Sometimes, the best buying experiences start with a complaint.
And other times — at least according to a month's worth of my reader mail — a firm's response to a single complaint can destroy years of customer good will.
Many of you still have plenty to say about good and bad customer service, including reader Sue Ann...
Several months ago, she noticed that whenever she was watching a particular satellite television channel, it would "freeze up." The only way she could get the picture and sound back was to unplug the satellite box for a second and then plug it back in.
As you can imagine, Sue Ann quickly grew tired of this solution, so she called the satellite TV provider and talked to a service representative.
"After some talking and explanation that she was giving me, she asked how long we had had the receiver," Sue Ann wrote. "I told her we purchased our system in May 1998. She told me that parts could wear out after that much time, and it wasn't unusual that our receiver could have some worn-out parts in it. Then she told me that she could offer me a refurbished receiver. It would not be new, but the parts would be new inside and it may have some refurbished parts. But she told me that she could guarantee that it would be working."
The customer service rep said she would sell Sue Ann the refurbished receiver for $30 and would not charge for shipping.
"She told me the refurbished receiver would be shipped and should arrive within five days," Sue Ann wrote. "Well, we received the receiver, instruction manual and new remote control within three days. My husband and his son hooked it up, and I am so happy with this system and the fact that the channels don't 'freeze' up any more."
In addition to the help the customer service rep provided, she also gave Sue Ann three free months of two movie channels.
"So I thought this was an example of out-of-the-way and above-and-beyond customer service and wanted to share this experience with you," Sue Ann wrote.
Just goes to show you that people are willing to pay a reasonable charge to get something fixed, especially if they are provided with good customer service.
On the other side of the coin are some experiences e-mailed to me by Linda.
Her first unfortunate story involves an expensive pleated skirt she took to a local dry cleaning shop. When she went to pick it up on the designated day, she was told it wasn't ready and that she should come back the next day.
"After one week of stopping in every day, they finally produced the skirt," Linda wrote. "It was cleaned, and every pleat was gone! When I asked them what happened, they replied that I didn't say anything about having the pleats pressed in. The skirt, which was made on the bias, had been stretched out so badly that it couldn't be repaired. After months of arguing about my ruined skirt, I wimped out, gave up."
Then there's the story of some of Linda's friends, who purchased a cemetery plot several years ago.
"One day, someone from the cemetery called them and said that they had accidentally re-sold their plot and didn't realize their mistake until after they had buried the second person," Linda wrote. "My friends were very surprised. They were told to stop by and pick out a new plot. Their new plot is in a completely different section of the cemetery, and not as nice as the original location. Our friends are very disappointed with the outcome, but feel that they didn't have any other choice."
Wow. Ruining someone's expensive skirt is one thing, but selling a cemetery plot out from under a person (so to speak) is about as bad as it gets. I only hope the latter was an honest mistake and not a regular practice at that particular cemetery.
At any rate, keep your stories of good and bad customer service coming. I'll revisit the issue every now and then.
You can e-mail your tales — and financial questions — to me at email@example.com, or send them by regular mail to the Deseret Morning News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.