customer service

customer service 1

My recent power troubles were a disaster. It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but when all was said and done, my All-Power 3500-watt gasoline generator had burned out two TVs, three computer speaker systems, one phone system, and a printer. I should have been quicker to figure out what was going on, but I was initially fooled by the advanced age of my equipment and the thought that it was simply reaching the end of its useful life. Luckily I had back-up equipment to replace the printer and phone equipment, but I did need to buy new computer speakers (they were cheap) and a new TV to hook up to my Roku, which is a streaming device that eliminates the fits-and-starts that are a part of Internet streaming out here.

Now I can take my lumps like any grown-up. The whole affair cost me only about $200 in out-of-pocket equipment purchases to get back to normal. Rather, the most difficult thing was having to deal with so many customer service organizations—at last count, eight of them. Their performance ranged from excellent to awful, being equally split between the sheep and the goats, with two being mediocre.

I learned a lot from the experience, although it has resulted in three weeks of frustration from which I will only have the conclusions of this post to show. I’m not going to bore you with a blow-by-blow recounting of the whole experience, but will just provide you with the highlights and low spots.

The best customer service organizations (in order of excellence):




The worst customer service organizations (in order of awfulness):




The mediocre customer service organizations:

JDNA (the manufacturer of the generator)


The best customer service organizations are characterized by their dedication to solving problems in the quickest and easiest ways. Amazon has a policy of sending out replacement equipment, no questions asked. Brother got the job done painlessly. And Vonage had the skill to deliver bad news so that I was satisfied and understanding, even though it involved a wait of two days for replacement equipment (at no charge).

The worst customer service organizations didn’t agree on the best way to solve my issues (Frys.com, a retailer, tried to sell me unnecessary equipment, and Frys.com and RCA didn’t know who was supposed to provide customer support on the new TV—there was no phone number supplied in the owner’s manual, and between Frys and RCA, I was given the numbers to six support organizations, all bad numbers but one). As it turned out, all I needed was less than a minute with someone who understood my issues, but I probably spent three hours listening to interminable music-on-hold and Fax twitters trying to find such a person.

By far, the worst customer service department was Roku, which had offshored their call center to India, where it is cheaper to provide “support.” The unresolved issue was refunding a $17 service fee for “overnight delivery” of a $10 cable that never happened. The call center in India kept trying to convince me that 4 days in transit was actually “overnight delivery” because I had placed my order on a Thursday.  The call center in India kept sending me emails saying that new files on my complaint were being opened, but the center was not empowered to resolve the issue. A quarter of my time was spent repeating myself due to not being understood, half my time was spent listening to music-on-hold, and only a quarter of my time was spent talking to someone and trying to get them to understand the logic of my argument that you don’t take the customer’s money for a service you are incapable of actually delivering.

The experience of dealing with so many customer service organizations has led me to two conclusions.

First, the bad providers don’t make their own stuff or provide their own services. In the interests of cheapness, American business has resorted to outsourcing manufacturing and/or support for “brands” versus retaining responsibility for “products.” Old-line companies still tell stories about the greybeard founders who could personally perform every job in the factory. No more. When businesses outsource overseas, they place more distance between the customer and the product, especially psychological distance. My experience with Roku taught me that removing a sensitivity to American language and sensibilities from your customer service operation is a short-sighted policy. Even though Roku presently offers more channels, give me Amazon (which has a competing product) any day.

Second, providing good customer service is just as important as providing good products. Maybe there are some products that sell for too little money to provide good customer service, maybe not. Providing support that has value to your customers is a commitment that needs to be backed up by training and the empowerment to solve issues.

Just opening new case files on questions or complaints doesn’t cut it any more. We’re smart enough to tell when someone’s giving us the run-around.


Groove of the Day

Listen to The Rolling Stones performing “Satisfaction”


PS: In the interest of full disclosure, I did finally get the $17 charge refunded after contacting the US-based Director of Communications, forewarning her that some negative publicity was on its way.


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