Building a Future for Distributors and Dealers of Building Products

Volume 44,  Issue 8                                        October  2005

     Secret Shopper

When No Time is a Good Time
A Nice Showroom Doesn't Make Up for Poor Customer Service

By Alan B. Goldberg

Walking into any retail business five minutes before closing may not be the fairest way to judge its level of customer service. But unfortunately, due to circumstances, that was when I paid a visit to this lumberyard in Florida’s Okaloosa County. Located on a main thoroughfare with parking in front, accessibility couldn’t have been any easier. 

Since I had low expectations given the hour, I was not surprised to find the large customer-service counter a few feet from the entrance, without any customer-service people. Merchandise, mostly hardware-type products, was neatly arranged and organized in a series of aisles. On the far right side, I discovered a sizeable showroom. There were many displays of windows, doors, roofing samples and patio decks. After numerous attempts to catch someone’s eye from the adjacent contract sales offices, I looked at the displays again, hoping, at the very least, to be told the store was closing.

I picked up some literature scattered on a table with promotional materials from many suppliers, trying to look interested. Maybe they really catered to contractors. In all fairness, it was late and I needed to return to convince myself that I picked the wrong time. Tomorrow would be a brighter day, I concluded. 

In retrospect, it certainly was. Outside.

When I arrived the following afternoon, there was more activity. Sales people were busy with customers at the main desk, and I could see what appeared to be contractors at the contract sales office. I returned to the showroom knowing it would be a matter of minutes before a sales person approached me. I followed the same routine, looking at every window and door display with much interest, over and over again. 

Assuming it must be a busy hour, I returned to the main part of the store and waited alongside a sales person who was helping a customer. I followed them to the customer service desk as it appeared he was going to complete the sale. What a pleasant surprise when another sales person made contact.

“I would like to get some information on windows, “I said.

“Back there in contract sales,” was the curt response.

I waited at the contract sales counter, watching people in offices, trying to make eye contact.

Finally, it happened.

“Can I get some information on windows?” I asked, expecting her to take me to the showroom or call someone. I was not prepared for the response.

“What do ya wanna know?” 

I explained that I was planning to replace my old windows with double-pane windows but didn’t know much about them.

She asked where I lived, another surprise—was I located near the water? Did I have aluminum windows?

I said I lived in the area, not near water and I had aluminum windows.

“You’ll need DP-50’s to handle winds over 100 miles per hour and you’ll want vinyl windows.”

That was very helpful. I’m sure every consumer knows what DP-50 ratings are. Somehow I got the feeling we were not going to visit the showroom and discuss the many types of windows that were available. Nor was I going to hear about the benefits of insulating glass as an energy-saver. I certainly wasn’t going to be introduced to U values or Energy Star® products, let alone some of the latest innovations being used in insulating glass units such as warm-edge technology, high-performance sealants and low-E glass. 

“Do you have any literature I can take with me?” I asked, expecting her to give me sample sheets from various manufacturers. 

“No, I don’t have anything.”

Did I really hear that?

Finally, with some hesitation and after a cursory search, she gave me a four-page brochure which explained features and benefits of vinyl windows on the back page. When I asked about cost, she said I would have to measure my windows and bring in the dimensions. 

She told me that I may need to hire a contractor for this job but didn’t offer any recommendations.

“What about delivery?” I asked.

“About three weeks.”

We were done. There wasn’t much more to say. Friendly, she was not. After all, this was the contract sales desk.

As I left, I thought, tomorrow will be a brighter day for a prospective customer. But I knew one thing for sure. It wasn’t going to be me. 

Alan B. Goldberg is a contributing writer for SHELTER magazine.

Secret Shopper Report Card

Facility Type: Lumberyard

Location: Okaloosa County, Florida.

Parking Lot was Easy to Find A

Parking Lot was Clean A

Windows were Clean A

Greeted Upon Entering F

Store Aisles were Clear of Debris A

Neatness of Displays B

Employee Politeness D

Employee Product Knowledge C

Store Experience Satisfaction D

Overall Grade D

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