How not to please a customer  --  08/30/05

I don't like our front steps. They do not have railings and I think they should have railings.

We are going to have our house painted in September. Yes, that is going to cost a good chunk of money but I do not like to work from tall ladders so I am going to pay someone to do it. However, this would be an ideal time to add railings to the front steps or, even better, perhaps to completely replace them.

I do prefer to shop in local stores rather than drive off to some big box warehouse-sized store, but stores in small towns tend to be small stores, so if you want a wide selection sometimes you have to go off to the big stores. For example, when I wanted some pressure-treated lumber to put around my garden, I went to a local lumber yard. When we wanted a new refrigerator, I picked some best models based on Consumer Reports and then used the Internet to find the closest place carrying that brand -- which turned out to be a Home Depot store in North Kingstown (just a bit over fifteen miles, maybe twenty or twenty-five minutes, depending on traffic) so that is where I bought it (despite Home Depot's really terrible computer system that made it extremely difficult for the clerk to complete my order -- and no, it wasn't just that one clerk... Go to their Web page and try their Search function -- it is really dreadful -- enter railing as a search term and it will tell you it couldn't find that word so it substituted   rolling! Duh! Their computer people appear to be as incompetent as their other employees.)

Hmmm.... do you get the impression that I did not have a successful shopping trip yesterday?

Yes, I decided to drive up to Home Depot because I thought I would have a wider selection which might make it easier to find railings that would match our porch railings.

It took an extra couple of minutes to find them because the overhead sign that said "Stairs" was not by the aisle where stairs and railings, etc. were located.

They had various pre-cut risers -- including three-step size, which is what I wanted -- and railings and newel posts, etc.

There were also "helpful" signs saying things like "Use three inch galvanized screws" and adding "See Outdoor Railing Systems brochure for more information."

"To determine posts, railings, spindles, balusters, and caps needed see Outdoor Railing Systems brochure."

"Develop a hardware checklist. See Outdoor Railing Systems brochure."

"See detailed assembly tips in Outdoor Railing Systems brochure."

It definitely seems that I need to get me one of those handy Outdoor Railing Systems brochures.

There are no handy Outdoor Railing Systems brochures anywhere in that aisle. The only literature available is in a neighboring section -- a leaflet explaining how to special order custom vinyl railings for a deck.

Okay, so off to find their handy-dandy helpful information desk. Ask the nice lady behind the counter. Get blank stare. Ask the question again, carefully explaining that this is a brochure that is mentioned on several signs and I would like to find a copy. She tells me I need to go to the Pro Desk. Since this is a brochure aimed at the do-it-yourselfer I would not have assumed that it would be kept at the area reserved for professional contractors, but I have learned that Home Depot is not exactly a company that does things logically.

So I ask at the Pro Desk where they explain to me that they are there to help professional contractors, which I obviously am not -- I hastened to assure them that I am only bothering them because the woman at their help desk had sent me there -- and they sigh and shake their heads and assure me that they have no idea about the location of any supply of any kind of brochures.

Back to the aisle in the lumber section that has the risers and such that I want. Still no sign of any brochures. So I look for a clerk. I find one just around the corner. He is busy slicing up a sheet of plywood for a customer but I don't mind waiting because obviously this guy is part of the lumber department and will be able to locate the brochure for me.


He tells me they do not special order wood stairs or railings, just the vinyl ones. I explain that I realize that and that I have no interest in vinyl. I am only interested in pressure-treated wood (or some appropriate rot-resistant wood) and I want to find a copy of this brochure because of Home Depot's signs telling me that it is filled with handy hardware checklists (so I can be sure that I am purchasing everything I need in one visit) and because it has handy assembly tips (which sounds useful to me because I want to build stairs that are not only sturdy, but that will also look good).

His response (which indicates to me that he didn't even listen to what I had said) was that everything they had for sale was on the shelves.

At which point I said to hell with Home Depot -- I had wasted a good chunk of a vacation day afternoon being given the run-around and I had lost any desire to do business with them even if the next thing I saw was a big stack of Outdoor Railing Systems brochures. Instead, however, the next thing that did catch my attention on my way to the exit was a sign asking for my opinion of my Home Depot experience. They wanted to know my opinion so badly that to persuade me to give it to them they would enter me into a drawing where I could win a five thousand dollar Home Depot gift card. I made a mental note of the URL. They want my opinion? I'll give them my opinion!

So as soon as I get home I fire up Mozilla and type in their URL -- first thing they want to know is do I prefer English, Spanish, or French. Next they want my zip code. Okay. The third screen tells me that to continue further I must have a Home Depot purchase receipt (which contains an ID and password that must be used).

Adding up the refrigerator and a lawn mower and a storm door for our front door and one for our laundry room door and various bits of hardware and wire and flowers and shrubs from their garden shop, etc., we've spent at least three thousand dollars at Home Depot since we moved into this house. (After writing this I called their 800 customer service number and got through to a human after a long navigation and wait, explained my complaint, was told that she was really sorry I did not have a good custmer experience. I have never heard back from them.)

I do not think they will get any more of my business.

(Yes, I can be very pig-headed.)

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