As a consumer AND sales and service expert, I can be a discriminating buyer. I LOVE to buy from sales professionals who understand that the best way to earn my loyalty is to give me great service, ask me questions and make the experience quick and easy.

Tonight my family shopped for furniture for the family room that was unplanned – I won’t take space to mention too much about how hard BIG teenage boys are on furniture when they can’t be seen. As we shopped we had the pleasure of working with Julie K. at Steinhafels in Greendale, WI. She greeted us well, asked us how she could help and then pointed us in the right direction. It wasn’t an easy process, trying to get teens and parents to agree, but she was patient, left us at the right moments for discussion, found information we needed outside the norm and actually did ask for a decision!

My husband wanted to think about this unplanned purchase overnight. Julie agreed and gave us her card and her schedule. On the ride home, we decided that we should just order the sofa. It was perfect, in our price range and we didn’t want to spend another evening or day shopping.

This is where the story turns. I dialed the phone number on the business card and was sent to the “corporate” office. And heard the familiar recorded message “If you know your party’s extension, you can dial it at anytime.” Yeah! Julie had written her extension on the card! So I dialed it. And was circled back to the opening message of the corporate office again…I dialed again (figuring I dialed in error)…and back to the corporate office message again…dialed…again the message…pressed “0”…and again the corporate message.

Of course, I figured I was doing something wrong, so I hung up and dialed again. And had the same experience. Then I dialed the direct line instead of the 800 number, and was circled round and round again.

Next? I got on line to research where else I might buy the sofa we liked so much. They had now made it too difficult for me to buy! But could not find it anywhere.

So, I took out the phone book and AHA! a different phone number for the specific store. But…it connected to the SAME corporate message. This time the “0” finally worked and I got someone live. Yeah, “Could you please connect me with Julie K.?” A very long pause and then…”Um, do you know what store she is at?” By now, over 26 minutes had passed and my irritation was high. “Greenfield”, I said. And when she transferred me? Yup! Back to a recorded message and when I dialed the extension, I got another garbled message that it could not be transferred and then it disconnected.

What??!!! I called back the phone number to get the live person and explained to her what happened and that I was extremely irritated, that I knew it wasn’t her fault, but that they had to do something about this phone system. I then said I wanted to send a letter to the President to explain and she told me to go the website and contact customer service. Then she said “I know its frustrating…I’m sorry, I will stay on the phone in conference to make sure you are connected.” Okay, now we’re talking.

Until, I got a person at the correct store and when I explained to her that it had been nearly 30 minutes since I started this process, she told me “I know, the phone system is awful and my family can’t even get in touch with me!” What??!!! What do I care about her family getting in touch with her? I am a customer trying to make a nice size purchase! She did then transfer me to lovely Julie who was apologetic and said that she has commented on the phone situation weekly because it drives customers away and they are not supposed to give out the direct store number.

She then very nicely took my order and I let her know that I will be contacting the president. And she said again she was sorry.

Count how many times I explained my frustration and how many employees agreed. THREE! That is a big O-U-T in baseball! And while all were sympathetic, no one took ownership to fix it for future customers.

Being in the business of helping organizations with sales and service productivity, I will contact the President and try to help them understand the significance of this inconvenience to their bottom line. They only got my sale because I did not have another option to get what we wanted.

Think about your company – what are the barriers to a customer getting to someone to help them? Is the process difficult enough that many (or even some) will say “forget it!”?

You might also be thinking “you should have hung up!” And, yes I would have if it hadn’t been the one sofa we all agreed on and I wasn’t going to spend hours more shopping. I could have never guessed how long getting through would take.

I’ll let you know what kind of progress I make with the company. Let’s see how long it will take to get to someone live tomorrow.

Comments and advice welcome!