they suddenly challenged my qualifications which up to that point they had accepted without question for years, and even after repeated explanations and written proof, they wouldn't budge.

    I was offended and insulted.

    I think poor customer service usually occurs with inexperienced employees who do not have a stake in the company or ambition to do their job well.

  22. OMG!! I bought my husband an Ironman watch with a heart monitor because he had had a aortic vavle replacement. He worked out before knowing he needed surgery and he works out now, except he needed to monitor his heart rate. Well, the stinking watch strap broke and can we find a replacememnt anywhere??? Nope. So when the batteries die out of this watch I plan on buying something else. Timex... you SUCK! Excuse my French!

  23. I will never buy anything from Sears again. I can't stand Sears or much of the shoddy rubbish that they sell.

  24. I didn't know Timex still made watches; haven't worn one since I was a kid (I am only slightly younger than you Peter). it's time for a new watch - I've been wearing a Mondaine Swiss train station watch for years - it was stolen recently at gunpoint. Don't know what I'll get, but it won't be a Timex. Regarding customer service - it seems to have gone the way of politeness. David

  25. Peter, I noticed your comment regarding Coca-Cola.
    I am now quite willing to overlook your glaring character faults, such as rooting for the Boston Red Sox, dismissing cats as "evil incarnate", etc. All is forgiven.

    You're right - customer service seems to be the common comprimise in the world of narrower margins, decreased profits, budget cuts, yada yada yada... Typically, you'll get transferred to some caring soul in Islamablad who bsrely speaks English, or some caring soul in Quebec City who bsrely speaks English. That's only if you can get through those damn IVR's. (Press 1 to stick the phone up your butt...)

    Bob S.

  26. I recently purchased an Apple 3G iTouch (iPod) with more memory to replace my 1G iPod. A couple of weeks later, I dropped it in a sink full of water. Needless to say, it immediately went wonky. As it turns out, I was going later to the West Island, so I dropped into the Apple Store in the Fairview mall, where I had bought it. The sales clerk replaced it, no questions asked. A $500+ unit replaced, and I was in and out of there in less than four minutes. Impressive.

  27. You need to cast your net a bit further. The lack of service that is all too pervasive in business has crept into our politics. There's a reason why The Tea Party movement is doing so well in the United States, and why a man like Rob Ford can be the front-runner in the Toronto mayoralty race. We, the people, are no longer served by the governments we elect. They are out of touch with their customers and seem determined to reduce voting numbers to just the party faithful by turning the rest of us off so badly we don't want anything to do with the system anymore. Just like we have stopped shopping at certain retailers.

  28. Hi Peter
    I also have the same Timex watch as you , and has similar experiences like you , which i had to send away my watch to Timex (via Bay never again) to get the band replace, took me 4 months to get my watch back. Apparently the clowns at Timex mis-place my watch and found it after I call 5th time in 4 months. Finally got it back, with the new strap and all. Although just like yours the strap broke at one of the eyelet (small holes) 2 years later. This time i went to Sears store watch shop. He told me he had to order it. But I could save some bucks if I order it myself. He told me what to do, and phone number to call. When I did this, in 7 days I got a new strap for my watch in the mail. Since I already have jewelry screw driver set I was able to change the band my self. It only cost my $14.00, compare to $60.00 doing it the first time around.
    Anthony Lenzo

  29. An example of great customer service might be journolists that simply report the news and not inject inherent bias.

    We're at a point where there's more information available (as opposed to the ink-stained wretches of the past), so go easy on the sensationalism, please.

    And employ competent statisticians, SVP.

  30. Great review. As for my two cents, I would have to agree that customer service in general has gone downhill. I can’t really say that I can pin the blame on any one company in particular as this seems to be a problem which has impacted the entire service industry as a whole. As a result, this can make poor customer service even more frustrating as it is pointless to boycott one company in favour of another one which is often just as bad.

    But as you’ve said, you don’t want this to turn into a “bitching-fest”, so I will share one short positive experience regarding customer service. My girlfriend and I recently spent some vacation time in Wells, Maine and after dinning at several restaurants in the area, I was honestly surprised by how well we were taken care of. The waitresses were all polite, they kept checking up on us and we didn’t have to wait an hour for them to give us the bill either.

    Don’t get me wrong, Montreal still has the best restaurants overall but if it ever came down to a competition based strictly on customer service, Wells, Maine would beat us hands down.

  31. Thanks for your piece on Timex.

    I have thought it over and my new watch just purchased is alas, not a Timex. As with other companies, if their customer service does not meet my expectations, they are not getting my hard earned $$$ either.

    P.S. Keurig (the coffee maker people) have great customer service as they have replaced two of my machines without much of a hassle. They really tried to identify and solve the problem before sending me out a new machine, which I received within 3 days (from the US)!


  32. For those of you who were following the saga of my watch, here's an update.

    I never heard back from Timex (which, frankly, doesn't surprise me) so I have followed through with my threat and after 48 years of brand loyalty I have purchased a new watch that is NOT a Timex.

    Yesterday I picked up the Citizen Eco-Drive Chronograph model. Not only am I happy with it, but I'm happy with where I bought it. A jewelry store in Carrefour Angrignon called "Bijouterie Cathy."

    It strikes me as the kind of place where warm, personable, friendly service is still a premium. The kind of people we should all seek out to deal with.

  33. Wow This is the first time I am checking out your website! Heard about it on CKUT Radio. I actually have a horrible warning for every one out there, I think that's why they are closing. I received a new Samsung frontload washer/dryer set from Futureshop Feb 13,13. It showed up all scratched up & when I mean scratched I mean there wasn't an inch on it that wasn't, all be it it was a floor model but it was not the set I saw at the store. When I asked the delivery people what happened they handed me a customer acceptance form (that had been signed by some unknown person) saying that they thought I was aware of the damage "your signature is on it". When I made them see that it was not my name, even they said they were baffled at why it was so damaged. Anyway the guy said to call them up they would send me a replacement or I could ask for a discount. After calling the store & speaking with several people only to fall on a manager who casually told me to take pictures of it (impossible its a reflective surface but I did video it) & come to the store "but it'll be at my discretion whether or not we do anything about it". I asked if I could e-mail, fax or whatever because I live in Montreal (the store is in Boisbriand) & I don't have a car & it would be too complicated for me to return to the store, he refused. So I called the customer service (you know that one they keep advising you to call 1-866-237-8289) & I have been trying to get it resolved ever since which was the same week I received the thing. First it takes seven to ten days then we are escalating this matter it'll take another forty-eight hours and numerous e-mails & calls in between, I am still waiting. I haven't used it because I have heard so many this & that I am afraid they wont take it back if I do. Like you I have a long fuse but I feel it's wearing thin. I don't know what to do next short of taking it public.

    Congrats on this website I'll be tuning in.