Modern customer-support lines are the butt of countless jokes, and rightly so. These stories, the stuff of myth and legend, are often just folks venting, saying to their friends what they couldn’t say to a live person on the other end of the phone. I recently did battle with a few of the seasoned vets at the Lowe’s help desk and came away — like many other support callers — with a few new scars and an overwhelming desire to torch the product in question.
After hundreds of hours of hard use, my Task Force belt/disc sander snapped its primary drive belt. For those of you who can’t picture it, it’s the drive belt that connects the motor to the large sanding belt on the top of the unit. Without it, only the disc spins. So when it snapped it rendered the sander largely useless, and I needed a new one.
My first thought was a bit naïve: “I’ll just pop down to Lowe’s and pick up another one.” As you’ve probably guessed, this plan wasn’t destined for success, and I felt foolish for trying. So it was back to the shop for some digging. I searched the machine itself and couldn’t find a single number to call anywhere on it — but I did write down what I could find, like the model number, manufacture date, and serial. Armed with this wealth of information I headed to the web to find the Task Force support line and get my belt.
A five-minute search led me to the rather disturbing realization that Task Force doesn’t have a website. After two-plus years of tool writing I already knew this, but for some reason I was in denial over it. Swallowing hard, I put on the waders and called the Lowe’s support number. It was there that I was witness to the most glorious hand-off routine I have ever seen. I knew it then: I was out of my league. These people were professionals, well-schooled in help-line sleight of hand — and I was at their mercy.
Somewhere between the third and forth representative, a wire was crossed and the person trying to assist me kept asking what kind of lawn-mower belt I was looking for. He deftly handed me back into the queue when I made it clear a belt sander was very different from a mower and it didn’t really matter how good it was, it wasn’t going to work.
About twenty minutes had gone by. I was on the third call-in number and fifth rep when the line kicked me back off hold to a rep who exclaimed with pride that she’d found the number I actually needed to call. Foolishly, again, I had hope.
Thirty-five minutes in, I’d been handed off a total of seven times and given nine numbers to call — and all of them had been completely stumped and quickly shuffled me off to somewhere else that was not their problem. I was a bit disgruntled, but I pressed on in search of my belt with the eighth support representative, who put me on hold for about two minutes and returned with four numbers of manufacturers that might have built my sander.
The third one on that list was the correct number. I spoke with a very nice lady who correctly identified the belt I needed and informed me that for a few bucks and a few more in shipping I could have my belt in a few days.
I hung up for the last time and stopped to consider why I was peeved. No one had raised their voice or hung up on me like the horror stories you often hear. Instead, I realized, they had all found a much easier solution to their problem — to make it someone else’s issue. In this way they could smoothly, even politely, be rid of me in less than five minutes, without actually helping — and after all I couldn’t really complain, because they had given me a number to call at which they were sure someone would be able to help. It was the pride in their voice when they asked me if there was anything else they could help with that really started to damage my calm.
I’ve dealt with support enough times to know that just because a person is paid to deal with me doesn’t mean they’ll go out of their way to do so. However, it would be most refreshing for companies to have support systems in place that would at least be able to direct you where to go when you need a replacement part for a product they still sell.
Lowe’s Customer Support Line: 800.445.6937