TrencherI went to drop off our rented trencher to the Snohomish Home Depot Tool Rental today. That Home Depot is particularly obsessed with survey ratings. They have signs all over the store about it, they give you a special card when you leave reminding you to fill out the online survey, and the cashiers give you a verbal reminder too. This ratings campaigning seems to pay off, because their store ratings are indeed very high.

This store has more employees in it than other Home Depots I visit. Sometimes not just one greeter, but two. So many workers, in fact, that they often strike me as grossly overstaffed. And the store is usually fairly devoid of customers. I’ve been pleased, the few times I have needed advice from a real plumber or electrician, that they actually employ some there. And most of their staff are very friendly and helpful. Way above average. But other times I’ve been ignored by two or more staff members who are busy yakking amongst themselves- either talking non-work or gossiping to each other about some work drama. And  I’ve still had times in that store where I couldn’t find something, and couldn’t find an employee to help me.

Ratings Plummet With Me Today

With all this energy invested in customer satisfaction, I was surprised and bemused at today’s small drama there. I rented the trencher from one of the regular rental shop employees, Jim. We’ve rented things from him several times. He is a super nice fella. When he gave me the rundown on using the trencher, he mentioned, very briefly, in passing something like, oh yeah, and before you bring it back, run a hose over it to get most of the dirt off. So, I did, I hosed it off pretty well. Other Home Depot employees have told me in the past that they pressure wash everything when it comes back anyway. Certainly everything I’ve rented from there looks like it’s been thoroughly spit-shined. And likely not by the previous customer. So I didn’t put a lot of thought into detailing the thing. I just gave it a good hose-down all over. The best I could do with a garden hose.

Upon returning it, Jim wasn’t there. Another guy was summoned. I pointed out the controls to him as he hunted for each one, trying to figure out how start the engine and how to back the trencher off the trailer. Before I stopped him, he almost backed it off with the wheel differential unlocked, which Jim warned me would cause the thing to dive off the trailer sideways and crash disconcertingly onto its handlebars. In retrospect, maybe I should have let him. Winking smile And, maybe this advice from a girl in a Carhartt and Romeos to a Home Depot Guy was what caused the ensuing scene. I dunno.

The guy grumbled, you left it pretty dirty. While he was ringing me out, he said, I’m charging you a cleaning fee. If you know me, you know I’m pretty polite. I hate an argument. I try to prevent them if at all possible. So I said, gently and with a forlorn look, Really? But Jim told me to just hose it off, he didn’t say it had to be perfectly clean. Are you sure?  He was firm, and offered me the option of going out into their parking lot and cleaning it more myself. This conjured an odd picture in my mind, a customer out there wrestling a pressure washer hose, cleaning the company’s equipment in front of the store like some kind of public shaming. I sighed, weighing my options, well how much is the cleaning fee? Twenty five bucks. Ok, well, I guess I’ll just have to pay it. But you know I’m going to have to give a negative survey rating on this visit. I eyeballed the survey campaign cards on the counter. He was quick to retort, Fine! Go right ahead! in his best indignant third grader voice. I guess not everybody working at the store is that into the thermometer charts and ratings goals. Winking smile

Was it That Bad?

I was still feeling internally puzzled, when he uttered an addenda: because now *I* have to clean it. Oh, so now we get to the root of it: he doesn’t want to do it. But doesn’t he have to wash it anyway? So maybe, at most, this would cost him an extra five minutes if it was dirtier than it might have been? And he’s paid by the hour. And the store is completely overstaffed to where they have a lot of employees standing around doing nothing or just yakking. So I’m still struggling, wondering, did I really leave it that dirty? but I don’t say anything. We’ve rented a trencher at the Depot before, floor sanders many times, carpet cleaners, rototillers, insulation blowers- lots of things. Never once have I had anyone comment on the condition of the things we’ve returned. Nary a cautionary word that I was even pushing the line of the cleanliness threshold. Having worked in a customer service field before, I think if it were me, and noting this customer’s rental and purchase history with the store, I might have said, hey, don’t worry about it this time, but next time, just try to do a little better job, ok? We definitely appreciate your business here. I would have made a joke with a wink, to lighten the tension, you’re off the hook today, haha, a get out of jail free card. But that’s just me.

Then he said, peering at the computer screen, wait, no, the cleaning fee is $100. Hrrmm, well, I’m a nice guy, so I’m not going to charge you that much. I would have gladly charged you $25, but $100 does seem steep. But next time, you’d better bring stuff back clean. I made the mistake of saying, well, in all honestly, next time, I’ll probably go to Ace Rentals (a mile away) because I’ve never had this issue come up with them. And this is where it really went south.

Revenge of the Cashier

Oh really? Well in that case, you are getting the $100 cleaning fee. You can take it up with management. He stopped his computer work, leveled his gaze at me, we were in a standoff. He was going to make me take back what I said, and promise to never go to Ace, or pay $100. I had ask him to call his manager. A $25 cleaning fee I was going to swallow with only internal disappointment and temporary store aversion, but $100 for spite, no way. You’ve just made my blog post today, mister. The manager came quickly, the employee attempted to summarize the story, but I think it didn’t come out of his mouth the way he had intended. It ended up sounding something like she brought the machine back filthy, then she said next time she’s going to Ace, so I am charging her $100, ‘cuz she said, next time she’s going to Ace! The manager was wordless. I led him out to look at the trencher. He did not comment either way- was it too dirty or not? Unclear verdict.

When we came back in, the employee was inexplicably missing. The manager struggled to complete the transaction on the computer, apologizing for his unfamiliarity with that department. I smiled understandingly. The employee turned back up and handed me a charge receipt to sign. Cleaning fee was listed, at $0.00. I signed, they both said thanks, I said thanks, none of the three of us really meaning it, and I dodged outta there, awkwardness thick in the air. Ugh, it’s a tough issue: how dirty is too dirty? Was I out of line? Sloppier than usual? Or am I paying for a rental trencher made for the mud, and the service to do the final detailing, as long as I did the bulk of it? Gray area, totally. And apparently a gamble of $100 if you don’t share the same subjective opinion as the receiving employee.

Where Business Flows

I had meant to do some shopping while I was there, but was flustered and forgot. I finished my shopping at McDaniel’s Do-It Center, where two not-standing-around-yakking employees offered their help, and they called a second cashier instantly when more than one person appeared in line. Now that’s my Snohomish.

And while I’m on the subject, you know what I love best about McDaniels? If I bring a 5 cent part up to the counter, it’s missing it’s bar code, but I tell them it’s 5 cents, they ring it up. At Home Depot, cashiers aren’t authorized to use their judgment, so I usually have to wait an agonizing 10 or 20 minutes for the poor cashier to call pleadingly and repeatedly on the overhead speaker for someone from that department to answer, to try to track down the fact that the tiny part is, indeed, 5 cents, like I said it was. Sometimes I try to bid it up in an effort to end the stall: what if I pay fifty cents? A dollar? No can do. Meanwhile, customers are stacking up behind me in line, giving ME the stinkeye for holding up the show, and everybody is crabby and tense.

This week I’m renting a floor sander. Hmmm, where shall I go for future equipment rentals? Snohomish Home Depot? Ace Rentals? Barnett Implement? Sound Equipment Rental? United Rentals? Brock Rentals? Lowes? All within a 10 minute drive? Choices, choices! Winking smile