TRAVEL with pat and lew

* IKEA’s idea of customer service

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

Our IKEA delivery arrives on schedule in mid June. The miscellaneous items are all there, just as purchased in January.

The sofa and ottoman, however, are not correct.

The 3-seat sofa comes with 2-seat covers, and without feet, so we’re practically sitting on the floor, on uncovered pillows with lots of feather quills coming through.

I call IKEA, and after bouncing around from one person to another for 30 minutes, I finally get an English-speaking customer service representative. He promises a call back in 24-48 hours with a ‘prompt resolution’ of the problems.

IKEA doesn’t call back, beginning a long string of broken promises. I call them. They promise to deliver the corrected items within two weeks.

In three weeks, having had no delivery and no call from IKEA, I call them again. The replacement order has not even been placed. We are again promised delivery, this time in another week.

I wonder if anyone at IKEA is embarrassed by this performance. Nobody seems to care. Nobody apologizes.

There is again no delivery when promised. No one calls. And it’s impossible to call them. In a scenario that would be funny if it wasn’t so frustrating, I repeatedly call the English-speaking service line.

A voice message, in English, instructs me to press ‘1’ to continue in English.

I press ‘1,’ and get a stream of rapid French.

The days stretch on and IKEA’s promises remain an unreachable illusion. We’re increasingly concerned about delivering a finished apartment for our
upcoming home exchange. Carmel is due to arrive on July 25th.

We ask our neighbor Brigitte for help, hoping that she can get some useful information in French that we are unable to get in English. Brigitte works through the voice messages and reaches a live person, and it sounds like she’s really giving a piece of her mind to that person. The net result, however, is no substantive information and another promise to call back within one hour. Once again, there’s no return call.

We wonder if this is an IKEA problem or a French problem. Am I being unreasonably impatient? There are many who have written about the bureaucratic mindset in France, and the absence of any real sense of customer service.

It seems to me there’s no system or institutional process designed to make customers happy. It’s simply not a priority.

We travel for two weeks and try to forget our strange sofa. When we return, I re-enter the fray with IKEA with another series of fruitless calls to the English-speaking line.

Same automated response, same flood of French. Does anyone at IKEA realize how idiotic that system is?

Suddenly, in the midst of one more frustrating call, an actual person comes on the line, speaking English. I’m so excited I almost drop the phone.

I try to concentrate on solving the problem instead of venting my frustrations. She listens and tells me her colleague will call back in a few minutes.

“Do not hang up this phone,” I order in my most authoritative voice. “No one at IKEA ever calls back.”

By some miracle, she does not hang up, but instead transfers me to another English-speaking person. I think it might have been her boss. He listens to my tale of woe and tells me someone from the Montpellier store will call back in ten minutes. I ask him to please stay on the line, but he explains he gets off work in ten minutes. He promises I’ll get a call and hangs up.

He must have been a higher level boss, because someone from Montpellier actually calls. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the order for the missing furniture has still not been placed.

“And nobody had the courtesy to contact me to tell me that? You don’t care at all, do you?”

The woman is patient with me. “I’m trying to solve your problem. I cannot comment on whatever my colleagues did or did not do.”

I must have finally gotten through to someone, because IKEA is now on a roll. They send an email that uses previously unspoken words – sorry, apologize, inconvenience – and promises a delivery the following week. Another unsolicited email says the delivery company will call us to set a day of delivery.

The delivery company doesn’t call, so I call them. They have no merchandise for me. How could IKEA have told me that the delivery company would call me, when they have nothing to deliver? Do they just make it up?

Are you tired of reading about IKEA? Imagine how I felt, living with it.

I’m calling IKEA again, but now, after entering ‘1’ for English, they disconnect the line. Seven times so far. Eight. They’re too busy to answer the customer service line. Too busy doing what? Surely not providing customer service. Call # 12 is answered. Same nonsense.

“I will call Montpellier and they will call you by 2:00 pm.”

“But they don’t ever call.”

“They will call.”

“Can I call the Montpellier store directly?”

“No. This is not possible.”

So, the only place you can call doesn’t have the information, and the only place that has the information you can’t call. Who’s on first?

This is not a pleasant way to spend your day. It’s time to go to the beach and read a good book. But first, I must wait until 2:00 pm. And then?

Stephanie from IKEA’s Montpellier store calls at 2:15 pm. She knows nothing about what has been going on, but she says she’ll find out and call me back. Something in the tone of her voice makes me believe her.

She calls back in 10 minutes, having just spoken to the delivery company. She actually called them, instead of telling me to call them. She says they do have the merchandise, and she’s done the very un-French thing of taking the initiative to schedule a delivery for the following Tuesday between noon and 4:00 pm. I don’t have to call anyone.

Even more remarkably, Stephanie adds that when this matter is all cleared up, IKEA will provide ‘compensation’ to us for our trouble. She gives me her email address so I can contact her directly if there is a further need.

I tell her she is the only sign of intelligent life I have found at IKEA customer service and I wish I had met her a month ago. She laughs, and again says she is sorry.

Au revoir. Bonne journee.

On Tuesday, everything arrives exactly as scheduled – the sofa, all the covers, the legs. We put everything together and it looks great! How comfortable to sit at a normal height without being poked by feathers. IKEA has beaten Carmel to Collioure by seven days.

Several months later, back in Key West, we receive a voucher for 75 euros to be spent at the Montpellier store.

So what did we learn?

It’s our experience that customer service in France is a mystical concept, even if, like Brigitte and Rose, you speak French. It’s not that the personnel are unfriendly, or even that they don’t want to be helpful. The system, however, is stacked against results. Stephanie is the only exception to this rule that we’ve found. Her action in initiating a call to the delivery service and scheduling the delivery, so normal in the U.S., stands out dramatically in France.

Maybe things will change, but I wouldn’t bet on it. We love living in France, and this incident with IKEA will certainly not change that. But I could never work in France. It would drive me nuts.

In a broader context, I wonder how, if this mind set continues, France will ever compete successfully within the European Community. 


7 Responses to “* IKEA’s idea of customer service”

  1. Steve of Spain said

    Hi Guys,
    A great read and with much in common here in Spain! Originally from the UK and with enough Spanish to convese with every Spanish person I have ever met but for one exception…those employed by IKEA Murcia.

    No boring you with lots of detail about my ongoing tale of woe but after spending quite a bit of hard earned money in their store I am amazed at total lack of response, zero care, and the badly designed wardrobes I live with on a daily basis. I simply appear to be waiting for the day when yet another of the considerably weighty doors decide to part company with the frame once again, hits me on the head and puts an end to my misery…although knowing my luck the concussion will merely be temporary and I wil have to continue the good fight.

    Frustrated, hmmm you bet!

  2. Rohan said

    Hey Lew!

    Wow, I just read your entry on IKEA! I would have never thought that IKEA would be a source of woe with customer service. Over here in Toronto, there are a whole lot of other companies that I could write on and on about however the only complaint I have about the ikea stores is their maze like appearance which makes it impossible to leave without the use of a map or an employee…! It’s good to hear that they ACTUALLY compensated you (we NEVER got it from other companies)! Hope you enjoy the furniture! (It must make an interesting conversation piece).

  3. MAGGI

    Speaking French will make a huge difference for you. Our problems arose after they made a mistake. If they don’t make a mistake, no problem.

    Which IKEA? If Montpellier, ask for Stephanie in customer service. She’s terrific.

    If another IKEA, my advice is to make personal contact with someone in customer service, including a direct phone line and email, before leaving the store.


  4. maggi Brown said

    This is interesting as we’re just about to start furnishing in France. We’ve used IKEA in the UK with absolutely no problem at all for years. We’ve only had one delivery – true – but that arrived as promised, with no hitch. All our IKEA experience has been excellent. Now I’m quaking at the thought of trying to get a whole kitchen delivered! I do speak French fluently, but that may not be the key. Watch this space.

    Actually, service in the stores – we’ve been in IKEA stores in Elizabeth, NJ, Montpellier, France and Budapest – has generally been friendly and helpful, even when we don’t speak the language. It’s the backup systems that seem to be so awful, especially service after the sale. They did give me a 75 euro store credit for my troubles, and we’re going back to Montpellier next week to spend it. I’ll let you know if there are any more adventures.

  6. Jennifer said

    IKEA customer service is no better in the UK… if it’s any consolation. In fact, it’s so bad that I’ve decided never to step foot in any IKEA shop anywhere in the world again. It’s just not worth it.

  7. dzub said

    Why not making all Ikea emails that you have public on this blog?
    It will help others 🙂

    BTW, when it comes to IKEA, do NOT have anything delivered. They are just not capable of it.

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