Adventures in Customer Service
We often use the phrase “customer service” ironically, drawing attention to the lack of service provided and a dwindling view of the customer. But, sometimes, customer service works exactly as it should, if not better. And when it does, it deserves recognition. Here are some recent stories in which various customer service departments impressed me with their care and effectiveness. At the end, I will also share some theories on why I think I’ve received such quality care… and, no, they do not involve companies being wowed by my handsomeness or general awesomeness and falling over themselves to please me.
1.) Sometime last year, I don’t remember when, we bought a new vacuum cleaner. It was a pretty expensive one, in the $200-300 range. It has all sorts of fancy features that served our purposes and came with a free steam mop, an invaluable tool for anyone with lots of hardwood or tile floors and pets or children running over them. About a month ago, the hose tore. And while I was able to work out a makeshift solution with electrical tape, I knew it wouldn’t last. I couldn’t remember what the warranty was or if it had a “life time guarantee”, so I called the company to explain and figured, at worst, I would simply order and pay for a new hose. It took less than a minute and just a few voice prompts to get a human being on the phone. I explained the problem, gave her my email and telephone number, and, just like that, a new hose was being sent our way, free of charge. Before she even finished explaining the process, the confirmation email was in my inbox. Holy crap! There were ultimately some delays with the order as the specific piece we needed was out of stock, but follow up calls were handled with transparency and respect and genuine apologies for the inconvenience. Gold stars all around.
2.) About a month ago, we were experiencing some trouble with a cable box after having to breakdown and then reassemble a room for painting. I chatted* with the cable company and they agreed to send out a technician free of charge. He looked at our setup and discovered the box was fine and the culprit was a damaged wire, something that we did during all of the moving and shifting. Whoops. He supplied us with a new wire and, since he noticed our signal strength wasn’t as strong as it should have been, ran a new wire into the house, cleaned up the half-dozen splitters the prior owners had put into place, and put in a new amplifier. All for free! However, we soon noticed that our WiFi signal was spotty and weak in certain areas of the house, areas we never had problems with before. Back to the chat and another free tech visit. This time, three guys showed up in three different trucks… the Optimum Armada, I called them! It turns out that the tech assigned to us got held up at a prior job and to avoid missing our window, they diverted a field team sent out to lay wire. Anyway, the first thing they realized was that we had a company distributed router, something reserved for customers who take advantage of their highest level of internet service, which we had downgraded from several months earlier. Apparently someone was supposed to come take the $99 piece of equipment and hadn’t. The main tech explained that we could either go back to the Boost Plus service or we’d have to replace the router ourselves. He explained that the downgraded service was the likely culprit, even though the problems arose several months after the change and coincided with the prior visit. We were all set to upgrade our service for an extra $9.99/month when he paused and said, “You didn’t add any new wireless devices, did you?” I told him that we had just acquired a video baby monitor but that it worked on a different channel. He responded that even if the channels are different, you can still get interference. And seeing as how the rooms effected were those immediately around the monitor, that was surely the problem. He changed a few settings on the router (which he agreed to let us keep and not report), explained that we should turn off both ends of the monitor when not in use, and, voila!, I can go back to using my iPad on the toilet. A job well done, cable company.
3.) Zazzy is breastfeeding Mayonnaise and has been using her pregnancy pillow to prop him up, but it is insufficient to this task as it was not really designed to do such. We went online, researched the very best nursing pillows, and ordered one from Amazon. When it arrived, we were dismayed. Where was the removable, washable cover!!! For those of you with kids, I don’t have to tell you the importance of everything having a removable, washable cover. But this one didn’t have it! The cover and insert were stitched together… one solid piece. CURSES! Before dealing with Amazon, I decided to call the manufacturer first to make sure I understood their product lines. I got someone on the phone immediately, but apparently that was the sales office, so they transferred me right over to customer service. The woman there explained that they had two models of pillows, which looked identical but differed with regards to the cover. I explained how I purchased the pillow on Amazon and the product page didn’t indicate which line it was from. At this point, I assumed I’d be returning the pillow to Amazon and find a more reliable vendor… a reasonable step to take to address something that sometimes just happens with Amazon. But alas! The customer service representative asked me to forward her my order confirmation from Amazon and she would “take care of it”. I sent that email Friday and, by Monday, I had an email response indicating that the company was going to send me a free cover which would go right over the pillow we have now. And not only that, she’d send me any design I wanted, which means we could now get the green bears design that we avoided the first time around because it was a few bucks more than the regular green cover but ohmygod the green bears are so cute! This last one really astounded me… the company hadn’t been involved in the error but still took steps to correct for it. Kudos!
I have a few theories as to why I received such great customer service across these experiences. First, we’re generally buying higher quality products nowadays. Where a younger Kazzy would have bought the cheapest vacuum that seemed adequately rated, the pushing-30 Kazzy and Zazzy are making longer-term investments. In many ways, you do get what you pay for. Second, I dealt with the company itself that provided the service. Amazon has much less incentive to represent that pillow maker’s product to a high standard. But the pillow maker’s motivations are much different so they are going to respond differently to customer dissatisfaction. Third, with the leveling effect that the internet and other advances have had on both consumer information and consumer choice, companies have to set themselves apart in other ways. The cable company in my area has competition, from two satellite providers, an existing land-based provider, and an encroaching Verizon Fios behemoth. This explains why not one but both experiences with the cable techs went so well… I didn’t get lucky and land the “nice guy” but clearly was on the receiving end of a push to change the perceptions of the disinterested, monopolistic telecommunications company. If they were assholes, I could easily drop their service and go elsewhere. Hell, I already had incentive to do just that seeing as how we moved out of their first-year promo pricing… they’ve got to work to keep me a customer. And work they did.
So, I’m curious… do you think these theories add up? Or is something else at play? Or am I just on a lucky streak that will soon turn? What have your experiences with customer service been? While the field is no doubt perfect, I can say that I am generally getting better service now than I did before and I’m tempted to think it is because of a combination of the reasons cited above.
* There are few things I love more than being able to chat with representatives and I get downright giddy if they are available 24/7. Every company large enough to offer this really, really should.