I have a love-hate relationship with buying things from Cooks Illustrated.  I hate the process I have to go through, but my wife what loves comes.

A few years ago I ordered a single cookbook and somehow became automatically subscribed to a monthly program that had cookbooks being sent to our house and charged to our credit card.  If I recall correctly, I had to pay the shipping to return the books in order to get the charges reversed.

On December 17, 2008, I ordered a cookbook and DVD set and purchased the extra three day shipping option to have it arrive BEFORE Christmas.  The cookbook arrived on December 29, 2008, with NO DVD set inside.  According to the tracking information provided by UPS it was delayed because of “adverse weather conditions” which is a whole different matter and not completely true–something that Cooks Illustrated should take up with their vendor–UPS.

I called customer service on January 5, 2009, and got a string of “I don’t have the ability to do that” starting with getting someone to refund the shipping charges.  Finally the person “helping” me said it might be possible, but I would have to talk to a manager.  What a silly threat.  After placing me on hold she came back on the line and said her supervisor had authorized it.

Next I was told that a DVD set had gone out with the cookbook so it was really strange I hadn’t received it. I was assured that a replacement order would be placed immediately.  The kicker came when when I found out it wouldn’t come for 14 days!  I requested that shipping on the DVDs be expedited because of the original failures, but was met with another “I don’t have the ability to do that”.

After another couple of times of “I don’t have the ability to do that” I asked to speak with a manager.

After waiting on hold for 10 minutes a supervisor came on the line and apologized for the delay, explaining that they had been researching the situation and that the DVDs were in fact back ordered and not available at all.  Further more they might not be in until the end of the month (obviously more than the 14 days I was originally told).  Another irony–she assured me that they would expedite the shipping when they came in.

By this point I was really frustrated considering that I had ordered something with the expectation that it would arrive before Christmas when in fact I had only gotten half of the order after Christmas with no hope when the other half might arrive.  Why didn’t the packing slip have a note explaining why it was missing? Why did the website let me order something that wasn’t available and make me pay expedited shipping on it?

Finally I asked if there was anything else they could do to help me feel better about Cooks Illustrated. Next came the standard “there is nothing I can do for you”.  I even suggested throwing in a free cookbook…. something???! “There is nothing I can do for you”.

The perfect response which would have retained me as a customer would have been, “I’m so sorry this happened to you.  You are right that we did not send you what you paid for on time.  As a result I’m crediting your credit card for the entire amount of your order and I hope that you will come back again.”

I’m still waiting.

Update 2009-02-02: Still no DVDs.  I called customer service again and the only record they have of my previous phone call is refunding $7 for shipping (not the complete shipping amount when I compare it to my invoice).  They have no record of submitting an order for the missing DVD set.  After re-explaining the original saga (described above) to the person helping me I was assured a new order was being placed for the DVDs.

Naturally the person helping me failed to mention when I might expect to receive them.  When I asked she said, “Four to six weeks… so sometime in March”.  Next we went through a repeat of the routine above where she couldn’t help me expedite the order, I asked for a supervisor, waited on hold, etc.  She came back on the line to tell me I’d have them in five to seven days.  I’m not holding my breath.

Update 2009-02-12:  No DVDs.  I’m done dealing with customer service.  I called my credit card company and formally disputed the charges.  I’d reported it earlier, but upon calling to confirm I still didn’t have the goods they immediately credited my account and charged it back to Cooks Illustrated.  Approximately two hours later, and I have no idea if it was a coincidence, I received an email from Cooks Illustrated telling me the DVDs had shipped–2 day priority mail.

Update 2009-02-16: Finally received the DVDs and another DVD set–as a good will gesture, or maybe it was an accident?  I’ll never know because as usual there was no communication with order.  Sadly my wife already has the extra set they sent.  Sorry Cooks Illustrated, you still have lousy customer service and I don’t feel any better about your company.

Update 2009-12-01: A heavy package arrives in the mail that feels like a large cook book.  I have no idea what it is, but I’m not going to open it if that means I have to pay the return shipping.  I’ll wait and see if I get a bill for this order I didn’t initiate.

Update 2009-12-17: An invoice arrives with Second Notice on the outside.  I open it and there is a bill for the book I never ordered.  I call customer service to ask why I’m being billed for a book I never ordered.  This is the most knowledgeable person I’ve dealt with in my Cook’s Illustrated customer service saga.  I’m told I was probably automatically (without my knowledge!) subscribed to receive a new book each year because of my previous order.  This is a shady and contrived way to build a customer relationship.  I asked to be completely removed from all of Cook’s Illustrated’s mailing lists so I never receive anything from them ever again.  Hopefully this is my last update.