lesson in customer service


When I launched my photography business 7 years ago, I knew a lot about photography but not much about business. Fortunately, I was a quick study and had a strong interest in the practice of developing the cornerstone of every successful business: world class customer service. I'm very much aware of what other businesses are and aren't doing in comparison to what we are, and frankly, find the psychology and practice of it all to be quite fascinating. I'd like to share two such observations from the consumer perspective via my mom.

My mom purchased a living room set from Pottery Barn's catalog based on a 2" x 2" fabric swatch and the positive product referral from my past experience of being a part-time employee of the Barn (back in 2004 during my first winter in Maine. Loved it!). Tho scheduled to take 6-8 weeks to arrive, the furniture arrived sooner than expected. Sweet. But immediately my mom wasn't keen on the color, convinced the shade of beige was too light and risked showing dirt too easily. Nervously, she dialed their customer service line and explained the situation. Not satisfied? No problem. The employee told her to use the set she had until a new one arrived in a darker beige, and there would be no penalties or additional charges. Wonderful. About two years or so later, mom noticed the fabric on the ottoman was piling, and hiding it with a blanket was frustrating. Again, nervously, she dialed customer service. Not satisfied? No problem. The employee sent a slipcover for the ottoman at no extra charge, citing a quality error on their end, even tho the piece was already out of warranty.

More recently, my mom and stepfather decided to upgrade their kitchen counters to granite opting not to go with the company their builder recommended and instead hoping to save a little money by shopping around. They stumbled upon a discount manufacturer that had exactly what they were looking for and a reasonable price tag. Sweet. After picking out their preferred slab of rock, workers arrived a few weeks later and installed their perfect pick onto their kitchen's island beautifully. The rest of the kitchen counters, however, did not match the island slab as promised. Mismatched granite is a trend these days, but this looked like something in a butcher shop! Splashes of dark red- and many of them- were scattered about, a look that made my mom queasy. When she called to inquire what went wrong, she got bounced from person to person but eventually convinced someone to come out and take a look, to take pictures to show to the owner. The owner thought the counters looked gorgeous and said he'd like to put the photos on his website. Losing sleep, she knew she couldn't live with a kitchen that looked this way. So when she pushed that he still come see for himself, he begrudgingly did, and said the same thing in person but in a tone very degrading toward my mother. He accused 'people like her' of causing him stress and the reason he wishes he wasn't in the business, in a manner that nearly made her cry. They eventually agreed on a deal to replace the bloody murder counters, costing my mom more money out of pocket, but offering peace of mind. So be it. But the day they were scheduled to be installed, no one showed. No one would answer when she called and no one returned her phone calls when she left a message. My stepfather used a friend's unknown cell phone, got through, and the owner agreed to a date to be done with it. The replacement counters are in, and stunning, but for nearly the same cost as the builder originally recommended and a whole lot more hassle.

Pottery Barn is a furniture company, sure, but thanks to the foresight of parent company Williams Sonoma's founder Chuck Williams, they are about providing a satisfactory experience first (exceeding client expectations, over delivering and producing a quality product too, of course). My mom will be a lifetime customer. As for the granite company? Oy. My mom said she learned a lesson I often preach to my own clients: you get what you pay for.


  1. amen, sistah. preach it.

  2. Great post! I am a constant observer of customer service!

  3. Anonymous5:17 PM

    really learned a lesson!
    we could fix the granite but, if you pick the wrong photographer for your wedding, that can't be fixed!
    xo mom and steve

  4. We JUST had a breakfast granite counter put in and was far from happy with the service they provided. I should have known from the start with their horrible customer service on the phone!

  5. side note: while pottery barn might have good customer service they ship everything in Styrofoam and it all comes from factories in China (what doesn't, I know, I know). For the price I paid for my home office set, I'm very disappointed with the quality. You have to actually put a glass top on the desk to avoid ruining it. Nothing is made of *real* wood anymore... but I digress


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