After four years of carrying around a mobile device that essentially lacks web access or a camera and has been scuffed, kicked and dropped hundreds of times, I upgraded. I use that term lightly, and as it turns out: ironically. I don’t have an iPhone or a Palm, but I won’t name either the device or the carrier, though each goes by a three letter acronym.
I ordered my shiny cool new business-related mobile device (i.e., my company paid for it) over our internal website. I had it in my hands within days. It was simple to find, evaluate, price, configure and order and receive. But once the deed was done – once the seller had parted the buyer from the money – the level of service dropped faster than the temperature in the desert after nightfall.
Businesses are most adept at what they care about most: taking your money with the highest perceived profit margin. That means that they invest the maximum in efficient supply chain, marketing, sales and logistics. Most of us care less, and are careless, about what happens once the product is in the possession of the buyer. In my case that was the phone setup process, configuring email, synching with our server. The company’s customer service and technical support were slow and ultimately less effective than me searching the internet forums on my own.
But the real treat would come later: within five days my shiny, cool new mobile device died. Well, it was more in vampire/undead mode. The screen throbbed with a a 4-point type error message that swam in a milky pool. It turned out it wasn’t so much an ‘upgrade’ as a downgrade, and the service experience downgrading. I tried to fix the problem, intrepid guy that I am. I followed the instructions for soft-reboot and hard reboot. I called our technical support who called the carrier’s technical support.
After 45 minutes of waiting on hold and then discussing, the carrier’s support agent had no more advice than what I’d read already on the internet forum for the device. So, she said to just return it for a replacement, and it would be called ‘buyer’s remorse.’ No hassle, and no penalty. How prophetic were her words about remorse! Why? Because it was not to be so simple.
The agent sent me an email while we were talking, with a prepared return shipping label, and casually said to package everything back in the original packing material and return it. Oy. I buy a LOT of gadgets, and against my instincts, I had gone ahead and recycled the packaging, not expecting a defect, and never reading anywhere that any return must only be carried out with the original packing material.
“What if Idon’t have the original packaging?” I asked.
“Well, sir, then we will consider it as though you damaged the device and you are liable for the damage,” said the most-polite agent.
Well, I read all of the documents, and neither I nor the agent could find any reference to ‘original packaging’ – but regardless, as that is the company’s understanding, I am stuck: in their eyes I broke the device, even if I had it shipped back such that a delicate glass bauble would not be damaged.
I could bore you all day long with hundreds – heck: thousands – of similar stories that anyone can take from the internet. What they point to is not any maleficence on the part of the seller, and no lack of good intention on the part of the service agent. It points to a lack of interest by the Board, the CEO, the COO, the CIO and the head of Sales in applying the same quality discipline that goes into getting the money as they will in winning a customer for life.
What is the hidden cost of this short-term-ism? The good fortune of the C-Level executive is that the impact of poor service processes is hard to measure precisely, and as a result it is easier to feign concern and do less.
Dear senior executive: you had better hope that the true cost of your failure to respond to customer post-sales needs continues to evade simpler assessment. Or maybe I should say, in the spirit of the season, that instead of meeting Der Heilige Nikolaus you could face Krampus.
May 2010 be the year of an intense focus on Customer Service.