Questions In Need of Answers - No. 9: Which Companies Have the Worst Customer Service? Lowes? Virgin America Visa?

What’s going on with customer service from big corporations in America these days? If this past week is any indication, nothing great, that’s for sure. Not sure which recent experience was worse, Lowes or Virgin America Visa card, but here goes:

Virgin America Visa

On Monday morning, my wife and I got a call that our account had been compromised and Virgin America Visa would have to issue new cards. This is the third time this has happened with this card in about a year. When I was with Citibank Visa it happened 3 times over the whole 15 years I owned the card. So right there, that says something about Virgin’s computers. But wait, it gets worse…

So for some reason, even though we have the same family account, our cards have different numbers on them (which is a real pain when you’re trying to return something your wife bought, btw). So we call to see which card number was compromised. Turns out, it was my wifes. So they issue her a new card and say I can continue using mine no worries. But then later that day, mine doesn’t work. So I call up Virgin Visa and they say, no, it was not my wife’s, it was mine. And they apologize for canceling her card and not mine. To make it up to me, they’re willing to overnight the new card (mine, not hers) at no expense. Geesh, thanks Virgin America! That’s mighty big of ya.

So the card is supposed to come today, this morning. When I call up to find out the tracking number to get a better idea of the window I’ll need to be home for to sign for the package (which they’d instructed me to do), they say, “Ooops. It never got processed. Sorry! We can resend it for tomorrow.”

So I say, okay. That rots, but I lived this long without it, I can go another 24 hours. Then I suggest that they put my wife’s card in the package since hers was due to go out regular post and not arrive until next week. It’s the least they should offer, right? They say, “Good idea.”

Two hours later, the card they said never got processed, arrived FedEx at the house! Even better, then I get TWO emails saying I’ve just activated a new card. Each e-mail has a different card number on it! Only one matches the card I’d just activated.

The story isn’t over, I’m sure. Let’s see what happens tomorrow or next week when more cards start coming…

Okay, now Lowes

So I went in to buy a new microwave. I wanted someone to deliver it and install it over the range and haul away the old, broken one. Sounds simple, right? Un-uh. When I bought it, the salesman said it could be delivered in the next day or two because they had it in stock. Super, I said and went home counting the hours before I could nuke my next meal.

Well, days pass before the delivery company even calls to set up the appointment. Then, when they finally do, they say they’ll have to come on Saturday and give me a 4 hour window. Okay, so that kills one weekend day, but not the worst thing in the world. That is, until they don’t show up or call to say they won’t be able to make it.

The next week, I call Lowes and speak to 7 different managers and sub-managers and sub-sub managers before squaring things away. I had to call 3 different times because they kept putting me on hold to review the notes in the computer before the line would go dead. Good times.

So the last of the 7 managers says the install company will be in touch about rescheduling. He never apologies for the mess, but does offer to knock a few bucks off the price, so that’s cool. The install company finally calls and says that on Saturday (another weekend!) they’ll be coming to install my dishwasher. Fantastic, I say! A free dishwasher in addition to the $20 bucks off the microwave! Lowes rocks! “Sorry, sir. There’s no free dishwasher,” says the woman on the line. “Did you not order a dishwasher?”


Cut to the chase… the delivery/install company misses the 5 hour window over the weekend by about 40 minutes. No one ever calls to say they’re running late or anything. I had to call Lowes AGAIN to find out what the deal was.

What about you all? What’s the worst customer service you’ve had recently? I bet there’s no shortage of good stories! Oh, and if you want amazing customer service, Alex, who runs our neatoshop in addition to owning this wonderful site, is awesome! Truth! - I wanted to purchase a Kenmore vacuum cleaner after my old one died after a valiant decade of reliable service. I didn't have the time to visit our local Sears, but offered it for the same price and with free shipping.

Sweet, I thought - that makes things easy. Purchasing from was pretty straightforward - not as simple as Amazon, as they repeated asked "do you want extended warranty" and when I selected "no" the same question popped up again during the checkout process. Whatever, they're trying to upsell me something I didn't want.

Fine, the shipment was supposed to arrive in two days ... which came and went without the package. I called their 800 number, and it turned out that they never processed the order - instead, the order was put on some sort of hold until they can verify that I'm a real customer. But instead of calling or emailing, they basically did nothing for two days. Now, I have purchased things from Sears (my local store) before many times, including purchasing dishwashers and other large appliances, so I'm pretty sure they had my info there.

The lady that helped me with my online vacuum purchase was nice, but couldn't help anymore. She couldn't convert my purchase to let me pick it up at my local store. I ended up having to cancel that online order, and go to the store to buy it the traditional way.

Now, the icing on the cake was that I got an email from Sears inquiring whether my online purchase experience was great. Since it wasn't, I sent a polite email to the VP in charge of e-commerce (the email was right there on that form email they sent me), but I never heard back. I guess they didn't care.
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Two weeks waiting for a cable company maintenance guy to remove an outside wire (it rubbed against the power line) only to get a "Coffee Shop Closing" on my ticket. Then three more weeks for them to admit the wire was still there and send someone out to actually remove it.
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My worst customer service story is well documented.

However, that was five years ago, and the cable company has been sold twice since then. I had a problem with internet just a couple months ago, and cable company #3 wanted me to return my old modem since I'd bought a new one. No, I said, I own that modem, I bought it for $50 from the cable company in 1996. No you don't, they said. Company #2 assured us that they never sold any equipment to customers. But I bought it from cable company #1! Do you have a receipt? Of course not, does anyone have receipts for something they bought 17 years ago? Once again, I had to get angry before I got any cooperation. There is now a note in my account file that specifies I own both my modems.
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I've had a fair share of issues with small, two bit companies that caused a lot of problems over relatively obscured products. This covered everything from an argument over a $20 defective part resulting in a $1000+ order being canceled, to a company refusing to answer a simple question because they insisted it is impossible I would understand basic electronics or be capable of soldering (for a specialized component requiring such knowledge to even use), to an apartment management company that sued me without any prior warning or notice over what turned out to be a clerical error on their part, and then wondered why I didn't show them the receipt I had before being sued. I've also had a mess with Citibank over an account I thought was closed that resulted in me paying enough fees I don't want to really discuss it in detail here.

But the only company off the top of my head that I remember having continual problems with was Comcast. It started when the installation guy showed up late, and checked a box on the receipt that waived the installation fee if that happened, but then customer service insisted they never heard of it, never have done that before and will not in the future. It was a preprinted receipt form with a whole section and check box for that. I've had several billing discrepancies where random charges or changes to rates happened, or double charged for things. The national office told me to contact the local office. But the phone numbers for the local office on the billing letterhead went to family answering machines or to some person's personal cell phone unrelated to Comcast. If the national office forwarded me to the local office, you would get an automated message from the phone company that an invalid number was dialed. I got most of the charges removed, but it was annoying because it was so much work over $10 here, or $20 there.

I don't know if you can call it customer service, but I've had messes with collection agencies looking for someone with a similar name (having a common name, I'm surprised I never got one for the same name... only ones that were different). One of the most persistent was a collection company that is known for working exclusively for cell phone companies, and started calling me two months after I got a new phone, trying to reach the previous holder of the number. For a company that deals with people not paying their phone bills, you would think they would learn that the phone number they didn't pay for might stop working at some point...

I'm always amazed at what is possible with a little more effort though, as there are several times I called a company for something related to a product at work, and as soon as they realize it was a business or government related purchase, I get transfered to someone much better. Especially with computer related stuff, upon reading the serial number several companies would switch from a broken English speaker that assumed I knew nothing, to a person that was very responsive and could answer direct, technical questions. Dell in particular, many years ago when I did some IT-ish work, did this a lot, having great support if the serial number was connected to the university I worked for, while otherwise, I once had the fun of being chewed out by a technical support person on the phone explaining to me that an "engineering workstation computer is not a toy" and that I shouldn't be playing with an advanced computer as a tech illiterate, nor complaining that the DVD drive bearings had gone bad under warranty and the drive mechanically locked up. Anyway, where I was going with this last bit is I find it almost backward: many cases at work, I need to chose the lowest bidder and am not allowed to take into consideration the customer service, while at home I have much more flexibility in how I use my money and can chose to pay a little more for better service, but the former is the situation customer service pampers me, while the latter is the case where even higher end options skimp.
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Panera Bread. My family had a tradition of going after church on Sunday's. They were always running out of Hazelnut coffee, which wasn't the issue, it was a popular product and expected. But one morning, we waited for a long time. My mom stood waiting, visibly hunched over at the coffee pots. She has problems with bad legs and a bad back, and at times arthritis. Eventually they finally got the coffee made. They got the coffee for the two people that were ahead of her. When I got up to give them her cup, they said that a whole line of people were in front of her. The girl started arguing with me. The girl behind the counter had to be told by one the other customers to go ahead and wait on my mom. The whole time the employee was getting the coffee, she looked back at the customers and other employees and started smirking. I felt humiliated. And then my mom thinks that she did not even get the right coffee.

I posted a comment on the company website and also sent a letter by mail to the corporate office. I never heard back from anyone and have never received an apology from store, district, or corporate. A company who fails to notice costumers, especially those who may have a special need, and then treats them like their trash, is not a company that I will frequent. An apology and a plan to have this not happen again would have kept me going to Panera, but now I will not go, no matter how good the food is.

On the flip side, I also agree that the Neat-o-Shop has the best customer service and products. I get many of my gifts for people and personal items from the shop. People love my shirts.
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Leon's is the store with the most blatantly sexist employees that I've been to in a long time. I went shopping for a buffet credenza with my sister and my mom and walked past nine employees who were either chatting to each other or checking their cell phones. We wandered around for about half an hour without a single employee asking us what we were looking for. The next day my sister convinced me to go again but to also bring my husband and the second the four of us entered the store, there were two employees offering help. Not to me, mind you, but to my husband. He kept telling the guy who was helping us that he wasn't actually sure what I wanted and that they should be asking me but not once were the questions directed my way. Not that Leon's cares at all but I refuse to buy anything there now.
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Still ongoing for me.
Last year, following a successful Kickstarter campaign, PHOSPHOR Watches started selling the Touch Time watch on their website, a digital watch with a touch-screen e-ink display.
I ordered it from their website in early December.
Now, the Kickstarter ended in September 2012, and the estimated delivery was November 2012, for backers. Buying from the website, I was told to expect it around February 2013.
Since then, every month or so, the delivery date was pushed back, and is currently November 2013, for both backers and people who having bought from the website.
Communication is rather limited, as are updates. Two photos in early August showed the unwelcome addition to the display of a clunky lock icon, and since then there has been a photoshoot with a nude model.
Tired of waiting for a watch which could reflect the quality of the communication (it should not take more than a quarter of an hour a week to explain the current situation on Kickstarter and paste it on the facebook page), I decided to cancel my order, and ask for a refund during the first week of August, since the watches themselves hadn't been made yet, apart from a few test models.
No answer. Ten days later I send another one, which did get an answer, telling me that my card had to have changed, because the refund didn't work. I answered immediately, saying that no it hadn't changed, but I could give them another card if necessary. No answer since then. I did send one more on August 31st, telling them that I really would like the refund, and considering the quality of the service received so far, would rather have them send the money to a paypal account, as it is less risky than sending credit card details to someone who apparently does not care much for customers.
No response.
I have asked on the facebook page several times, once the co-owner asked if she could help, nothing happened, and one message got an answer three weeks later asking for my order number. Which they already had received a few times. That last message was one week ago. Of course, not a word, and no result since.
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I vote for Comcast- after seeing the first episode of Game of Thrones on vacation, my wife and I decided we absolutely had to get HBO. I figured no problem, we already have Comcast digital service, so all I need to do is go online and add HBO for a few bucks more.

The first warning sign was their website- impossibly flaky, hard to navigate, and totally unstable. Six or seven times I tried looking at the deals offered on the website, would click on a package that looked promising, try to go back to the previous page to compare it to a different plan, only to find that sometimes several buttons wouldn't reappear, and more than once there were a completely different set of options when I reloaded the page.

After much swearing and complaining, I finally found the deal I wanted (which admittedly, was a good deal- double the channels AND HBO for pretty much what we'd been paying for basic cable). I clicked the "update my service button"...only to be dropped into a customer service chat window to "complete my order". After a few minutes of waiting for a customer service rep to come on, I suddenly got a message that the customer service system was down, and I should try again another time.

As I'm staring at the screen in disbelief, up pops a window asking "would you like to fill out a brief survey about your experience on the Comcast website?". You bet I did- I spent the next 20 minutes documenting the entire frustrating experience, suggesting ways to improve the web site, and venting a bit of pent-up rage. You're probably not surprised that pressing "submit" only resulted in a MySQL error page, but somehow I was.

After I recovered from the screaming fit that followed, my ever-practical wife convinced me to just call Comcast and order the service over the phone. I did, and talked to a perfectly nice operator who took my order, then quoted me a higher price. When I mentioned that the web site had offered a better deal, she told me "Oh, that's only on the web- I can't offer you that price"!

So the next day, I go back to the web site, go through all the bizarreness of finding the deal I want again, and clicked "Update my service"- only to discover the system had helpfully signed me up automatically for a bunch of hardware I didn't need, like two extra DVR boxes and some digital converters, all for an additional monthly fee.

I got those taken off, got dropped into the customer service chat window again, this time actually got someone (or a bot, it was hard to tell) who spent the next twenty minutes trying politely to upsell me on more services I didn't want, before finally the order went through. I was told my new channels would appear within an hour or so, and I logged off, excited that we'd finally be able to watch Game of Thrones from the beginning.

Sure enough, an hour later, all my channels appear- but no HBO. I dig down on the site to find my order, only to see the customer service rep didn't add HBO.

So I went through it all AGAIN on the website, got HBO added, and the next day we sat down to watch season 1 of Game of Thrones- but now we discover that Comcast on-demand only offers season 3. A bit more research uncovers the HBOGo app, which we can put on the Roku, that allows access to everything HBO has ever offered, including Game of Thrones, and it's all free if you subscribe to HBO.

Unless you do it through Comcast.

Turns out Comcast won't validate your HBOgo account on the Roku, because nobody knows why the hell not. Some forum digging uncovers the fact that the HBOGo app works through Comcast on the XBox360- I dig mine up from the basement, spend another evening setting up an XBox Live account, and seven nights after we decided to give Comcast an extra $10 a month for HBO, we were finally able to watch Game of Thrones from the beginning.

Maddening- (but totally worth it- Game of Thrones is insanely great!)
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