by Kevin Coupe

In Maine, the Press Herald has fascinating story about customer service that could serve as a metaphor for how so many companies act.

Here’s the set-up:

“Back on Feb. 22, Doug MacDonald heard a knock on his front door in Scarborough’s Higgins Beach neighborhood, where he rented over the winter while his home underwent renovations. There stood two delivery guys, ready and eager to deliver and install a new washer and dryer fresh from Home Depot’s store in South Portland.”

MacDonald didn’t know anything about the delivery, but the order listed the name of “O’Connor,” which was the name of the person who owned the home. So he lets the guys in. They installed the new appliances and took away the old ones.

Hours later, the story says, “MacDonald’s phone rang. It was the property manager, who had just heard from Home Depot: It turned out the delivery should have gone to the home next door, whose unrelated owner also happens to be named O’Connor. Understandably, Home Depot wanted its new appliances back.”

So they came and took them back … but didn’t return the old ones. Which apparently were gone, never to be found or heard from again.

“For the better part of a month, not wanting to bother his landlord with such a mindless matter, MacDonald tried to resolve the screw-up on his own.

“The best he could get out of Home Depot was an offer to replace the washer and dryer for half price. The appliance department manager’s rationale: By accepting the delivery, he was at least partially responsible for what happened.”

Finally, frustrated by the situation (and not being able to wash and dry his clothes), MacDonald finally went to the Kevin O’Connor, who owned the rental, who got aggressive with Home Depot, at various points enlisting the help of the consumer reporter at the Boston Globe and an attorney. When that didn’t seem to work, the lawyer, Ken Pierce, decided that maybe a little competitive pressure would work - and so they went to a local independent appliance dealer, Central Furniture and Appliance owned and operated by brothers Mark and Matt Rouillard and founded by their grandfather.

“Mark Rouillard,” the story says, “is not one to badmouth the competition, or anyone else for that matter. Yet when Pierce told him the story of the vanishing washer and dryer, Rouillard was astounded at how something so easy could become so difficult … Rouillard, upon hearing what had happened, didn’t bat an eye … we’ll give him a new washer and dryer, install it and throw in our service plan, he told Pierce. No charge.”

Subsequently, battered around by the local press and threatened with a lawsuit, Home Depot agreed to write a check for $5,000.

That’s right. $5,000.

(I can understand why the folks at Home Depot resisted taking responsibility and writing that check. After all, the company’s annual revenue is only about $108 billion.)

At Pierce’s insistence, there is no confidentiality clause in the agreement. “When the $5,000 check arrives, Pierce will distribute it among all of those affected by the debacle. Meaning Central Appliance and Furniture will get paid, after all.”

As for Mark and Matt Rouillard, they are going to use their money down the road to help someone else who needs it. Because, as the story makes clear, that’s the kind of company their grandfather created. (These days we’d go on about “company culture,” because this kind of attitude seems out of step with the ‘I-got-mine’ ethos of the moment.)

But beyond the simple decency that this independent retailer showed, I think it is important to point out that Mark Rouillard said it best … that Home Depot “had multiple opportunities to do the right thing. And at every turn, they chose the opposite.”

How many companies are like that? How many companies have employees who are not empowered to do the right thing, even when it is easy to see what the right thing is? There were so many moments when someone at Home Depot could’ve said, “Stop. This isn’t good for our company, for our brand, or for our customers.”

Nobody said it. The leadership at Home Depot need to ask themselves why, and what that says about their workplace and, yes, company culture.

The check may be for $5,000, but the reputational damage is far worse.

And, of course, this story prompts me to ask the Eye-Opening question:

Could this happen in your company?

(Thanks to MNB reader Thomas Gordon for sharing this story with me.)