Friday, October 8, 2010

I looked around and I noticed there wasn't a chair

Gather round, children; it's time for another dissatisfied customer story! [UPDATE: with a happy, slightly sheepish ending.]

A little more than a week ago I bought this chair from Crate & Barrel, via their website. It was delivered on Friday morning; I waited at home for the delivery guy and spent half an hour or so assembling the chair. Aside from the awkward placement of a few bolts (which forced me to screw them in using half-turns of the allen wrench), the assembly was easy. The base came with the wheels already attached, which was a relief, because the last time I bought a desk chair I had to put in the casters myself. It was a struggle. As I recall, it ultimately took a hammer -- and the assistance of my roommate's boyfriend -- to get the job done. Anyway, I got the chair all put together. The last part I attached was the height adjustment mechanism that goes on the bottom of the seat. I noticed that the piece I was holding didn't quite match the one pictured in the assembly instructions, but I didn't think it would matter. I put the seat on the base, and that's when I discovered that it did matter. The one pictured on the instruction sheet, and on the website, has a long, straight lever; the one I received has a lever bent at a 90-degree angle. If you try to pull the lever up to raise the height of the chair, it knocks into the bottom of the seat. No height adjustment. It doesn't work at all.

Just as I was discovering this, the phone rang: it was so-and-so from Crate & Barrel, calling to find out how the delivery went! So I told her the delivery was fine, but the merchandise was not. She was really just calling to make sure the delivery guy had shown up, so she transferred me to a woman in customer service, who said, "Whaddaya mean it doesn't match?" when I described the problem with the adjustment mechanism. Then that woman transferred me to a "furniture specialist," who was much more pleasant. She put me on hold to find out whether there had been any other reported problems with the Landon chair, and she came back to report that there had not. "So the only thing we can do is switch out the chair," she said.

"You can't just send a new adjustment mechanism?" I said.

"No, we have to send a whole new chair and exchange it for that one," she said.

"So...I have to disassemble this whole thing and put it back in the box?" She assured me they don't expect it to be packaged exactly as it arrived -- which is good, because it arrived in a bunch of smaller boxes, and most of those were already torn or broken down. (The main one, currently taking up way too much room in our apartment, is pictured above.) Oh, and also: the chair was now on backorder, so I would have to wait a couple of weeks until the new one could be delivered.

The more I thought about it, the more inadequate this response seemed. I had gone through the process of getting the delivery scheduled, making sure I was home to receive it, and of course assembling the chair -- which I was hoping would be ready for the husband to sit in when he got home that night. And now I had an apartment full of styrofoam and cardboard that I was very much looking forward to getting rid of. So it didn't seem quite right that I should now have to disassemble the chair, attempt to repackage it, and then keep it in its big box for a couple of weeks or however long it took for them to get a new one in stock -- at which point, of course, I'd have to schedule and wait for another delivery (and tip another delivery man, or feel bad about stiffing him, since he'd be working twice as hard as the first guy, and it's not his fault), and then assemble another chair, hoping that they hadn't made the same mistake this time around. That seemed like a lot of hassle for me to go through considering I didn't actually want to return the chair; I just wanted all the parts it was supposed to come with.

But I could understand that they had no way to be sure I was right; as far as they knew, the problem could be my incompetence. I could have tried to attach the thing upside down or something. (I had spent quite a while playing with the mechanism just to make sure this wasn't so, and let me tell you: it definitely doesn't work. Although I would love to find out that I am wrong.) So I took a picture of the bottom of the chair, to demonstrate that the part I had received was not the one pictured on the site, and I attached it to an email explaining my trouble. I even sent a link to a mechanism that looked more like the one pictured in the assembly instructions, to show that I was doing my homework (and drop a hint: Perhaps you could just order an extra from Tung Yu?). And I wrote,
I spoke to someone in customer service about this earlier today. She told me I would have to get a whole new chair to replace this one -- and now the chair is on backorder, so I'll have to wait a few weeks until it's in stock.

It's very inconvenient for me to have to disassemble the whole chair, box it back up, and then store it in our small apartment until I can get a new one delivered. So I'm following up to find out if there's any way you can send a replacement for just the defective part. (I also want to make sure you know what the problem is, because if this style of adjustment mechanism is going out with a lot of Landon chairs right now, you'll be getting a lot more complaints about it in the future!)
I thought it might be helpful for me to point out that this was a screwup with potentially major consequences for them -- since so far they seemed skeptical/oblivious that the problem was on their end. I sent the email Friday evening, and by Wednesday I still hadn't heard anything. I thought perhaps the .jpg attachment had gotten my email flagged as suspicious. So I forwarded the text to customer service, without the photo attached this time, and noted that I was still waiting to hear back. Later that day I got a response:
Thank you for your email.

We are truly sorry for any misunderstanding, unfortunately, we do not stock replacement parts for the Landon Office Chair. However, we would happy to process the return pick up and exchange, once the new chairs arrive in mid October.
This is where I started to get a little annoyed. I don't think I'm misunderstanding anything. Overestimating their interest in fixing their own screwups, maybe. But what I expect to see at this point is less "We'd be happy to accomodate your complaint" and more "We are truly sorry for the screwup, and we're going to do everything we can to make it right." It seems to me that this incident is being handled like an exchange due to my having changed my mind -- as if I'd said, "Now that I see it in the room, I don't like the color. Can I get it in blue?" When what actually happened is, they sent me something wrong. So now they have my money, and I have...a broken chair. And a lot more hassle to deal with, apparently, in order to get what I have paid for. Maybe there really is no way for them to dig up an extra height adjustment mechanism and send it my way (even though I would imagine that's a cheaper option for them as well as much less of an imposition on me). But can I at least get a little corporate contrition? And maybe a little hustle?

I replied on Wednesday, attempting to convey my perspective:
Thanks for your response. I have to say I'm not totally satisfied. I've already been charged full price, and I've already scheduled and waited for the delivery, and then put the chair together, and now I have to take the whole thing apart, repackage it, and schedule and wait for another delivery. That would be all right if I was returning it because I'd changed my mind, but actually I don't want to return it; I just want all the parts I was supposed to get. So it seems to me like this is a lot of extra hassle for me to go through for a mistake that wasn't my fault, and it doesn't make me inclined to do any more business with Crate & Barrel in the future.

Can I at least be confident that someone has investigated why this chair was sent out with a part that doesn't fit, and that the new chair will be sent with the correct parts?
No response yet. Maybe they're investigating? Up to now I've been assuming that I just wasn't getting the message through. Surely, I thought, if they understood that they've sent out something broken, and that it's entirely their fault, and that they're causing a lot of inconvenience to me, a longtime customer who has already paid in full -- surely then they'd try to at least look like they're working hard to make it right. But now I'm wondering if I'm wrong about that. Maybe this really is how Crate & Barrel responds when they send you broken stuff: "Oh, you want one that works? Okay, we'll let you know when we have one to give you. You just sit tight till we call. Well, not sit, because you have to take your chair apart, ha ha! But you know. Just wait." It's too bad, because I'm on record as a big Crate & Barrel fan -- and this isn't the first relatively pricey thing we've bought from them. But it looks like it will be the last.

UPDATE, 10/22: Just to catch you up, I have heard from C&B again since I wrote this post (including once as a direct result of this post), and now I'm waiting for my replacement height-adjustment mechanism to arrive. I'm hoping that one will work and that will be the end of the story -- I will let you know!

UPDATE, 11/3: Things worked out. Read all about it here.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I understand what more you would like this retailer to do for you. They were more than happy to provide an exchange at their expense. It is unfortunate that they did not currently have one, but were going to ensure you got an exchange. If you want furniture that is inspected and/or assembled for you, there are many office chairs available in their furniture collection as opposed to the ready to assemble furniture. I would never buy ready to assemble furniture from anyone.

Mollie said...

Hello Anonymous:

From where I sit, the level of happiness C&B is demonstrating in dealing with my problem (while underwhelming) is not so relevant. The point is that they're obligated to provide me with the product I paid for, and so far they have not done that.

Since you are too wise to get yourself into this position as a consumer, perhaps you can apply that wisdom to a thought experiment. What would you do if you ran a company that sold ready-to-assemble furniture (I know, yuck, but bear with me), and you sent a customer the wrong parts? Exchanging the defective one for a (presumably) not-defective one is the absolute minimum; it's what you would have to do. (By the way, I'm glad you're assuming C&B is not going to charge me for the second delivery; I have my fingers crossed that you're right.) Can you think of anything you could do to demonstrate actual regret for your mistake and the delay of service it caused? Assuming you felt that way, or at least wanted the customer to believe you did?