Rethinking Customer Service at Home Depot and Lowes

Home Depot and Lowes do a great job in pulling together thousands of items, supplies and tools needed to do home improvement projects. Where they fall down is that they don't teach people how to do things. This is especially bad news right now since most people have scaled back their large purchases and are focusing on simple repairs.

In recent articles we complained about poor customer service and recommended things that Home Depot and Lowes can do to make things better. While we still think our original suggestions are valid, we believe that it's time to take a deep breath and examine what our responsibilities are and what would really benefit us.

Shopping at the Home DepotWhy we shop Big Home Improvement Stores

While many of us are upset with Home Depot and Lowes, we continue to shop at the them because they:

1) Generally have cheaper prices
2) Conveniently located
3) Have a huge inventory of materials, tools and supplies
4) Can deliver materials to a job site

Both stores promise to help us complete projects, but this varies greatly. A recent New York Times article August 20, 2008 entitled "Home Repairs Become Focus as Consumers Feel Pinched" made me rethink what Home Depot and Lowes provide and what they could be doing better.

Lets Build Something Today and You can do it, we can help
These two slogans give eternal hope to many people who want to do home remodeling and simple home repair. Then reality steps in the moment we enter a Home Depot or Lowes.

What Home Depot and Lowes don't promise is that you will find a master carpenter, licensed plumbers, electricians and HVAC trades people at their stores to help you with your projects. The reason is simple, these qualified folks can make much more money plying their trades then working in a big home improvement store.

There may be exceptions to the rule like at the Millwork Desk where you can order doors and windows. It still depends on the knowledge and experience of the employee and the training provided. When it comes to ordering a new exterior door, Home Depot and Lowes will insist on sending someone out to measure your door entrance so that they order the right size. That's because they know that most customers don't know how to take a proper measurement.

To keep prices low, all of the large home improvement stores have to cut costs somewhere and it's generally in staff quality. Sure, Home Depot and Lowes employees may have their own departments, but what does that really mean and how does it benefit you and me? Perhaps they are responsible for keeping items stocked, knowing where something is, getting something for us, etc. It certainly doesn't mean they know how to use every single item or can assist you with a complex project. And besides,there are just too many distractions to provide that kind of service like other customers that need help.

Realigning Our Expectations
Everyone wants to pay the lowest price these days. Many people also expect Home Depot and Lowes will provide instructions and expertise to each of us at no additional cost to make our home remodeling and home improvement projects go well. I'm sorry, but I think that's a totally unrealistic expectation. If Lowes and Home Depot raised their prices and hired former carpenters, plumbers and other trades people and paid them a competitive wage then we might expect that to happen. But in reality we want "full service" and still want to pay the lowest prices possible.

I believe that when we do go shopping at Lowes and Home Depot for materials, supplies and tools to support our projects, we have to either know what we are doing, hire someone who does or at least have to research the topic on the Internet, buy a book or check one out from the local library.

Show us how to do it or use the product

Woman using nail gun on deckAnyone who has visited a Costco or Whole Foods Store knows that both companies provide samples of food and other products. They also tell customers how to use the products. Home Depot and Lowes need to start educating customers and being there for them.

If customers are focusing on home repair these days, than Home Depot and Lowes should be doing more home improvement clinics. Many customers are deadly afraid to attempt simple home repairs , but poor economic times forcing them to take on these projects.

Lowes and the Home Depot can help and gain the loyalty of many customers. As the New York Times article points out, Home Depot and Lowes know what's selling so it's easy to develop a plan to support sales for those items. For example, if we are buying more sink faucets, replacing our toilets or doing more painting, then by all means, Home Depot and Lowes can offer more in-store clinics to show first time customers how to replace their faucets and toilets and how to paint.

The home improvement clinics would make more customers confident, especially if they are women or have never attempted a particular project. Home Depot and Lowes can also do several things along with their clinics to overcome any reluctance:

1) Provide their audience with a printed list of tools and materials needed to do the project along with the aisles where the stuff is located, or

2) Assemble packages that contain everything needed to do the project and price them at a discount if they are bought as part of the clinic.

Doing the above would reinforce in customer's mind that Home Depot and Lowes really do want to help them. It will also save the customer time and in turn should increase sales.

Disclosure: We are not affiliated with any of the above stores and receive no funding from them. Nor have they asked us to write this article.