Home Depot cannot afford to be this BAD

I’m a do-it-yourself kind of guy. I’ve replumbed a house, built sheds, done drywall, gutted and installed kitchens, all kinds of stuff. My dad makes my skill set look meager, but he taught me a lot, and there’s never a project I don’t think I cannot accomplish. Whether I want to or not is a different story. Sometimes you need a new tool, and yesterday was no exception, so I started on a quest to find the right tool. Home Depot flubbed it. Big time.

Today’s project is a curved roof potting shed and matching arbor. Artsy kind of thing, with a peak that looks a little bit like a normal distribution curve. That’s what happens when a Six Sigma Black Belt decides to start a garden, eh?

Last night I visited two Lowes stores, one Home Depot, and a Sears. No one had what I wanted. This morning, I hit the Web and started calling around. The tool I decided I wanted, shown above, is from Home Depot. That works for me, I’m a big fan of the Depot.

The Londonderry Home Depot’s computer said they had one, but the floor person said the computer was wrong. That same person couldn’t figure out how to check other stores for availability. The Plaistow Home Depot didn’t have it, and that person told me he checked inventory, and no one in New Hampshire had one. I called Salem, figuring this was my last attempt before giving up on the tool. The guy who answered the phone was amazing, but not in a good way. He was able to see that their computer said they had one. He agreed with me that the computer inventory was not reliable, but seemed shocked when I asked if he could confirm it the tool’s existence.

“No, I can’t. I’m in the office, and I can’t go out on the floor.” I interpreted this to mean that the guy who works the office hasn’t been trained on how to handle basic customer service functions. He can’t figure out that if the customer is concerned about availability, you should do something to alleviate those fears. I decide to train Home Depot’s employee. “Can you have someone on the floor check?” (I said “can” instead of “will” because I was really concerned that there was a capability issue here).

I wish I had a recording. You cannot imagine the disdain in his voice. He sounded like a spoiled 12 year old Southern California girl when he said, “Well, I CAN, if you want to HOLD.” Yes, I want to hold. It’s not a normal thing, I usually prefer not to hold. I’ve already figured out you cannot help me, so in this case, I will hold for someone who can. “Yes, that will be fine.” His reply, “Okay, but it’s gonna take a while.”

By now, I know I’m going to write about this, so I’m typing his quotes into this entry real time. *click* *click* *click* *dial tone* (sigh) I called back, and tried a different selection in the phone prompts so I could go straight to the floor, but the same man answers the phone. I told him I was disconnected, and asked him to transfer me to the floor so I could check on the sander. “Yeah, my guess is if the computer says there is only one, we probably don’t have any.” “Yes, I understand computer inventory leaves something to be desired, but I’d like to check. Can you transfer me to the floor, please?  “Didn’t I just do that?” I reminded myself to be patient, and said, “As I just explained, I was disconnected. Would you be so kind as to try it again?

The floor supervisor in hardware walked the floor, found the sander, and told me he would hold it for me, and to ask for him by name when I got there.

When I got to the store, he was not available. When I asked for the sander that was on hold, no one could find it. While they looked, I wandered the floor, and found the sander, still on the shelf. It had not been held for me.

Dropping the ball two ways

First, their inventory control leaves something to be desired. I understand that in tough economic conditions, you have to make sure you’re stocking items that people will buy. I understand that an oscillating belt / spindle sander is not a commonly purchased item, but it’s the only bench top sander I could find on their Web site. The store I ended up going to had 54 different drills. I got the last bench top sander, so now they have none of those. If they only stocked twenty types of drill, you could probably still find one you like, but if you want a bench top sander in southern New Hampshire, you’re out of luck. I got the last one. Improvement is needed here.

Second, their employees are dropping the ball at every opportunity. In a recession, you have to have employees on their A game at every opportunity. Let’s recap the employees we encountered.

  1. The Hooksett employee (in person) didn’t know if they carried the item, and wandered the aisles for several minutes trying to find the sander. I had just finished wandering the aisles looking for the sander, and while I appreciate her willingness to help, if she didn’t know the tool department (which she told me she didn’t), I would have preferred she call someone who did. The attempt was there, but the effort failed.
  2. The Londonderry employee (phone) didn’t know how to check other stores’ inventory.
  3. The Plaistow employee lied to me. He told me he checked all of southern New Hampshire for inventory, and no one had it. Londonderry’s computer said they had one. Salem’s computer said they had one. This was an employee who was taking the easy way out instead of serving the customer.
  4. The Salem employee who answered the phone did not seem to know how to properly transfer a phone call (technical skills), nor did he offer to find help (customer service). He also didn’t listen, forcing me to tell him the same thing more than once.
  5. The Salem employee who said he would hold the item did not hold the item.
  6. The Salem employee who rang my order was pleasant, got my total correct, and managed to deactivate the security device so I didn’t set off the alarm when leaving the store.

Home Depot: Of your six employees, one got it right. You have 83.3% fail rate on meeting customer expectations. You still got my money, but not as much as you would have if you had handled me properly from the beginning. As a customer service and process improvement specialist, I recognize that I am sensitive to these types of things, but when five of six employees cannot get the basics right, something is wrong.

The lesson to learn

It’s one thing to have fully communicated to your team that in a recession, everyone must be cheerful and offer to help the customer. It’s a good start, but if they do not have the basic skills to do their jobs, it’s not enough. Worse, when they fake it by either lying (employee 3) or not doing what you say you’re going to do (employees 4 & 5), you really put a bad foot forward. You’d be better off letting those employees go home early. I’d rather wait a while for service for employees that tell the truth, and then do what they say they will do.


  1. John Lee says:

    It’s amazing they’re still in buisness. I only hear horror storys about them.

  2. James says:

    In fairness - people like telling the horror stories. When they get it right, people don’t tend to tell the story.

    That’s what makes being on the customer service side of any business such a challenge. You can get it right 999 times out of a thousand, and still be perceived as a failure if the person with which you goofed up publicizes you loudly.

    In this case, picked up on my displeasure on Twitter. I received a two message public Twitter apology, so that’s good.

    My next experience with them was pretty good, too. I was at the store, and I needed someone to use a forklift to get at some lumber stock that I needed. It was pretty inconvenient for them, and it ended up taking two people 20 minutes to get it done, and they were very pleasant and accommodating.

    I don’t expect perfection all the time… really, I don’t! But I do expect a good effort more often.

  3. James @ Garden Office says:

    I guess there was a big lapse in communication somewhere down the line. It eould be great if things just worked and people did what they were asked to do, but humans are full of errors and this is a fine example of that. Better training I think will go a long way.

  4. I cant quite believe this, what an awful customer service display. You would expect at least a little bit of communication between staff.

  5. I have worked in customer service. Well on the phone actually. But I was never rude to customers nevertheless. If there is something that is beyond my capability I would escalate it to my superior then follow up on it to be sure we give great service. Yes, there are days when we are occupied with our personal problems, but as much as possible we shouldn’t take it out on the customers.

  6. For as much as they advertise on being professionals, you would think they would be more competent and helpful.


  1. [...] more like Home Depot. Yes, the same Home Depot I dispairaged here. In that post, I complained about a their customer service failure across half a dozen stores in [...]

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