Question: While I was in New York recently, I found a one-of-a-kind item for my wife at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) design store.
My wife, who has used a wheelchair since age 9 and is in constant pain, is undergoing a horrific surgery Aug. 11 that will result in a recovery period until early 2011. On a budget, I found a great gift to surprise her when she wake up following surgery in her hospital bed.
MOMA had a figurine from the famed underground San Francisco band The Residents. Better still, it was marked way down to about $14. Having successfully shipped items home from all over the world, I had confidence that a huge entity like MOMA could easily ship a gift item from Manhattan to Miami.
Unfortunately, the clerk was confused and took 15 minutes to do a 2 minute transaction. Alarmed and knowing a marked down item could be a last of its kind, I begged that a supervisor help and that person assisted the poorly-trained clerk with the purchase and shipping.
Before leaving to enter the museum itself, I stressed that this gift was a one-of-a-kind and it had to get safely to Miami so I could give it to my wife at the outset of her long recovery.
That was July 8 and now it’s nearly August. I phoned MOMA July 19 and after the usual long voice-mail process, got a customer service person who said all she could do is refund my money and I was out of luck.
I begged to be transferred to a supervisor and after a very long wait, finally got a person who promised to phone back early on July 20.
That never happened, so late that afternoon, I called again and demanded the top customer service person and got her name.
I explained my story and said that if I bought a figurine from the back of “Slick’s station wagon on Canal Street” I’d expect poor service, but the great MOMA surely could fix my problem even if it meant going on eBay and buying a replacement figurine.
She was polite, but said if the item was out of stock, I was out of luck.
Because this is about my wife — who has endured dozens of surgeries and unspeakable pain and disability in her 45 years on this earth, 22 with me — I went online and quickly found the New York artist who makes the figurines.
He has, in stock, a Residents “Mr. Skull” figurine that is 99 percent like the one I bought at MOMA in good faith. He said the item would cost about $100 including shipping.
I relayed this information to MOMA the next day. Again, the supervisor was polite, but said the MOMA can only buy in bulk from approved suppliers and since the Residents figurines were bought in bulk for a special exhibit, that once they were off the shelves, MOMA was done dealing with them.
I’ve never heard of a consumer giant with a spotless name like MOMA refusing to go the minimal extra step to make up for its own gross incompetency. I hope you agree and can rapidly convince them to do the right thing. — Steve Wright, Miami
Answer: The refund was the easy way out for the MOMA. It should have found a way to replace the figurine you paid for, even if it meant re-ordering it from the supplier. Not because it’s legally obligated to do so, but because it’s the right thing to do, in terms of customer service.
You did the right thing when you asked the manager to get involved in fulfilling your order, and again later, when it a MOMA associate either refused (or more likely was just unable to) to make this right.
Incidentally, the MOMA site is not the best place to go looking for help with customer service. It doesn’t list any managers, or any “customer service” department for that matter.
I guess no one complains about art.
I suggested that you send a brief, polite email to the customer service manager, Angel Rogers. But you had a better idea: You forwarded my email, in which I asked to be copied on your correspondence, to the museum.
MOMA replaced your objet d’art, no questions asked.
(Photo: jspace3/Flickr Creative Commons)