A Formula For Fixing Consumer Customer ServiceA Formula For Fixing Consumer Customer Service
I think Cory Doctorow didn't remember, until I reminded him, that he and I share a personal connection over the subject of his <a href="http://informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=197801024">most recent column</a>. Five years ago, I bought a Compaq Presario laptop that turned out to be a lemon, and Compaq refused to fix its mistake in a timely fashion. I made a huge, public stink about it, called a few of my influential industry friends (including Cory) and eventually -- surpri
March 7, 2007
I think Cory Doctorow didn't remember, until I reminded him, that he and I share a personal connection over the subject of his most recent column. Five years ago, I bought a Compaq Presario laptop that turned out to be a lemon, and Compaq refused to fix its mistake in a timely fashion. I made a huge, public stink about it, called a few of my influential industry friends (including Cory) and eventually -- surprise, surprise! -- Compaq threw itself into reverse, and got me a new, functional laptop within days.
And that's the central problem described in Cory's columns: Many big consumer companies are intractable when it comes to solving their customers problems. Cory compares them to alcoholic Dads in after-school specials -- I'd describe them as more like gigantic, sullen, four-year-olds. They made a mess, they know they made a mess, they know you know it, but they won't admit it and they won't clean it up. Ain't gonna. Don't hafta.
A lucky few consumers have access to back-door channels. They have Internet access, and they're connected to a prominent blogger with readership rivaling a major metropolitan newspaper. The big company looks stupid. Suddenly, the formerly sullen, intransigent corporation is falling all over itself looking to fix the consumer's troubles, just to make the consumer shut up and stop being a PR problem. The solution, says Cory, is to have someone inside the company who'll do what the blogger does, without the public embarrassment. This internal person -- Cory calls the role an "ombudsman," and also compares it to a military inspector-general -- would be accessible to customers, and would jump in and fix things when the customer is having a problem. More than that, the ombudsman would work to fix the system so that the problem does not recur. That's a start, I think. But the real problem is that companies make it harder for customers to communicate with them. We've all had this happen: You go up on the Web site of a major corporation looking for a customer service phone number, and you don't find it. Instead, you're directed to fill out a hairy, e-mail form. Or if you do find a number, you call it, only to find an un-helpful voice response system. It's gotten so bad that there's an entire Web site devoted to secret phone numbers and tips just to get through to a live person at corporations. Good customer service is especially important for small and mid-sized retail stores. The big boxes and Internet can undercut them on convenience, price, and variety. The only thing the small- and mid-sized store has to offer is customer service -- but good customer service can trump convenience, price, and variety, in many cases. Regular readers of this blog know that I bought a Mac about a month ago. What you may not recall -- because I only mentioned it in passing -- was that I bought it retail, at CompUSA, and that the process was grueling and unpleasant. It took hours. The salesman kept on having to go in back of the store, disappearing for long periods, and then telling us that the additional memory we ordered wasn't available. Or that he needed to run my credit card again. Then they lost my credit card, and I had to and cancel it and get a new one. They promised up and down that they'd deliver one of the Macs (we bought two, a matching his'n'hers set for me and my wife) within a day, and -- surprise, surprise! -- it wasn't ready for three or four times that long. The whole thing was such an ordeal that I vowed never to shop at CompUSA again. A couple of weeks later, CompUSA shut down more than half its stores in the U.S., including all the stores in the county where I live, San Diego. I'm sure that's not a coincidence. What do you think companies can do to improve customer service?
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