This Atlanta-based home improvement chain likes to promote its friendly customer service. But I get a steady stream of complaints, particularly about installations, that suggest the image is just skin-deep.
Dick Smyth, a well-known Toronto CHUM radio personality who has retired to cottage country, still rants about controversial issues that cross his path. His latest email to me was about his unhappy dealings with “Big Orange.” I’ve posted it as a comment below.
He’s annoyed about the lack of access to contact information for complaints.
The front office is unable even to provide either an e-mail or postal address at which I can complain. A dissatisfied customer apparently is a new experience for them.
That made me dig up an email I got from a former Home Depot employee. He spilled the beans on how to get head office to pay attention.
Any customer of the Home Depot who is not getting the service or attention they deserve can call the “Ben Hill” line (the toll-free number is posted in every store at the customer service desk). When the rep from “Ben Hill” calls the store manager back, things start to happen in a hurry! Trust me on this!
I worked at the phone order desk at three Home Depots for 6 years and I know that store managers live in healthy fear of “Ben Hill”. These calls are monitored at head office and figure prominently in managers’ performance evaluations.
So, I had to ask: why Ben Hill? Here’s what my whistle blower said:
In the Home Depot context, it’s an invention. But there WAS a historical “Ben Hill”.
Somebody from Home Depot liked the name, which is also the name of a county in northern Georgia. They thought it conveyed an image of a wise old uncle who could soothe ruffled feathers and right wrongs.
The Home Depot gave the Ben Hill department a lot of autonomy and the authority to make pro-customer decisions without being under the thumb of some desk jockey manager at head office. Ben Hill reported only to the company president.
Their office was not at company headquarters (but it was in the Atlanta area) and no one at head office except the CEO knew who worked there.
When a Ben Hill rep calls a store manager and tells that manager to do some particular thing, the store manager can do what Ben Hill says without getting permission from either the district manager or from head office.
Finally, I asked Tiziana Baccega, a spokeswoman for Home Depot Canada, if this was true.
Hi Ellen, this is true. It is our Customer Service phone number and anyone can call 1-800-668-2266 to reach the Canadian call centre.
Here’s the response from Dick Smyth:
They sure as heck didn’t have “Ben Hill’s” number at the Bracebridge store. But if nothing else, it provided grist for my radio comment.
June 14, 2008
Itâ€™s a question of bang for a buck.
Iâ€™m currently jumping through hoops with one of the big stores over a stove warranty. Never mindâ€¦ it would take much longer than my sixty seconds to explain.
Quite coincidentally, my pressure washer expired of old age. I decided to buy a new oneâ€¦ not at Big Orange (as Iâ€™ll call it) — who needs another hassle? — but at Canadian Tire.
A week later, the same washer went on sale for seventy bucks less. CTC has a policy of refunding the difference but I was one day past the deadline. No problemâ€¦zipâ€¦swishâ€¦ clickâ€¦and my card was credited with the difference.
Bottom line? Iâ€™m POâ€™d with Big Orange. They lost one sale already and many more in the future. And guess who we badmouthed at our Saturday bar-b-que with several friends.
But I have a fuzzy warm feeling about Canadian Tire. I may have cost them seventy bucks. But that bought a really happy customer who will spend that several times over in coming months.
And who praised them to the sky at that same bar-b-que.