Oops! file: Schwinn blows customer service call

The "Oops File" relays ridiculous stories, some that stem from customer service experiences, from the business world -- embarrassing incidents that could have been avoided if people had just used their brains. These tales may entertain, but they also serve as a reminder that any business should always strive for excellence. This one takes a look at a frustrating call one of our reporters had with "customer service" at Schwinn.
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In the course of conducting business, we experience first-hand, or receive from readers, stories that deserve a place in what we lovingly call the "Oops File." It's a place where you really don't want to see your name or company name appear. These are the type of incidents -- sometimes in-store, sometimes via the web or email, sometimes on the phone --that people could avoid if they just engaged their brains and used common sense -- or if they were trained to do such.

To that end, we've created a periodic column SNEWS® will just call, "Oops!" We'll simply let the moments of idiotic circumstance serve as reminders to us all that a business should strive for excellence all the time, and not just when it's convenient.

Here then, is the latest Oops! offering:

How old is Schwinn's Airdyne bike? Consider the fact that it was introduced the same year that "Jaws 2" and "Corvette Summer" hit the movie screen. Yes, since 1978 the Airdyne has faithfully served the fitness market, relying on good ol' air power and a look that's as classic as a pair of bell-bottom jeans. Best of all, it's built as solid as a muscle car, it's user-friendly and about as complex as the plot to "Smokey and the Bandit." It remains solidly popular, too, especially among an aging population.

A member of our SNEWS® team purchased an Airdyne this past year for his 60-something mother, and like a good child, wanted to slightly upgrade mom's situation by purchasing a heart-rate monitor for the machine. What follows is a customer service tale that's about as sad as a Kristy McNichol TV movie:

Wishing for those Glory Days
Our reporter first logged onto the Nautilus website, quickly found the Schwinn Fitness Accessories page and a listing for an Ear Clip Heart Rate Monitor ($36). It was the only heart-rate monitor listed, so our reporter decided to call customer service to see what heart-rate options were available for the Airdyne bike. Our reporter placed the call and glanced at the computer clock: 9:29 a.m.

Being on hold wasn't bad at first because Bruce was singing "Glory Days," a reminder that '80s rock was a vast improvement over '70s disco. And then Run DMC was singing "Walk This Way," which would have been tolerable, except this was the loooong version, and 13 minutes passed. Yeah, 13 minutes is a long time to wait on the phone, especially when there is no prompt telling you how long you should expect to wait. Finally, at 9:42 a.m., a customer service person answered.

Things started out OK -- our team member asked for a recommendation on a heart-rate monitor for the Airdyne, and the customer service guy explained that there's the ear clip and then also a wireless monitor system for about $100. He said the monitors could be ordered from a store that specializes in Schwinn Fitness products, or they could be ordered from the in-house direct sales department. Our SNEWS® reporter asked to be transferred to direct sales.

Another minute passed, and at 9:46 a.m., a customer service person got on the line and identified herself as Krystal. Our reporter said, "Hi. I'm trying to get a heart-rate monitor for the Airdyne bike." But Krystal's tone gave the impression that she was confused.

"Uh, were you talking with somebody before?" she asked, as if it were odd that she was speaking with this customer.

"Yes, I was talking with another one of your customer service people and he transferred me to you," our reporter replied, wondering why the weird reception.

Krystal then asked, "Do you have a part number for the bike?"

"No, but I did buy the bike from you guys in the last year, so I should be in the system."

After a minute pause, Krystal said that she had found the customer in the computer system. Whew! Our reporter was relieved and hoped things would now go smoothly.

"So what was it you were looking for…a heart-rate monitor? Was this a watch?" asked Krystal.

"Well, I'm looking at an ear clip monitor," our reporter said.

Krystal went quiet. Too quiet. Something was wrong. Uh-oh. Not a good sign.

"Where are you seeing this?" she then asked. But she didn't just ask it; she had a tone in her voice -- the same kind of tone the town sheriff uses when he asks where it was you saw the UFO.

Krystal then said that she couldn't find the product in her ordering system or ordering book or whatever. "I don't understand," our team member said. "I'm looking at it on your website." Another uncomfortable pause.

"It's possible that it's only for sale at retail," said Krystal. Hmm, our reporter thought. Maybe that was the case. But the website said: "Find a Store Near You or Call (800) 864-1270." Didn't that imply that, by calling, you would reach a person who would be able to order the product or at least acknowledge the product's existence? "Let me put you on hold for a minute," she said.

And, like déjà vu, our reporter was again listening to "Glory Days." It was 9:50 a.m.

At 9:51, there was a click -- the kind of click that is the nightmare of anybody who's spent way too long on hold or been transferred on customer service or help lines. Then there were two clicks, and then our caller heard those dreaded words: "'If you'd like to make a call, please hang up and try again.'" Then there was that dial tone.

Alas, after 22 minutes, our reporter had been cut off. We felt like screaming "AARRGH!!!" the way Charlie Brown always did.

If we only had had a monitor to see just how high our reporter's pulse had gotten. Would've been neat to check the blood pressure as well.

SNEWS® View:
OK, we know s*** happens, but this was a nightmare. And the kind of tale that would be passed like that good ol' viral email to many, many friends and family, spreading the bad word -- the very bad word no company wants spread. What can be learned?

1. If your business is going to put people on hold for more than a couple of minutes, there should be a phone prompt that indicates whether a customer might possibly be waiting until "Jaws 10" is released or Tatum O' Neil makes that big comeback.

2. If a company website directs customers to a customer service phone number, that number should actually lead to someone who can sell the product, or at least demonstrate some knowledge that the product exists.

3. A customer service person should be trained to use appropriate vocal tones to imply understanding and empathy.

4. Do we even need to mention that it's bad form to disconnect customers? We know some customer service lines that take a customer phone number at the start of a call so the service person can call back IF such a disconnect inadvertently happens.

5. We recommend playing the radio single version of Run DMC's "Walk This Way," and then just moving on to another song.

Have a story or quick tale you think worthy of a Oops! mention? Send it to whoops@snewsnet.com. Remember to pass along all the facts and names so we can verify the story details.

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