Calling Home Depot….

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
It’s a question of bang for a buck.

I’m currently jumping through hoops with one of the big stores over a stove warranty. Never mind… 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 one… not at Big Orange (as I’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 problem…zip…swish… click…and my card was credited with the difference.

Bottom line? I’m PO’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.

Author: Ellen Roseman

Consumer advocate and personal finance author and instructor.

116 thoughts on “Calling Home Depot….”

  1. Here is an email I sent to CEO of Home Depot. NEVER got a response.

    Will NEVER, EVER spend a cent in their stores. Lowe’s is 1,000 times better, more honest, and bends over backwards to accommodate customers.


    Good morning. Last week I noticed the interest rate (in very small print) on my Home Depot Project card statement.

    Instead of the outrageous 16.99% that I thought I was given, it had somehow ballooned into 23.99%, unbeknownst to me. I also have a special financing card with LOWE’S at 6.99% for $17,000.

    I called the customer “care” number and spoke to a condescending young man, who told me that my credit rating was responsible for the high interest. (Yes, I just bought a new home and am remodeling the entire place, and as small business owner, anything my business does credit wise is reflected on my credit.)

    He also said it was stated in a contract that was sent to me — which of course I didn’t receive! I’ve never been late or missed a payment on anything!

    I’m sure you hear complaints all day long, but I wanted to vent my views before I cut up my two HOME DEPOT cards and instruct everyone working for me to never buy anything from you again.

    Obviously, you’ve covered all the bases for this blatant bait and switch (in tiny print) that has been done on me, but I plan to file a complaint with the Kentucky Attorney General’s office, as well as the BBB, and post my experience all over the web. You have not only lost a customer, you’ve made an enemy.

  2. Have a relative just been laid off by Home Depot after 13 years of service.

    It seems to me Home Depot do not like long term serving employees (the bottom line) of their business. It has happened to other employees.

  3. A week ago, i said the f word in the Kamloops store, not in anger but jokingly about an employee who didn’t seem to understand what i wanted.

    I asked help from another employee and jokingly said, “oh that guy doesn’t know anything.” The reply was “yeah, he doesn’t know anything.” My reply, jokingly, “yes, he knows f all.”

    I was told to leave the store and take my busines elsewhere or to quote, “have a nice day somewhere else.”

  4. I am told it’s extremely hard to price match at Home Depot stores. They will use every excuse in the book to NOT PM.

    They will first flatly refuse to PM and follow their own policy and after lot of back and forth, at the most they will just PM the price as opposed to giving you 10 per cent off the lower price. Yes, it’s their policy to give you 10 per cent of the lower price and NOT just 10 per cent of the difference.

    So don’t trust their lower price and we will beat it by 10 per cent marketing gimmick.

    I have found Lowe’s and even Home Hardware to be much much better.

    I don’t blame the Home Depot associates though. They are often overworked and you can almost never find anyone to help you, as they are so understaffed. i blame their higher ups for all the nonsense they put their employees and customers through.

  5. I purchased some items at Home Depot Mississauga, Mavis Road, two days ago. When paying with my debit card, it said DECLINED. After the second try, the customer copy said NOT COMPLETED. In order to keep going, I paid for the items with my MasterCard.

    After coming home, I checked my bank account online and found Home Depot had also charged me on my debit card account.

    Today, I went back to Home Depot to purchase some more items and get a refund of the money that was double charged. I went to meet with Ms. Heather. After checking all my receipts and admitting that many more people experienced the same problem with the Mississauga store, she called Home Depot headquarters, explained what happened, and received a ticket number for me. I was told it would take between 7 to 10 business days for the money to be returned to my account.

    Before leaving, I did some more shopping at this store and again was trying to pay with my debit card. Two days after my first experience, again the customer copy said NOT COMPLETED. After talking with Ms. Heather again right at the cash register and calling Home Depot headquarters, nothing could be resolved.

    Ms. Heather, also quite frustrated, asked Home Depot headquarters to shut down the debit card system at the store to avoid more trouble for customers and was denied to do so.

    I ended up again paying with my Master Card as I really needed to get going. I appreciate how Ms. Heather tried her best to resolve the problem.

    I cannot understand how Home Depot continues to run a system that is not working and may charge the customer twice. It should be shut down the moment a problem occurs. It also should, at least, have the courtesy to return any money on the spot to customers who were charged by the company because of the company’s fault.

    I would warn any customer to pay with cash card at Home Depot. And for me, after shopping with Home Depot since their first store opened many years ago in Surrey, BC, I will now check for other Canadian-owned stores. Home Depot is not the same any more as when it entered Canada many years ago.

  6. New kitchen install was terrible. No plumbing was hooked up, since no one was qualified to finish the job. I will NEVER purchase anything from HOME DEPOT again.

    All this just before Christmas. My wife is very upset.

    The washer and dryer I bought there were dented upon delivery twice and they tried to give us a cheap discount. I am three weeks now without a sink and dishwasher.

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