How American Workers are Redeeming Their Employers from Rigor Mortis

In the last two weeks I have been clubbed into a senseless stupor by the lifeless policies and procedures of 2 large American companies, only to be revived by acts of genuine and personal helpfulness of the employees of those companies. Here are my stories.

Story 1 – Lowes

I ordered some cabinetry online for pickup at my local Lowes. Typically I would just go to the store and pick them up, but since not every piece was in stock at any one location it was easier to select product online based on availability and schedule a pickup. The Ozark location sent me an email within a couple of hours telling me that their portion was ready for pickup, and since I had to go to a job site near the Springfield location I hoped that order would be ready soon as well. After my job site visit I pulled into the Springfield Lowes and asked if their portion of the order happened to be ready, where I was informed that if I hadn’t received a text or email they couldn’t tell me anything.

“Could I just go back there and see if they are pulling my order?” I asked.

“Well, it looks like they’re pulling the order, so maybe just come back in thirty minutes.” The girl said in a tone that would not inspire a priest to pray.

I was about to give in to her suggestion, and then I thought to myself, “I’m here, and they’re pulling my order, so why don’t I just go find them?” Which I proceeded to do. After wandering around a bit I found 2 carts with what looked like my stuff sitting in the back by lumber, and everything was there. All 10 pieces were on carts ready to go. My name was on them. Hurrah! But I didn’t know what exactly to do with them at this point. Drag them up to the Customer Service area and say, “Hey, here they are. Can I go now?” Seemed a little pushy.

There were a couple younger guys back there in lumber, so I asked them if I could take my order.

“We can’t let you have the order until customer service releases it.”

“How do I get customer service to release it?”

“The person who pulled the order has to tell them it’s been pulled.”

“Where’s that guy and how do I get him to tell customer service it’s pulled?”

To make a long story short, no one had ever told the guy who pulled the order how to close out the order on his handheld electric device, so he just pulled my order and walked away. Maybe he finished hours before. Maybe my stuff would sit there until the next day when someone stubbed their toe on it. Hard to say. So there was my stuff, and I had paid for it, but I wasn’t allowed to take it.

The two young guys looked at me and I looked at them. “What should we do?” I asked. They looked at each other and back at me.

It was a standoff.

But they were up to the task. What they didn’t have in authority or experience they made up in energy and common sense. They looked up every person who was logged in on “active duty” until they finally found someone who answered the phone and knew how to release my order. They told that person to meet us at the front desk. Then those two guys went out to my trailer with me and loaded it. They weren’t managers, assistant managers, or for all I know well paid. But instead of shrugging their shoulders and telling me to go back to customer service, they just worked to fix the situation. My faith in the next generation received a stiff shot of the old back straightener. Perhaps we will survive another generation.

Story 2 – Home Depot

A couple of weeks ago I went to Home Depot and found a fridge I liked. The man working at the appliance desk told me that I was better off to order it online and have it shipped to me as it was a new product and their system hadn’t really adjusted to it yet. So I did that, and in my hurry to place the order I simply hit ok when the “We didn’t find your address, but we found this address that is a close match” dialog box popped up. I confirmed the right street address so just assumed their system wanted me to type out “Street” instead of St or something like that. What I failed to notice is that it had changed the zip code on the delivery address.

Fast forward two weeks to a couple days before the fridge was scheduled to be delivered and I received a call from the delivery company. They told me they could not find a matching street address with the zip code that was on it but had found a matching address at a different zip code, which happened to be the correct one. I laughed and confirmed my zip code (how young and naive I was! Oh to return to the flower of you when hope bloomed that such ordinary miscommunications and errors could be solved with two people talking), only to be told that I would need to get Home Depot to change the zip code in their system. They were very nice but explained that their contract with HD was very specific and they would get in trouble if they delivered to a different zip code. Totally understandable…no problem…how hard can it be to get a zip code changed?

Rather than spend time on the phone, I decided to go to the store. You see, I had learned from my Lowes experience that it takes a person to actually accomplish anything. I spoke with Edwin at appliances and he was very helpful, assured me that he would alert the online order people and they would get the zip code changed that day. I even received a call a few minutes later from the shipping folks (again, very friendly and helpful people) who told me that Edwin had called them and told them to deliver it and that he had sent the change request to the online order people. Problem solved and it wasn’t even 8AM yet.

4PM hits and I get a call from the delivery people telling me that the online order folks had DENIED the zip code change request. There was nothing they could do unless I could call and get someone to change it and that even though the delivery date was a Saturday, she would come in and check to see if the order had been updated and if it had she would still deliver the fridge.

After about 4 unsuccessful attempts with the the “dial 1 for this or 2 for that” system, I hit enough buttons and screamed into the phone enough times to get a human being on the line. A really nice lady whose name started with an R. Was it Rachel? I don’t know, but she was great. At this point in the day I was underneath a house in the crawl space re-routing the washing machine drain pipe, so I had her on speaker and had to kind of yell as my body was in a lot of awkward and painful positions (there was about a 22″ clearance down there and I’m not quite as svelte as I used to be). I explained the whole situation…right address but wrong street code…two blocks away….fridge was 15 minutes away in a warehouse and shipper WANTED to deliver it to me…can we find a reasonable conclusion to this ordeal?

We spent 45 minutes together on the phone. She ended up being a virtual dinner guest for a few minutes with our family. After multiple times on hold, the bubbly optimism which characterized the beginning of our customer service relationship had given way to a soft anxiety. The joy was gone like a romance that bloomed in May but died in June. You see, not only had the request to change the zip code been DENIED by her supervisor, but she had actually been reprimanded for trying to change the zip code herself. How dare a customer service representative try to HELP THE CUSTOMER!!

“So what am I supposed to do?” I asked.

“You’ll have to cancel the order and place a new one,” was her muted response. I could practically hear the HD Hoover in the background as it sucked out yet another piece of her soul.

So I went and bought the fridge at Lowes, put it in my trailer, and hauled it home.


So here’s my very amateur take on the state of large corporations in America. Technology is great. I love when my life is simplified and my time is saved through technology. Processes are great. We all need processes to keep profits where they need to be because we all need to make money. But technology and processes are not your greatest resource. Human beings are your greatest resource. You company will boom or bust based on your people. Your people are keeping your customers coming back. Stop trying to suck the soul out of your employees.

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