Why Customer Service Matters More Than an Online Discount

young depressed couple in bed   ...
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By Susan Yoo-Lee

We all love to save a few bucks, but how should we prioritize when shopping online to get the best experience? After encountering customer service several times during this holiday shopping season, I've come to the conclusion that customer service should be on the top of your list.

After prices, shipping, coupons and taxes, most items from varying competitors will come out to be roughly the same price. Of course, there are a few exceptions from time to time. So sweating a few bucks here and there shouldn't be your deciding factor.

Customer service, on the other hand, can be the key to a good or bad shopping experience. I've gone through a handful of excellent to horrible experiences and everything in between just in this past month. As a result, I've learned that price isn't king and customer service is.

Sleepless Nights

One example stood out. At the end of November, I purchased a bed online, with a 25 percent discount, from a big national brand. It was listed as "ready to ship" and the retailer said it would be delivered within a week. I didn't receive the bed until three weeks later. During that time, I was in constant contact with customer service because we had five guests arriving for the holidays and I wanted to make sure they would have a place to sleep.

The weekend before Christmas, they gave me a window when the delivery guys would show up. Surprisingly, they actually arrived early. I sat in my bedroom watching the guys set up the bed and after a click here and a screw there, it was almost done. They only had to place the slats on the frame and I could taste the finished the product.

Well, the slats ended up being too short for the king size bed. One of the delivery men mentioned he thought it had looked kind of short when he picked it up from the warehouse. With the bed in disarray in my bedroom, the delivery men confirmed with his supervisor that the store would have to arrange to deliver the correct slats the following day.

Silence About the Slats

When I called to follow up, customer service had no update for me and the slat delivery plans were in limbo and certainly not happening in the next day or two. Meanwhile, my husband and I had to sleep on the hardwood floors because we didn't have space to put down our king-size mattress with the half-constructed new bed in the room. I grew more and more anxious because it was almost Christmas and on top of it, my husband and I were not getting the best sleep possible.

I called the customer service team, went on social media to vent, and I felt like I was out there alone, swimming in a large ocean with no view of land. Even though another customer had expressed the same problem of getting the wrong slats, I still felt like no one would help me and all I would get is the suggestion to contact the customer service team over email.

Christmas went by and a few days after, the delivery team called saying it would pick up the half-delivered bed so that my husband and I could at least sleep on a mattress. They would redeliver the bed when the slats came. But they wouldn't be able to come for another week, which meant another week of sleeping on the floor.

Time for a Refund

After going back and forth with four customer service representatives, I finally asked when the slats would get to the warehouse and they said in about three weeks. That made the total delivery time around six weeks. The bed was not "ready to be shipped" as it had been listed. At this point, my patience had run out, so I asked the company for a refund. I finally got it. For the entire holiday season, my husband and I had to sleep on the hardwood floor, which is not an experience I recommend to anyone.

As a customer, I shouldn't have had to call customer service over 25 or so times to get answers. On top of that, if they say they'll call you, they should. I never got a call back. After this experience, I realized how important customer service is and it's now on the top of my priority list when shopping.

Had they had good customer service to guide me through the ordeal, I would have been patient and willing to give them another chance. But being bounced from department to department with everyone giving me different answers and solutions, I lost trust in the retailer's ability to deliver.

Retailers need to know that while offering low prices is important, it's essential to offer high-quality customer service. Next time you shop, check out the customer service reviews online (especially Facebook (FB) or a site like yelp.com) and it will help you avoid having an experience like mine.