Missing The Mark: Sears – Christmas Customer Service

When I was a kid, the most exciting thing in the world for me was getting the Sears Christmas Catalog every October. My brother and I would fight over who got to look through it first a who would get to mark up the pages with their “I want it” stickers.

Fast-forward twenty years to yesterday. As a gift-giver, I’m excited when I find the perfect something for its recipient, something that says, “I need to be wrapped up and given to Mr. X.” I use Mr. X here as it’s not yet Christmas.

So on to my recent experience with Sears. I’ve heard great things in the past about their customer service. Sadly, I’ve yet to experience any of that.

Yesterday, while on the phone with a relative, we found the perfect item for someone in our family: A set of tools, on sale. It was something this family member needed, wanted, and would use–three things that are essential to giving the perfect Christmas gift. I checked the “pick it up in store” option, was in stock. Hooray! I work right next to a Sears, so I couldn’t beat this opportunity. I filled up my online cart, clicked “Check out,” entered my credit card number and hit “Submit!”

*Phew* The last of my Christmas shopping was done, or so I thought. I just had to wait on the little email that said:

I received it in under 30 minutes. Hot Dog! I was happy as a clam! I figured I’d go grab it from the store, grab some crappy mall food for lunch and be back at my desk happily clicking away at my keyboard in under an hour. Or so I thought.

When I get to the Sears Location I’d selected, (Lloyd Center, Portland) I went to their “Merchandise Pick-Up” area, where you scan your receipt in this unfriendly kiosk that tells you they have 5 minutes to complete your order or you get a service coupon for $5.00. Ok – You’ve set my expectations, you’re going to grab my order in 5 minutes or less, that’s pretty good service. I noted a white board on the wall which rated their “On Service Guarantee delivery time: 95% for the month, 98% for the previous day.” That’s a pretty good record, though it doesn’t say how many people served. Whatever.

I wait and I watch the little screen with my last name and a clock, time ticks away; 3 minutes, 4 minutes, 5 minutes, then a little “CC” appears next to my name. 6 minutes, 8 minutes, 10 minutes… Then a stock person comes out of the back room with a coupon and says, “Sorry, we’re still trying to locate your item.”

And then, at minute 15, he comes back. “We don’t seem to have that item in stock, do you want to go up to the 3rd floor and see if they have it up there?”

“No, not particularly. That’s something I’d expect you to do.” I think to myself, but instead I say: “Uh, Sure, I guess so.” And off to the Tool Department I went.

When I reached the 3rd floor tool department, I go directly to the service desk, and start to ask, “Hey, I purchased this item online…”

He interrupts, “You have to go down to the first floor to ‘Merchandise Pick up.’”

I finish my previously started sentence “…and they don’t seem to have it downstairs, they said you might have one up here, where would they be?”

“Oh,” he says. “They were just up here looking for it. We don’t have any in stock.”

So, “They already looked, didn’t have it in stock, and they sent me up here to you. Now what?” I ask.

The clerk responds: “Well, I guess I can refund your money.”

I’m not particularly pleased with that idea at the moment, I ask, “Can you call another store and see if they have it in stock? I guess I could drive to another location.” As a customer service professional, I would have wanted to keep the sale and the customer happy by being proactive. I guess that wasn’t the case here. Reluctantly, he calls another store, finds they have them in stock, but he can’t ask them to reserve one, he tells me. I’m surprised by this, I mean, I’ve already paid for the item, they’re a national chain, you’d think they’d be able to say to another location, “hey, I’ve got a customer that we somehow sold him an out of stock item, can you help me out?” Alas, no, nothing.

The clerk proceeds to say that he’ll be able to credit my card back the amount it was charged and that when I drive out to the other store (10 miles away,) that they have a few so they should be in stock when I get there. (I’ve heard this story before…)

I’m still waiting, 24 hours later, for the credit to post to my credit card. Something in the process has tied up 300 dollars of my available limit, twice the amount of the purchase, so I’m unable to go to the store and purchase yet another one. Sears says that they’ve released the charge and it’s whenever my credit card company posts it, and my credit card company says they’re waiting for Sears. Forty-five minutes later I walk out of the Lloyd Center Sears, empty handed and disheartened. Meanwhile, there’s still a perfect gift out there, that I’m probably not going to purchase because of this poor display of Customer service.

I’ve reached out to Sears via social media, asking for assistance. I keep getting the response:

I’m still waiting on the delivery.

When writing this post I wondered if I should wait to post it until after any resolution has been made. Judging from the expectations set by Sears customer service examples with my previous experiences? I may be waiting a long time.

Update: I finally received a call back from Sears corporate. A “Social Media Case Manager” has opened a case number to deal with my issue. They’ve understood my issue to be that I’ve not gotten the credit right away.

Update #2: I received the credit to my card and release of funds, done so on Saturday night (Christmas Eve.) Now, I can’t say whose fault that actually is, my credit card company or Sears… I think it should be clear what my complaints are, I guess not.

Here they are:

1: Sears sold me a product that you said was in stock and didn’t have.
2: Sears said my item was ready for pick up, I have the confirmation, and it wasn’t in stock.
3: When I went to pick up the item, it took Sears stock people 16 minutes to realize they didn’t have the item in stock.
4: Sears stock people searched for the item on their own, then sent me to the Tool Department to search on my own, knowing it wasn’t in the store.
5: Sears sales clerk offered no other options to retrieve my item (like getting delivery from another store, asking another store to hold the item) preferring to lose the sale.
6: There has been no apology, from anyone in Sears’ organization, for the inconvenience.
7: Sears’ attempts at Customer Service have been, at best, an attempt to quiet me socially and sweep me under the carpet.

As a customer service representative I would ask here, what would make you (me) a happy customer. I don’t have an answer to that. Sears has missed the mark on 4 different occasions here, and at 7 different junctures. I don’t know how you reconcile that. Even my extensive experience at customer service has left me at a loss at “what should be done.” It’s really sad. There were so many opportunities to make it right.

Update 3: Final — I’ve certainly had plenty of misses within this experience, this final email – confirming my refund – personifies how clueless Sears seems to be.

Just when you think they cannot get worse with their service…

Here’s the risk you run by using one email address for all your customer service. I can’t call their customer support number during the day – So I have been trying to communicate via email, using my “Case Manager’s” name in every email. I haven’t gotten any responses from him, just these canned responses.

Sad. Just plain sad.

17 responses to “Missing The Mark: Sears – Christmas Customer Service”

  1. I’m sorry to hear this happened, Nick, especially to someone dedicated to giving excellent customer service such as yourself. I hope they pull the rabbit out of their ***, ahem, hat, and get the perfect present ready in time to give it to your family member.

  2. Nick,

    Ouch. I don’t want to paint this with the “corporate culture” brush, however, it’s clear that no one in the chain really took any steps to own up and be proactive about your Sears experience.

    This kind of stuff drives me up the wall. Thanks for the catalogue memories (I used to always flip to the electric guitar page), and I hope you figured out something else for your relative.

    • Yeah, It drove me up a wall, too. The opportunities to make this right were/are plentiful, they chose to miss every one of them. I did find something else. I just hate it when companies make it so difficult to give them your money. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  3. We pretty much stopped shopping at Sears after Rob was laid off from there in 2003. Their customer service used to be top notch, but has been declining at such a rapid rate in the last 10 years or so.

    When my dad died, my mom tried to pay off their Sears card in FULL, but they wouldn’t even talk to her as she wasn’t the primary on the account — but they wanted to talk to her once the account was past due. Not to mention completely rude.

    It’s very disappointing that a company that has such a long and rich tradition in our country has managed to throw it all away.

  4. As a merchandise pick up assosciate and the one that personally spent the time trying to find your order I am appalled that I can be trashed so easily. Sears.com purchases are a completely seperate faction from the main stores, this is becuase of corporations selling parts of their stores overseas for cheaper wages. This is nothing new and no one should be surprised. Due to this seperation, Sears locations are constantly running around trying to fill orders that we never made. We have an hour for each order to try and find it. I personally see at least 50 customers in that hour all asking questions, and so yes I am human and tend to forget to call customers if I can’t find that item. Instead of laying blame and judgement I would love to invite you to make a purchase in store where I will gladly help you find any item that we have in stock. Also none of the stores are linked with each other, that’s over 900 stores nationwide, there’s no conceivable way for the system to just be linked. Please put thought into anything you say before you go attacking hardworking people that do nothing but bend over for every customer that believes deserving.

    • Thank you for stopping by to make a comment. I certainly hope I didn’t trash you personally, in fact, if you look at the 7 issues I laid out in Update #2 – I never trashed anyone, just made observations of where everything in the system failed.

      From a customer stand point – If I purchase an item online on Sears.com, I am purchasing it from Sears. Period. I’m not buying online or in-store, I’m buying an item from Sears. There’s no difference in the consumer’s eye. As for linking stores, hundreds of chain stores do it all the time. Kohls does it, Target does it, Walmart does it. All chain stores, all with an online presence.

      I appreciate your comment and know that it’s hard work being on the ground – the whole organization has failed at customer service.

    • Wow, Shea….I realize that the holiday season is busy and you’ve been very busy doing your job to the best of your abilities; however, the issues laid out in this blog are not personal. In fact, I think the author does an excellent job laying out some of the same issues that you also point out here. Customers expect online presence and in-store presence to be linked. If it truly is as unlinked as you say it is, then Nick’s experience will sadly be replicated far too often which is so unfortunate.

      When a business tries to sell itself as a smooth online and offline experience, it is frustrating when it doesn’t happen smoothly from the customer’s perspective. I am sure that you work hard for your company and are proud of its history and presence in the community; however, in this instance, the structure of the organization failed the consumer and hopefully, it was only a one-time issue. For if it is not, the corporate reputation may be in some danger. Perhaps you can use this illustration from the inside of the organization to affect some needed change.

  5. Schnik: Just listening to the repeat of KGW news (Channel 308) and it appears that several Sears stores are going to be closing due to low sales numbers. I wonder if that has anything to do with the email confirmation that you got and then the issue with the reps in the store… Sad. I use to go into Sears (Lloyd Centre) and could see over the yrs where the attitude of the store changed. It was really eerie:-(

    • Yeah, I saw that story today, too. Sears has/had a long, long history of great quality and service. Those days, it seems, are long gone. Long lost are the days of the great Sears & Roebuck, inc. we all have come to know, like and trust. Now it’s just a name, not an institution.

      It’s really sad. I’m sad for the employees that will be downsized in this round of store closures and also sad for the lack of corporate culture that leads to great customer service.

      At any rate, thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  6. Yeah. It seems that when the *original* owner (be it JC Penney, Sears, Kmart, or Albertson’s, for examples) is taken over or dies, the *original* premise of the owner (that of customer service) dims. That is why some take-overs or mergers are *not* in the best interest of the customer, but all for the grab of the almighty buck:-(

    I use to trust in the names “Sears” and “Craftsman”, for example. Yet, with so many things being “outsourced”, quality suffers.

    We should demand better customer service. But the “corporate heads” are more interested in the bottom line. They don’t see the corelation… Bummer. Oh sure, you are very welcome. I love reading other people’s views on things. The best to ya!!!

    • I agree, the hard part I’m really having here is that it seems to be systemic of the corporate culture at Sears, not a single employee’s failure. Sad. It’s just as easy for me to shop on Amazon or site-to-store in other stores. Locally, Craftsman is sold in Ace Hardware, may have to look them up. 🙂

  7. My heart goes out to you, Nick. As a customer experience consultant and expert, your story was actually painful to read. It’s apparent that whatever “systems” Sears has in place, they are not accurate nor working properly, hindering the effectiveness of employees. To make matters worse, Sears employees are following the broken processes without stepping into the customer’s shoes and looking at the interaction from your perspective. So failure on both counts. Clearly, Sears requires a complete overhaul of both their systems and their processes and a re-training of associates on how to deliver a complete and worthwhile experience. In a recent shareholder call, their CEO thinks giving the employees iPhones and iPads is going to solve their problems and “get closer” to their customers. I think not. Sorry you had to go through this.

    Bill Leinweber
    Landmark Experience Consulting

    • Bill, Thanks for stopping by. The whole experience, every step of the way, has been a process story on what not to do. There were so many opportunities to make it better and they missed every opportunity. First, by misunderstanding the issues, then by missing the opportunity to make it right.

      Thanks for your comments. Hopefully companies will see that it’s not technology, but people, who solve issues for consumers and it’s not hard to rectify consumer’s complaints when you take a moment to listen first. 🙂

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