Have you ever wanted to do business with a company, but they made it so difficult you finally just gave up? Such was my experience recently when, in the hunt for a new desk, I encountered Restoration Hardware, now known by the acronym RH which, based upon my experience might as well stand for “Really Hard [to do business with].” While I’m sure recounting my travails will be cathartic, my real purpose here is to draw invaluable lessons that any marketer can apply, including the aforementioned purveyor of designer goods.
My RH journey began when, in my quest for a new desk, I discovered that there were very few options that were unique. Thus, I was drawn to a particular metal-wrapped collection which included an unusual zinc executive desk model with filing drawers. Enticed, I eagerly joined their Members Program for $100, which offers significant discounts, and then ordered two samples of different finishes for $15 a pop. While they were both ordered on the same day, one came a week later and the other, inexplicably, in two weeks. Then I set about trying to actually see the desk in person – a journey that I thought would be a fairly straightforward, linear path. Boy, was I wrong.
I began by visiting the local “gallery” in Portland. You see, the RH model is built around the idea that their stores are merely showrooms – you can’t actually buy anything on the floor; it has to be delivered at substantial cost to your front door, a phenomenon that reminded me of an episode of Vice about North Korea where they visited a department store and where nothing on display could actually be purchased – it was all for “show.” After striking out, my travels took me to Southern California where I visited their ginormous outlet store – still no zinc-wrapped desk. I then called their Irvine outlet where I was assured by the clerk that I should visit their Fashion Island gallery which she enthusiastically assured me, “Has everything!” Everything except for the aforementioned desk or the courtesy to greet me at any point during my sojourn within their hallowed walls filled with very busy personnel staring at their tablets and laptops. Now please understand, I get that these comely folks may have design degrees and their purpose is to sell an entire aesthetic, which I’m sure they are quite capable of, but do they not understand that a desk could be a point of entry to that very aim? Perhaps not.
Next stop: the flagship store in New York’s Flatiron District where certainly they would have a cornucopia of offerings including my desk. As I wandered in to the first floor filled with sleek RH Modern furniture (and an ignoring staff – a hallmark of all four visits), I was informed by a security officer I approached, and after inquiring about the more traditional goods, that they were on the next floor. Unfortunately, he informed me that the elevator was broken and the stairwell was being worked on, a confluence of circumstances that would require me to return the following day. The day I was flying out of town.
Not to be deterred, I telephoned the Seattle gallery, now gun shy that the 400-mile roundtrip drive from Portland was likely to end in heartbreak, only to discover that, after waiting on hold for several minutes, I had reached a centralized call center whose operator then put me on hold so she could call the Seattle gallery – the very same one I was trying to reach to begin with -- to locate this D.B. Cooper of desks. After 16 minutes of waiting, I was informed they too were bereft of my desired furnishing, an outcome that I suppose was better than six or seven hours of fruitless driving past Indian casinos.
At this point I did what I should have done to begin with, which was to go on Yelp! and other social media and review sites to see what exactly folks had to say about the chain, whereby I learned that my impositions were hardly unique. Not only did I discover countless aspersions with regards to their customer service and lack of on-time delivery, there were many allegations of poor quality and craftsmanship. Consider that sound of me banging my head on my present desk as my cry of, “Uncle!”
What is the lesson here, dear reader, besides the fact that your author should be a more discerning and less emotional consumer? It is that everything about this experience was geared towards the convenience of the retailer, and not the consumer. From the lack of inventory (not to mention lack of clarity about their online-only business model), the indifferent staff, obnoxious IVR, basically the whole lot of it, the impression I was left with was that it should be my privilege to buy their second- and third-world manufactured, overpriced goods. Take a number! Geez, where do I (not) sign up?
Contrast that attitude with Les Schwab Tires, a chain that flourishes here in the Pacific Northwest. At Les Schwab they will fix your flat tires for free and – guess what – they literally come running to greet you! No, seriously, the staff actually sprints around the lot to service customers – even when they are doing you a favor. Why would they do this? Because management clearly gets that when they do you such a service that they are imbuing goodwill that will translate into a sale the next time you need a new set of wheels. They have a relationship mentality, not one based on transactions or profiling you based upon what you are wearing, driving, or some other random attribute.
Companies who rely too heavily on IVR or make it impossible on their websites for you to contact them; companies who give no face to their executive team, who want to dwell in anonymity because they seemingly do not want to be annoyed by interacting with you, are conveying much the same message I received from my recent RH experience: we matter more than you and it is our way or the highway. Consider me roadkill. In an era where the best-in-class online and offline retailers that include Amazon, Apple, and Costco, bend over backwards to delight customers, one can only wonder: how is it possible for companies to survive who do not adhere to such standards? This isn’t rocket science, but it does require leadership, the right culture, and an understanding that in a world of e-commerce, buyers have unlimited choice. And, yes, once in a while we want to actually touch and feel something – especially when it’s a considered purchase. I really wasn’t looking for a lectern; just a desk. One I don’t risk denting with my fist.
Rick Petry is a direct marketing veteran of over 25 years who has been involved with campaigns that have generated over $1 billion in sales. He provides creative services to both B2C and B2B marketing campaigns and recent projects have included Actegy/Revitive, Education Connection, GOLO, Joybird, and OYO. The author of over 200 articles on direct marketing best practices, Petry has a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema/Television from the University of Southern California and an MBA with a Concentration in Marketing and Sales from Marylhurst University.