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Opinion Editorials case study in offering horrible customer service

(Editorial) We all experience bad customer service every day, but proves how to systematically enrage customers by implementing crap policies.

It all started with a puff of smoke

Let me start by saying that I rarely use this platform to point out the ills of business based that I experience first hand, but about once a year, I have an experience either so amazing or so terrible, that I share it with you in hopes that your brand can learn from it and emulate only the best business behaviors on the planet. I realize that some will take this as a rant, and it is meant to be a learning experience rather than a complaint (trust me, if we’re connected on Facebook, you know I’m not shy about complaining, but I usually keep it among friends).

This customer service nightmare all started with a puff of smoke. Driving to Austin from Oklahoma City last week in our car, with our son driving behind us, we got a panicked call, “a puff of smoke just came out from underneath your car!” Immediately, the battery light went on. Between the manual and Google, we quickly learned that the serpentine belt was probably kaput – a pretty expensive repair in an Audi.

Somehow, we make it the final 20 miles home and lose power steering as we are parking. We popped the hood, and it was a sad sight with a frayed belt, a melted plastic piece, and now, a growing puddle underneath the car. Our car, Veronica Corningstone (if you get that reference, you’re so cool, and yes, that is our car’s name) made it home, but she was injured. Not only had the serpentine belt died, so did the power steering pump and the tensioner.

Please note: I have no car knowledge whatsoever, I pretty much only know the go and stop pedals, and that’s it, so please don’t be too impressed, I’m only repeating my husband.

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No big deal, just order the damn part

We had had really good luck with our mobile mechanic, so we called him since our regular mechanic is not shy about charging an arm and a leg. The mobile guy said he could make it out the next night. Great news. We got all of the necessary parts from the Audi dealership at the same cost we could get online, but the tensioner cost about a third if we ordered it from Awesome.

We order the $40 part and opt for overnight shipping for around $40, but that was still cheaper than the dealership. I immediately get an alert from my bank that there is a pending charge for roughly $80, and a few minutes later, I got the order confirmation email from It says that they’re only charging around $7 for shipping and that it would be three to four business days. Odd, I selected and confirmed 24-hour delivery because my mechanic will be inside of the car in 24 hours.

Here’s where it all goes off of the rails. Strike one.

My husband calls and asks why the 24-hour delivery option was taken away, and they assert that it never was available for that timeframe, and we mention that the bank had the proper amount on hold, so they’re wrong. But they’re hostile with my husband who was very calmly trying to understand. The customer service representative said that the part would be there in three to four days and there’s nothing he can do. When my husband asked if he could cancel the order (since we need it like NOW), the rep hung up on him.

Hostility = strike one.

Adding slight insult to slight injury. Strike two.

I called back and asked about the cancellation option, since the confirmation email says it’s an option. At this point, it’s not about the money, but the principle of the matter. “It’s too late, the warehouse has already filled the order,” they told me. “In five minutes? That’s humanly impossible, they have not filled it. Can we call the warehouse together and ask them to cancel it?”

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“I’ll put in a request to cancel it, but there is no guarantee.” Ten minutes later, we get an email asking us to take a lengthy survey about our satisfaction. Are you kidding me? We place an order, you treat us like we’re stupid that YOU can’t deliver in 24 hours as offered on your site, blame us for not being able to read, and tell us that the bank pending charge is wrong and never happened.

You can’t cancel an order, but you have time to ask me to take a survey = strike two.

The part arrives. Time to return it. Strike three.

Okay fine, your system sucks, If I can’t cancel an order because YOU can’t fulfill it in the promised time, you have a problem, and allowing your customer service representatives to be hostile or lack any empathy is a company problem, not a customer problem.

So now we have a car part on the way that has charged our bank. We won’t need the part, so we’ll have to send the part back. Fine. SEVEN DAYS LATER, the part arrives. Thanks, that’s super helpful.

When I call, I am put through a barrage of questions, ranging from “when did you place this order?” to “what size is your car’s engine?” I asked if she couldn’t get all of this information from the order number they provided me originally, and she said no. She asked me the part number (“where do I find that?” “It’s on the packing slip inside of the box.” “But I haven’t opened the box, I just want to send it back to you as it is. Is it in any emails I’ve been sent?” “It’s on the actual part.” “Uh, okay.”)

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That’s one shitty system,, and you’re handicapping your reps who are already in the position of being yelled at by people because of your insane returns process.

Shitty system = strike three.

Here comes the super crappy part. Strikes four through nine.

Now, I understand that there is a process to returning things, I order stuff online all the time. Maybe we’re just spoiled by Amazon and Zappos, but what I’m about to share with you is what made me feel like my skin was melting off of my face in anger.

After gathering every detail about my car, just short of her nickname, the representative told me that she has cancelled the order. Great! Yay!

But wait. In 24 to 48 hours, I will receive an email with a “RAM Number,” and when I receive this email, I will need to write this RAM Number on the outside of the original brown box they’ve shipped the product in. I will then be sent an email with a shipping label.

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Then, I will need to drive to a nearby shipping center, pay for this heavy part to be sent back on my own dime, despite their inability to cancel an obviously unfilfilled order.

So, when I repeated all of the steps I have to take in order to make up for their ineptitude, she casually mentions the restocking fee. THERE IT IS. How much is it? It’s 10% of any order. “Can that be waived? I’m extremely disappointed in this process, and I had hoped to continue buying from” She said she’d send a note to the warehouse with my request. I’m not holding my breath.

Then, she said that when I had the tracking number, I had to call them back and tell them what it is. No reason offered, just that I had to sit on hold again to reach them and give them proof that I’m sending it.

An insane number of steps customers must go through to pay you to return a part you shouldn’t have sent out = strikes four through nine.

The hair-tearing-out part. Strike ten.

Now, I get that companies have stupid systems and refuse to train customer service reps to be empathetic, but when a policy serves to do nothing but enrage, it should never be allowed by any CEO, President, VP, or anyone in the company food chain.

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The hair-tearing-out-part is that the rep told me that when they receive the part, they would inspect it within six to 10 business days and decide whether or not they would offer a refund. Then, of course, it will take however many days to process that refund and more time for my bank to process it. “Why would they have to inspect it? I just told you I haven’t used it.”

“Because you opened the box,” she said coldly. Remember when she told me I had to open the box to get her the part number?


What a scam.

I don’t use that word lightly, but the policies at this particular company can serve to prove to you how to piss off consumers and make them feel scammed. If any one of these things happened independently, it would be par for the course, but this entire process proves a brand’s cockiness, hoping that if they make it so complicated, you’ll just throw the part away and move on.

Don’t do this to your customers, don’t let the people on your front line be handicapped by crap policies, and people, don’t take this from companies. We’re not.

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UPDATE: VP responds to editorial

In response to the aforementioned problems, the following email was sent to our offices, and a full refund was gracefully issued:

We are making changes to our processes currently, but having someone from conduct themselves rudely is certainly unacceptable, I am aware of those who assisted you on each occasion and I will address the conduct of the person(s) involved.

As it relates to processes, we are working to improve them even as I am writing to you.

In regards to the overnight shipping window missed, we ship most of our part from our internal warehouses, if we are out of stock we have a number of drop shippers who can fulfill those orders for us. Unfortunately at this point, not all of those partners have the same capabilities we have in our own warehouses. That seems to be at the heart of this issue. There is a need for us to make improvements here for sure.

Canceling your order, was done through email with our drop ship partner. This resulted in delays in confirming the request to cancel your order. There is definitely a need for greater integration with our drop ship partners for immediate confirmation of cancelations. The Agent you spoke with sent an email “requesting” a cancelation, but it was not seen in time in this warehouse to cancel this order. The Agent doesn’t have access at this point to cancel your order. They request that that be done from the shipping warehouse via email. The Agent cannot assure the caller during the call that an order has cancelled, he/she has to wait for a confirmation back from the warehouse. We are working on technology to allow the Agent you speak with, to actually cancel the order in our order fulfillment system.

You mentioned the Agent not understanding or comprehending the full issue. We are in peak season right now, and we have a number of new employees onboard, (no excuse) this person should have asked for someone to assist them when they realized they were creating frustration for you. This is something that is very fixable.

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I have made sure that you have been refunded in full, no restocking fee. Including the core charge. You should see this on your bank statement before the package you are returning gets to our returns warehouse.

The $80, $40 + $40 is in regards to the fact that this part involves returning a “core” or the part coming off the vehicle. When the part is replaced with the new part, the old one is sent back and the “core” charge is refunded. This also happens with parts like starters and alternators where the “core” is returned and rebuilt. I am looking to see if this messaging on the SKU listing needs to be made more prominent to avoid surprises.

Regarding, inspecting the part in the warehouse once it is returned; this employee was following scripting guidelines given to her. We do inspect returned parts to insure that what is being returned is in new, unused and re-saleable condition. From time to time we have people return parts that are damaged, broken or other items returned in their box that are in no any way associated with the part we sold. I do understand that given all that happened on this order this message felt like “salt in a wound”.

I take your criticisms to heart, and assure that I and the leadership here at are making changes to ensure that our consumer buying experience is improving. We want you to have a great buying experience. It didn’t happen this time, I regret that. I am personally taking action to make sure that when you and others buy from us in the future they are delighted with their buying experience.

Kind Regards,
Steve L. Kaay
U.S. Auto Parts Network, Inc.
Vice President, Customer Interactions

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Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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