How to Lose a Lifetime Customer in One Interaction

Author’s Note: I wrote this just after Memorial Day, and held it nearly a month to be sure I wasn’t overly emotional, or still ‘angry’. I re-read it, slightly edited, and feel it is a fair assessment of what took place and what could have taken place.

I couldn’t total the amount of money I’ve spent at Home Depot (the same store) over the past fourteen years since we moved into our home. I’ve fully remodeled a bathroom, built a sundeck with fencing around our pool (which needs to be replaced), placed laminate flooring in the downstairs, regularly stain all our outdoor fences, deck, latices, and I enjoy woodworking projects.

All of the above were done with nearly 100% purchase of materials at Home Depot, despite having local hardware stores, Tractor Supply, and Lowe’s either closer or roughly the same distance away as Home Depot.

So my wife went there with three gift cards last week and one was deemed to be inactive. On Monday, I took the same card with a gift receipt back to the store to see if I could get it activated.

From the perspective of doing things right, it would/should have been very easy for Home Depot to see that I was a regular and dedicated customer, but they didn’t.

At any point during our one hour conversation at the customer service area, they could have simply said, “We’re sorry that happened to your wife, why don’t we activate your card for you now, and in the future please be sure to ask for the receipt confirming activation as a precaution,” but they chose not too.

The exchange could have been completed in ten minutes or less and I would have been bragging about what great service I received and how awesome they are.

Instead, I’m not spending another dime at Home Depot and I’m letting my friends know about the horrible experience I had, not to mention I’m using them as an example of what not to do to your customers on this blog (shared with Twitter and LinkedIn).

So is maintaining a good customer and turning them into a social advocate worth $50? Or is it better to “save” $50, lose a good customer, and have them speak out about their bad experience to their social network?

I think the answer is pretty simple in theory, but in practice it was the complete opposite.

Here is what happened.

Last week my wife went to Home Depot to purchase flowers. She took three of my Home Depot gift cards. I had several more as I asked for them at both Christmas and my birthday. Two went through fine, but she was told the other, for $50, had not been activated.

When she got home she contacted customer service and was told she had to get the receipt for the card. This posed a bit of a problem as it could have been from any one of several people, who could have purchased them as far as six months earlier.

She got one from her parents, who gave me a card for my birthday earlier this month.

On Monday I took the receipt and card with me when I went to pick up some other items. I went to Customer Service and a man handed it off to a woman. A little while later another woman came over to help the first woman. A third woman came over and told me they couldn’t help me. I’d have to go to the store where the card was purchased.

I asked them how would I know where the card was purchased?

I had to ask the person who gave it to me. I explained that it could be multiple people, who could have bought it as much as six months ago.

I was told it wasn’t their problem, they had nothing to do with this card because it wasn’t purchased at Home Depot.

I suggested they did have something to do with it, there name and brand was all over it, and I can use it to purchase items in their store.

I asked what I could do to get the card activated. I was told I could give them $50.00.

I asked if they thought it made good financial sense to pay $100 for a $50 gift card?

I was then told I wouldn’t be paying $100, I’d only being paying $50, because this card as it is, isn’t worth anything.

I noted that I really believe this was probably a cashier error where the card was purchased, but not activated as I don’t think my family and friends would be stealing Home Depot cards in order to give me gifts on special occasions.

I suggested that they activate the card, honor the purchase, and indicate in their CRM what they had done, so that if it turned out I was trying to steal from them they would see a pattern in the CRM.

They looked at me like I was nuts. The woman grabbed a Home Depot card and said if I give this to you, it is worth nothing. If you give it to me and it isn’t activated, it is worth nothing? Why would I put $50 on it, if it is worth nothing?

I asked if there was a manager available that I could speak with.

The manager came over, stood tall, arms crossed. I explained the situation, multiple cards, multiple people is there anything you can do. No.

I asked about the CRM and he reiterated why would they give me $50 for nothing.

I asked what he would do if he was me?

I’d go to the store where it was purchased.

How can I determine where it was purchased?

Get a receipt.

I brought a receipt, noted I had a receipt, but how do I know this receipt goes with this card?

He noted what I gave them was not a receipt.

I noted it was a receipt.

He said no, that is a gift receipt, it tells me nothing.

Of course it is a gift receipt, it was for a gift card that I received as a gift.

You have to go to the store where you bought it, there is nothing we can do.

Finally, I said can you cash in these gift cards that have been activated (two more $50 cards one with full amount and another with $7 left on it).

No they don’t work that way.

With that I picked up cards and left. I got what I needed, used my gift card, and while I will come back until the cards I have are all used up, I will never go to Home Depot again, nor will speak positively of the store or its approach to customer service.

Amazingly, not a single time from the initial explanation, did I hear, “I’m sorry”, “I know this is frustrating”, “you’re right, but…”, I would expect more from any Customer Service department.

I read articles all the time about Customer Service, and I’m not one who believes the customer is always right, but so many fundamentals fell by the wayside here it amazes me.

Some form of acknowledgement that this is a frustrating situation and giving an apology would have gone a long way.

Looking at the system, seeing that I was a regular customer, and being able to make an exception, would have been a big win for all parties.

Plus, at the worst, honoring the card was a one time activity, if it happened again they could have said, we’re sorry, but we see that this has happened previously and as a courtesy we activated the card, but we also told you to be very careful about getting the receipt and ensuring the card had been properly activated.

In closing, so what is cost of acquiring a new customer to replace me?

What is potential loss of revenue of my no longer spending any money at the store?

What is the potential loss of revenue of any of my friends opting out of buying gift cards or visiting Home Depot?

In total, are we talking more or less than $50.00?

This was such a short sighted and failed approach to customer service.


One response to “How to Lose a Lifetime Customer in One Interaction

  1. On the flip side I had a similar experience at Lowe’s. The funny part is, now I make all my purchases at Home Depot.
    What comes around, goes around.