By Valannin, Circa November, 2005
About a month ago, I visited the DIY mecca intent on purchasing new carpeting for my home. As obsessive about most things as I am, when it comes to shopping for consumer products, I’m a pretty easygoing shopper; I see a product that I want to buy, I buy it. I don’t need 11 weeks to think it over – people who spend inordinate amounts of time hemming and hawing over which blender they should take home will ultimately be left with unresolved feelings of despair and frustration as they realize that Amazon.com alone offers 1,555 different models of blenders. Americans have far too many choices nowadays, and that’s probably one of the reasons everyone is sucking back pharmaceuticals like they were Skittles.
But I digress. After spending about 20 minutes browsing through carpet samples, I picked the one I wanted and attempted to hunt down a salesperson. If you’ve ever been to one of these warehouse stores, you know that finding an “associate” is harder than tracking down a virgin on prom night.
And what’s with this new trend of altering the employee-customer relationship by giving us new titles? Do the top brass at Target really think I’m going to feel better about purchasing cheap pillows and DVD’s by calling me a “Guest?” And when exactly did salespeople become “Associates?” In one store I visited, they referred to the clerks as “Guest Counselors.” Please. At $5.60 an hour, let’s call a spade a spade – if stores wanted to increase the self-efficacy of their employees, they’d throw them some medical benefits.
In any case, after spending another 20 minutes stalking one of the elusive Home Depot “associates”, I attempted to make my purchase in a timely manner, which according to Home Depot standards, was just under one hour. I’m not sure exactly why I was subjected to this sort of treatment, but for whatever reason, HD felt that “Andrea” needed to interview me for almost 60 minutes before I could slap down my credit card and get the hell out of Dodge. Except that after giving them my phone number, address, SAT scores, specific density and ¾ of my DNA sequence, I wasn’t allowed to pay for the carpet.
No, instead, I had to go back home, call a “Project Hotline” and arrange for an appointment with a contractor so he could come and measure my floor. Nevermind the fact that I had the blueprints to my place in my hand, Home Depot insisted in the interest of “absolute quality.” I was figuring that the contractor, or “Area Measurement Specialist” would show up with some high-tech, shiny laser calculator or something that looked like it was lifted from Q’s workshop. Alas, a week later, some guy named “Dennis” came in, spent 30 seconds with a tape measure, and 5 minutes using my bathroom.
My next leg of this carpeting quest entailed me calling back the “Project Hotline” to arrange for payment, which, thankfully, took only minutes; it was no surprise to me that the step involving separating me from my money was the least involved. After forking over close to $1000, I was told that I had to wait another two weeks for the carpet to be shipped. Two weeks? What were they using, the Pony Express? Fine. Patiently I waited, knowing that soon, I’d have a lovely new carpet, and I could actually use the living room for something other than CD storage.
Finally, the day arrived where yet another person, probably also named “Dennis” called me back and informed me that his “crew” would be arriving “sometime this week” to install the carpet. “We’re going to call you between the hours of 7 and 9 AM to tell you what time we’re coming, which could be any time between 10 and 6 PM” Dennis related to me. I asked them if it just wouldn’t be easier to make a more definite appointment, and we’d get it over and done with. Apparently, this raised the ire of Dennis, because he suggested that I didn’t know how “installs” were “handled” and that he couldn’t give me a specific time because they were “very busy.” OK, no problem. I’ll just sit around like a fool for 10 hours waiting for a carpeting crew.
This very morning, a very cheerful woman named Dennis called me at exactly 7 AM to tell me that the crew would be there “before 12.” Great! Could she be more specific? No, of course not, because it took an hour and a half to load the truck. 90 minutes to put a carpet in a van? I want to be in that union! Calculating that they would need at least a half an hour to drive to my building, ten minutes to park, and 15 minutes to engage in a union-mandated coffee break, I decided to take a shower. Not five minutes after turning on the water, the phone rang, where someone with the most comically stereotypical Mexican accent informed me that “We down a stair.” Throwing on jeans and sweatshirt, I rushed “down a stair” and opened up the service entrance for the “crew” which consisted of two guys, both named “Juan”. The Juans and I made our way back to my apartment, where they had the tack-strips and padding installed in ten minutes. Good job, Juans.
Now for the crowning glory, my new carpet, which they unrolled to reveal was… absolutely not the right carpet by any stretch of the imagination. The carpet I had picked was a subtle sand color, with vertical textured lines running along the length. The abomination that sat in my living room was the color of congealed coffee and it was plaid. Plaid! I told the Juans to stop, as this was most certainly not the right carpet. Juan # 1 said, “No right? We stop,” and proceeded to fire off a string of Spanish to Juan #2, which, judging by the duration of the conversation, was a recounting of everything that happened on Earth up until that present moment. Juan #1 then dialed his boss, handed me the phone, and then he and his buddy proceeded to lie on the floor to catch a little nap. Ah, the siesta!
The boss turned out to be yet another woman, named Rosa, who asked me if I was sure if the carpet was incorrect. As I had not suffered any head injuries in the past three weeks, I assured her I knew exactly what I had ordered, and the rolled up product that Juan #2 had propped his head against certainly wasn’t it. She then told me to “cut a piece of the carpet off, so I could show it to the Home Depot Sales Associate.” Why? I knew it was wrong – I didn’t feel I had to prove to anyone what I was certain was a mistake. Nevertheless, Juan hacked off a slice of carpet, approximately the size of an individual carpet molecule, gathered up their equipment, and bolted from the apartment as I looked around for a blunt object.
Here’s the best part. I drive back to the Home Depot, where my journey first began, and was told to talk to a man named “Pakkow,” which I thought was a joke, because in print the name looks like one of the visual punching effects used in the 1960’s Batman TV show. I locate “Pakkow”, inform him of my dilemma, and am asked, inexplicably, “Are you sure it’s wrong? Maybe you forgot what it looked like.”
I’m not exactly sure why they do this – are they expecting the customer to say, “By golly, you’re right! Even though I spent a $1000 on this carpet, and waited for three weeks, I couldn’t possibly remember what I spent my money on. You’re right! Give me the plaid.”
After much consternation from Pakkow, the original Sales Associate, Andrea, and yours truly (who had wisely left his gun at home), we finally decide that, yes, I am correct, the carpet they had sent was the wrong one. Pakkow swings into action and calls the distributor who doesn’t believe that they had sent the wrong item. Andrea quietly sneaks away, and I start fashioning a spear out of crown moulding. Pakkow hands me the phone and says, “They want to confirm that the carpet is incorrect, because they are pretty sure they sent the right one.” I hand it back and tell him that wouldn’t be a good idea, as that would lead to many, many needless deaths, so could he please handle it himself. Pakkow, sensing my growing anxiety, finishes the call himself, and assures me that by Monday, I’d know the resolution. I told him that the only possible resolution would be “Yes, Sir, we have the right carpet, and we’ll install it at your convenience.” Anything else would be unacceptable. He nods, and then picks up the phone and dials a random number in an attempt to get me to leave.
No, there wasn’t any, “We’re very sorry, Sir,” or “Here’s a gift certificate to attempt mollify you because of our mistake,” or even a “We value you as a customer, so please, let is do whatever we can do to prevent you from going home and writing a scathing indictment of our business practices on a website that no one reads.” The art of Customer Service is long gone, replaced with minimum wage “Associates”, piped-in soothing music, and nametags that read: “Helping you help us help you…” I don’t want a catchy jingle, or classes on how to use a paint roller, or some retired bus driver living on a fixed income greeting me at the door with a Santa hat and a phony smile.
I want my freakin’ carpet.