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The Good and Bad Faces of Customer Service

June 22, 2000
Related Topics: Behavioral Training, Service, Featured Article
As much as I dislike having to say this, it appears to me that good customer service is extremely rare. Often what is called customer service is actually more accurately described as "screw-up repair."

It is frightening when taken in the aggregate, the number of misfilled orders, broken equipment, incorrect or just plain wrong information a customer or client receives in simple day-to-day living. The picture is not all bad, but the few glimmers of light are few and far between. Consider two of my recent experiences.

The Bad

I once purchased a new Macintosh Performa 6400 computer. I have had constant problems from the beginning. Soon after installation, I began to experience frequent crashes and freezes, sudden document corruptions, unreliable keyboard commands and printing difficulties, to name a few.

On an average of every six weeks, the computer broke down. We initially believed that the problems were software related, but no matter what we did, they recurred. Each breakdown caused work disruption, delays and frustration. Attempting to solve the problem was expensive, whether that meant taking equipment in for repair or having repairs done on-site.

Finally, in July, I tried to return the computer to the store from which I purchased it. They suggested that I contact Apple directly since it was under a one year warranty. In August, I called the Apple hotline and spoke to a technician who refused to acknowledge the history of the problem and would not help me unless I agreed to repeat the exact same, time consuming and costly software reinstallation and debugging.

By this time it was very clear to all the repair people that had seen the computer, that it was a hardware not a software problem. My request to have an Apple technician sent to make a final determination was denied.

For the next two months, problems continued and I wrote my first complaint letter to Apple in November. I explained the history of the problem, requested a technician be dispatched and a refund issued for the futile repairs. I never received a response. One month later, in December, I wrote again and heard nothing.

I finally tracked down a real, live person in "customer care" who also refused to send a technician, referring me back to technical support. The tech support person required that I go through the exact same software reinstallation that is so costly in time and money.

Once again we reinstalled the software, the problems continued and finally a technician was sent to my office. He determined that I was having hardware problems and replaced the logic board and the hard drive of my computer. Six days short of the end of my one year warranty, I finally had a working piece of equipment. We have still not resolved the reimbursement issue.

The Good

I have a great postal carrier who delivers to our office in downtown Oakland. Our letter carrier is incredibly attentive to his work.

It always arrives by 11:00 a.m., he remembers the names of my staff and any special instructions he is given. I get only the mail for my suite, unlike on those days when he is off and I get mail for other buildings. One incident comes to mind, which illustrates outstanding customer service.

A couple of months ago, I received a panicked phone call from my travel agent. She had mistakenly mailed two tickets to my address that actually belonged to two other people. She needed them returned promptly.

When I explained the situation, he took the tickets back with him. Once back at his station, he sealed and re-addressed the envelopes and placed them in the correct outgoing bin so that the travel agent would have them the next day. He then checked back with me to be sure that the tickets had arrived safely. They had. When I expressed my appreciation, he did not feel that he had done anything unusual or extraordinary. It was simply his job.

Great customer service experiences revive my hopes, but they seem ever more rare. Tell me your customer service experiences. I will be happy to share them in a future column.


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