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There are some customer service fiascos that make you want to bang your head against the wall. When they come to you courtesy of a mom-and-pop Internet business, all you can do is sigh, heave your shoulders and say “Well, that’s my fault for going with amateurs.” When the debacle is brought to you courtesy of a national chain, it really makes you wonder how the business has managed to keep its doors open and who is running the company’s customer service. Witness the following scenario.

Tuesday, April 1st: Upon realizing that my increasingly mobile young child required a play yard for the purpose of her safety, our sanity and the continued mental health of our family cats, I began investigating options. I found one we liked...the largest available, the Graco Pack ‘n Play in Bugs Quilt Totblock. I checked both Walmart.com and Toysrus.com for the item. Neither had the play yard in stock at my local stores, so I was obliged to order it online. I chose Toysrus.com and received an e-mail confirming my order and informing me the item was in stock.

Tuesday, April 8th: It was at this point, a reasonable week after placing the order, that I began anticipating the arrival of my play yard. To no avail.

Thursday, April 10th: Realizing that my credit card number hadn’t been charged yet, an indication that the company had not even begun processing the order, I called the Toys “R” Us customer service number, which has some fine and expensive speech recognition software at the front end (please keep this fact in mind for purposes I will outline later). The agent informed me that for standard ground delivery, it could take up to 10 business days for the item to arrive, so we were still technically within our window. I asked her if the item had shipped yet (since that 7- to 10-day window is supposed to be the total time it takes for me to actually get the item, according to the Toys “R” Us Web site. She admitted it had not, but she was sure it would be shipping shortly.

Tuesday, April 15th: Upon realizing that my credit card still had not been charged, my child still had no play yard to contain her extreme exuberance and speedy enthusiasm for putting herself into precarious situations, my spouse and I were exhausted from trailing her path of danger and destruction through the house, and my cats were packing their small bags to leave the premises for good, I called the “helpful” Toys “R” Us customer service line again. I routed myself obediently through their IVR system using their oh-so-fine speech recognition solution. Part of this process included speaking my 10-digit order number, which the system accepted. Informed by the automated system that my order was “processing” (presumably in the same manner and at the same rate that erosion in the Grand Canyon is “processing”), I spoke the words “representative” to get a human on the line. (I had learned, during my last encounter, that speaking the word “agent” got a caller put into a hellacious and circuitous IVR loop of despair.)

I explained to the representative (don’t call her an agent!) that I wanted to know if the company planned to fill my order and when would it be convenient for them to do so? She asked me what my order number was. I said, “You mean, the 10-digit order number I just spoke to your oh-so-fine speech recognition solution? That number?” She agreed that was the number. “You don’t have it?” I asked incredulously. “It didn’t screen pop to you with my call?”

“No,” she said, patiently waiting for me to speak my number. Again.
There you go. That’s technological wisdom. Buy a speech recognition solution just for front-end decoration. It’s like buying a

Faberge egg because you need a paperweight for your desk.
I gave her my customer number. She looked up my order and agreed that it hadn’t shipped. She wasn’t sure why, though. “I could put in a request to the warehouse. But you’ll have to call back to find out why it hasn’t shipped.”

“Wait,” I said, not really believing what I was hearing. “I have to call YOU back to find out why you don’t appear to want to sell me something? Can’t someone call me back?”

“No,” she said. “What will happen is that an e-mail response will be send into your account. It may take up to 24 hours,” she added.
“Of course it will,” I said. “Do you mean that I will receive an e-mail informing me of the situation?”

“No,” she said. “It will be sent internally to your account. That’s why you have to call back to find out what the issue is. We’ll have to do the same thing if you want to cancel your order.”

Apparently, the phones at the Toys “R” Us call center operate on an inbound basis only. Some extra technological frugality to save money, perhaps?

“I don’t want to cancel my order,” I said. “I just want my order.”
The representative offered some helpful wisdom that perhaps it had something to do with the airlines cancelling flights. Because, apparently, Toys “R” Us ships its merchandise coach on passenger jets. I wonder if the merchandise is offered a small packet of peanuts and a free soft drink in a plastic cup?

So here we are. Three weeks later: no play yard. No contact from the company. No explanation. No ability to either discover what the problem is or cancel without contacting the mysterious “warehouse.” (Warehouses, of course, cannot be linked to the call center’s CRM system because…well, we’re not sure why. Just because.)

But in the meantime, I must dash. My child is delighted that the crunchy kernels she just dug out of the cat’s food bowl while I had my eyes averted for nine seconds are the shape and texture of Cheerios, which she adores.
Gee…I wish I had a play yard.

The author may be contacted at [email protected].

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