A couple of days ago, my laptop decided (all on its own) to jump off my desk.
Lucky for me, it survived almost completely undamaged except for a broken latch, which seemed easy enough to fix.
So I decided to order the replacement part and fix it myself.
Since I didn’t know exactly what part I needed to order, I started by calling the vendor’s Technical Service number. I described the problem and asked if the rep could tell me what part I needed, whether it was available, and how much it cost.
Instead, he said, I should call a separate Parts and Services number.
Fair enough. I called Parts and Services and asked the rep if she could give me the information I needed.
Not without a part number anyway. And for that, she said, I’d need to talk to the Technical Service people.
So I called the Technical Service department again and asked if they could find the right part number.
My laptop was no longer under warranty, you see, so they weren’t allowed to look up the number for me. But Parts and Services might be able to help.
I took a deep breath, called Parts and Services again, and asked if there was anyone on earth who could give me the ID number for the part I needed so that I could actually buy the part.
From the vendor.
The rep had no idea, but recommended that I call a local reseller.
I put down the phone and retreated to my happy place for a while.
Later, after a few wrong numbers, I got in touch with a local reseller, and things turned around almost instantly.
The company’s delightful rep told me that although they don’t sell replacement parts, she’d see what she could do. She asked me a few questions, consulted a technician, identified the part I needed, and gave me the part number.
So to recap:
There’s a lesson here for companies that are looking to upgrade their customer support systems. The difference between customer support that makes you smile and customer support that just makes you grit your teeth has almost nothing to do with software and almost everything to do with attitude.
Systems that help you open, escalate, and resolve issues quickly; track customer interactions; and measure satisfaction only really pay off if you’re serious about helping your customers in the first place.
The vendor in this story is a well-known multinational, and almost certainly has extensive and sophisticated systems for handling customer support issues.
Sadly those systems are supporting policies and processes that put the company’s interests first, not the customer’s. Which is why they wouldn’t look up a part number, or even tell me where to find one—unless I had a machine under warranty!
Compare that to the reseller—a much smaller national company with six or so regional offices. I doubt their systems are anywhere near as sophisticated as the vendor’s. I doubt that a record of my phone call even exists. But the person who answered the phone went out of her way to help me even though I am not a customer and there was nothing in it for the company.
Who would you rather do business with?
The answer to the final question is obvious, be that as it may, all the hype that has developed over customer satisfaction issues and all the aspects related to the customer-vendor relationship have been I think “overthinked” somes times less is more and the term “back to basics” rings a bell. Don’t let us be swamped by the hype.
It’s unfortunate that the multinational has prioritizes its interests over customer needs - in this case, attending to the problem stated here would cost them time and money, and so the safer route was to absolve all liability because the warranty had expired.
It is quite obvious that I do business with the reseller. I believe that big companies should look at reorientating their staff on customer relationship. I think that they have missed it. Technology helps but human factor matters a lot. Thanks.
Whether you are building the fortunes of your profession or building your company Fortune the back end guarantee of your success is an excellent customer care support orientation.
It’s actually a bit of both a software problem and a business culture problem. Both need to change if companies wish to transform their customer service.
In you example above the vendor has multiple poorly integrated business applications. This is a software problem. Have you ever called a call centre and got the response “the computer is running slow today”? This in reality is an agent struggling to get your information from multiple poorly integrated applications.
The second problem is cultural. Your reseller was empowered to sort your problem out for you on the spot while the vendor’s staff were not given this responsibility.
You can read more of my thoughts on this here:
Was your LapTop manufactured by Acer with on site call out guanrantee, by any chance?
2 calls to Service because of Blue Screen errors (What ever that might be. To me I could not start up) I eventually was told software corrupted and must restore to factory defaults. Yes Sir - You are the expert.
1 day later, factory defaults restored, back-up data restored, e-Mails retored, Pastel restored (gold star help from Pastel)
Now to find no 3G function. Another 3 calls (2 dropped in the middle, including hurry up and wait while the “lady” chats with her mate)
Wow! at last — a promise of a technicians to visit on Monday. We now wait to see what will happen…….
The domino effect - try and provide Service to my customers……..
Moral of the story — Ignore all the “save the environment hype” and revert to the old way Record it all on paper so that you have the records and can provide Service to your customers.
I feel customer satisfaction includes all aspects of product, sales, service after sales irrespective of warranty. In many cases, people in the organization never realizes that they dont remember what they produce, what they offer and in total how it is rendering profitability. Major reason for this is lack of commitment. Inorder to eliminate such experiences, companies, perhaps, include part and part identifcation numbers with simple specification details in the user manual. Usually user manual contain lot of information about the product and HOW TO sort of thing, which majority of the customers know about.
Thanks for your comments, folks. Responses below:
@hector: Agreed, as long as basics include a genuine desire to help customers.
@Microsourcing: Quite the opposite. In this case, it would have cost the vendor an additional two minutes on the phone and I would’ve ordered the part on the spot. The vendor would have made (a very small amount of) money. And because the machine is out of warranty, there was zero liability.
@Dillion: True. As hector pointed out, it’s possible to overthink customer support issues, but plenty of companies seem to be underthinking them.
@Abraham: If you’re talking about a customer-focused attitude, I absolutely agree. If you’re talking about better systems, I don’t think they’ll help you much until you get the attitude thing sorted out.
@Peter Whibley: I agree (and will check out your links). My point is that without fixing the cultural issue,improved systems aren’t worth much. Anecdotally, vendors who can call up my information quickly but aren’t interested in helping me are only really efficient at generating dissatisfaction. I remain unhelped and struggling to find better vendors.
@Walt: Not Acer, but I’ve heard stories. Hope you get things sorted out. In the meantime,you know the drill: try to get as much information as possible whenever you make a service call. Write down dates, times, names, and details of any promises made. Ask the vendor to send you a confirmation of their commitments by email.
@A K DAMODARAM: You’re right, good customer support should be an organization-wide objective. Unfortunately, few organizations really get that. As to your point about documentation, I checked. The service manual lists replacement parts for my laptop in numbered groups. Part numbers for each group are listed. The part I needed was unhelpfully labelled with the letter “C” and its part number appears nowhere. I pointed this out to everyone I called. Only the reseller admitted that she had better documentation than I was likely to find.
While not a direct response to your experience,
“Bad Customer Support Is Not a Software Problem” is an outstanding slogan.
You will need to trademark that one.
Thanks, John. I was already considering T-shirts, so a trademark only makes sense :)
I suffered the same bad experience with a vendor and its electronic gadgets reseller… my complaints never were attended so I never went back to buy there… :(
Hey! They want to sell new computers! No to fix old ones. If they were interested in selling the parts they would have included in the computer package a list of parts numbers? Or, maybe that would be to complicated, too many parts.
@Luis: It happens all the time. I’ve started to thinks that some companies have just done the math and decided it’s less expensive to drive some people away than it is to actually provide decent support.
@M Eduarda: In fact the vendor in this story does sell replacement parts, including the one I needed. The problem was that the number for the part was not in the manual, and the support department was forbidden to give it to me. I had no intention of buying a new machine, so there was never a chance for the vendor to make that sale. But after taking my call, which costs them money, they lost the chance to recoup that loss by selling me a part.
Actually, the answer to the question “Who would you rather do business with?” is not that obvious.
What if the company with bad customer service offers you a discount on a product you need badly? Or if they offer services that the other company doesn’t?
Not to mention when you’re a corporate customer - i’m pretty sure you’ll choose to work with the larger company, despite its disadvantages. And that is because decision makers in your company may see the financial advantages as being more important than the frustration bad customer service may cause to its employees.
In conclusion, when choosing a company to do business with, you usually have to compromise. I see lots of surveys showing that people are ready to pay more for better customer service, but there are no stats on how many actually did it.
@Gabriel: if you badly need the discount too, then you have a choice to make. If you don’t, you might think about how much bad customer service can cost you in time, money, and morale before committing to a vendor.
If you are a corporate customer, vendors may well offer you a better quality of support if your account is valuable enough. Lucky you. On the other hand, one of the reasons to choose a VAR over a vendor might be that part of their “value-add” is better support.
If you Google around for customer support survey results, you will in fact find that some surveys ask respondents whether they have switched providers because of bad customer service (hint: they have).
This is harder to do in a B2B context than a B2C context because corporate lock-in is orders of magnitude bigger and more complicated than consumer lock-in. But it doesn’t make good service any less important for B2B, which is heavily relationship-based.
There’s no question that compromise is par for the course. But the company you’d *rather* do business with is probably going to be the one that can deliver the goods *and* provide good service. But if they don’t want to provide good service in the first place, software isn’t going to help the situation any, which was my point.
We are similar in our approach to the reseller in this story. But makes me wonder, is that the reason why we have remained small and not grown like the multinational company in this story with their policies and philosophies of doing business? At the end which business model is better?
Jamal Rohal’s article is inexplicably typical. For your next experience try the Hewlett Packard Service Centre in Moscow which is split over three locations, which are miles apart,according to the Model Numbers. Getting anything fixed takes weeks.Most of us resort to the “Gabushka Market” a model of free enterprise with multiple providers selling everything at low prices.
@Jamal I agree that software doesn’t solve customer service issues, even though it does help. I honestly don’t think that there are companies that do not want to provide good customer service. There are either some unmotivated employees who don’t care, or a manager that decides that customer service is not that important, but most companies are trying to provide good customer service. The problem is that they are failing at it.
Why that happens is a great topic for future posts :) But of of curiosity: why do people think it happens? Do your readers also think that companies don’t care? Or, if they ever worked in customer service, what was their approach to better serve customers?
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