canada’s worst customer service

so, do you recall my tales of woe back in the fall (here, here, here…) about my stupid silv-ah ipod shuffle? to give a pictionary-ish summary, the story goes: dead ipod -> future shop -> apple store -> make an appointment -> apple store -> out of stock -> apple store -> replacement ipod -> dancing and singing in joy. unfortunately, we now continue the saga…

the week before christmas, silv-ah suddenly quit mid-katy perry. when i plugged him in to my laptop, he refused to play nice and reconnect to itunes, either. well, if you think i was going anywhere NEAR the apple store the week before christmas, you can think again. i just pulled out dad’s beastly ipod (which i still like better, anyway) and made do.

on sunday, i went up to the apple store at my pre-booked appointment time. child genius-dude eric/aaron/andy met me and schmoozed quite nicely. he examined silv-ah and said he had corroded. eric/aaron/andy fiddled with his handheld to find me a new shuffle. of course! the store had none in stock. well, he’d order one in for me, and when it arrived, it’d be mine for the low, low price of $49.99. hold your horses, charlie eric/aaron/andy! $49.99???

yes – apparently it is MY fault that silv-ah bit the dust after five weeks of song-playing. i pleaded my case to get a free replacement to no avail. i almost laughed out loud, despite my frustration, when eric/aaron/andy kept repeating that “it really upset him” to deliver this news to me. yea, i’m sure you’re right broken up, buddy!

now get this! so i get home, and i plug in silv-ah just to see what would happen. he connected to my laptop, i kid you not! so who knows where this story is going next. i will rely on dad’s borrowed beast and silv-ah (when he’s co-operative) as long as i can.

…and this is now the perfect segue to today’s main feature about customer service!


if i ever want a part-time gig with occasional hours, i think “mystery shopper” would be right up my alley (much better than “catering assistant,” for example!). i love shopping, i work in retail -> both sides of the coin are covered. plus, it’d be fun to peruse the aisles with an undercover motive…kind of like being a detective, but with no danger involved!

last week, i noticed that the cbc tv show marketplace was going to do an episode entitled “canada’s worst customer service.” that topic sure piqued my interest, and i was jazzed to check it out! i watched the show over the weekend (thanks to the parents’ pvr!).


marketplace covered a vast amount of content in their hour-long episode – everything from the results of trying to return a defective product to how long it took companies to reply to twittered complaints. if you’re interested in more info, click here for the link to the online show.

i enjoyed the broadcast, but it also frustrated me because i don’t think you can fairly critique a cross-canada major retailer by picking out isolated situations and sales associates.

as a starting point, marketplace solicited a survey asking canadians to name the retailer with the worst customer service. the *winners*? walmart, zellers, and crappy canadian tire (for years, my pet name for ct has been crappy tire). thanks to hidden cameras and microphones on volunteer shoppers, the producers demonstrated how all three stores fell short in customer service, helpfulness of the staff, and store cleanliness. no surprise, to my mind.

here’s my beef with the angle of this show: if i choose to shop at any of these three giant retail operations, i should expect that the money i am saving is because the retailer is cutting corners with staff training and development and available associates on the sales floor. want personal attention? visit the independents or smaller retail stores.

in the end, the very worst offender was…zellers. i agree that i have no recollection of ever receiving exemplary help at this store. but, i’ll reiterate that friendly knowledgeable sales staff is not what drives me to shop at this money-saving department store. [and as it was wryly noted on the show, zellers are being turned into target stores, beginning next year…].

coming from the retail perspective, i feel sympathy for walmart, zellers and canadian tire because spotlighting one or two isolated incidents does not provide a fair overview of country-wide store operations.

as a personal example, let’s highlight canadian tire. i have always been amazed because whenever i shop there, if i ask, “where would i find x item, please?” the sales associates, without fail, promptly reply with the correct aisle number – it’s uncanny! also, when i returned a knapsack with a broken zipper, without my receipt, i received a replacement bag at no cost, no questions asked.


getting back to the marketplace show, i really enjoyed the responses from random people on the street about what annoys them most when shopping. some answers: being ignored; uninformed, untrained and disinterested sales associates; long check-out line-ups; sales associates who point out where to find a product instead of walking the customer directly to the item.

in the end, the show revealed that the store that canadians voted for BEST customer service was…walmart! it’s not surprising that this store could be on both the best and worst lists…i think the stat mentioned was that walmart has over a million customers per day at its canadian locations!

do you think that superior customer service and low prices are mutually exclusive? i often hear from customers that they come to see us at the store because they will receive correct information and personal attention. yes, sportchek may offer very low prices – but good luck trying to find helpful staff and answers to your running footwear questions! as another example, if i shop at lululemon for workout wear, i do expect better service than if i am at old navy.

to whom would YOU award a “worst customer service” *award*?! me = future shop and the apple store!!! both places frustrate me to no end – as you are well aware!!

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  • Lisa  On January 11, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    This is a really interesting concept—the inverse relationship between price and customer service!
    It does make sense in theory.
    It reminds me of some videos I had to watch about some fish market in…Seattle (?) that is all about exemplary customer service, so much that people go there just to see this place and that they made a customer service training video out of it.
    I don’t really know about customer service—I can’t think of any horrible or any awesome examples for myself. I do know that when I worked in customer service, I felt so much happier when I made an effort to just be happy and nice (“fake it till you make it” comes to mind—I hated that grocery store job).

    • 1970kikiproject  On January 11, 2012 at 10:03 pm

      happy and nice: that’s really what acceptable service comes down to, isn’t it – whether the sales associate is genuine or pretending. that video sounds interesting! i bet you have more patience at the grocery since you’ve been on the other side of the cash register!! 🙂

  • Stephanie  On January 11, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    I think that the area might be more important than the store. Now that I live in a small, rural area EVERYONE is almost disgustingly friendly. (Not really disgusting. I love it. I was just trying to find a word that was strong enough.) If I go to the Canadian Tire the next town over, the staff is helpful and available and asks you personal questions. In Toronto? Oh my gosh, shopping there was like a form of torture.

    My favourite AND least-favourite stores are the small, locally-owned ones. I love them because I think that they’re built on love. And I sometimes avoid them because I’m broke and do more browsing than buying…and I feel really guilty when I don’t buy something in a small store run by my neighbours.

    • 1970kikiproject  On January 11, 2012 at 12:47 pm

      yes! i totally believe that crappy tires in your town and in toronto would have COMPLETELY different atmospheres. and i totally get your meaning of “disgustingly!” i hear you on the pros and cons of shopping the independents, too. and in such a small town, your neighbours know everything you are buying, too (ie no privacy!).

  • Johanna B  On January 11, 2012 at 11:47 am

    My favorite customer service saga is Dave Carroll’s United Breaks guitars story. If you haven’t heard it – type United Breaks Guitars into google and watch the You Tube video. Great comeback. Of course, I have a crush on Dave Carroll and his music so I am somewhat prejudiced in this area. BTW – he’s Canadian.

  • Zo  On January 11, 2012 at 7:54 am

    I agree about the discount shop means less customer service/more lines. It’s rare for a store to be able to do both!
    I still get angry about continental airlines cancelling flights scheduled to fly way before hurricane Irene was due and then putting a message on their phone saying essentially that no one would pick up, so I was on my own for trying to get home! Of they had the foresight to pull the planes..
    Anyway sorry you aren’t getting much satisfaction w. silver!

    • 1970kikiproject  On January 11, 2012 at 8:44 am

      oh, thanks for raising the topic of airlines, zo! wow, could we ever get a discussion going just on that service, alone! i remember your chicago experience…at least you got home safely, eventually, but you really had to be patient with that situation!

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