Saturday, February 03, 2007

Customer Service

I am admittedly one of the worst customers to come along. I have high expectations when it comes to customer service. I know what good customer service looks like, both in terms of giving and receiving it. Although the quality of the product or service being peddled is important, equally important is the relationship between the customer and the vendor. It’s more than just standing behind one’s product. It’s an intangible quality that leaves the customer feeling like he or she is the most important component to the vendor's business. The customer might not always be right, but he or she should leave feeling like it. Competent customer service is worth paying for.

There are companies, some of them very large multi-national corporations that know where their money comes from. It doesn’t come from R&D, it’s not marketing or production or any of the other components that make up the structure of a successful company. The income - the money - comes from the customer. None of that other stuff would mean a damned thing if nobody spent their money on the company’s products (or services, etc.). To that end, every part of the company should be focused on making the customer the top priority.

Unfortunately, committed customer service seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Apple treats its custom like they are more important than an isolated issued, which measured by itself might not be profitable. Case in point: My dad gave me his old Apple iBook G3 laptop when he upgraded to a G4. When it was a little more than three years old, it developed a problem in the video card. Of course, one can’t just swap out a video card in a laptop. It was a latent problem with these particular iBooks - Apple knew about it and offered to fix them at no cost for up to three years - two years beyond the original factory warranty.

They didn’t have to. The warranty was clearly only one year against manufacturer’s defects in materials and workmanship. It is a pretty standard warranty. My iBook was beyond even the extended three-year grace period - but they fixed it anyway. No proof of purchase, no receipt and I’m not even the original owner, but they replaced the entire motherboard and cleaned it to near new condition for free.

Hang on - it gets even better. They shipped me an empty box to pack it in. After packing it, I only had to make a phone call to DHL who picked it up the next day. If you’re counting, that’s three days so far. It was repaired and shipped back to me within seven days total. Not seven business days - seven days! And they weren’t obligated to do any of it; they would’ve been completely within their rights to say “sorry about your luck.” But they have an attitude that looks toward future business and ate a small loss to secure my loyalty. It worked. I am Apple brand-loyal. I’ll go to Apple first, even if there is a competitive product that costs less.

Ok, perhaps Apple is an anomaly in respect to customer service. Surely no other corporations go the extra mile to keep its customers happy. Not so. Not only have I had similar repeat experiences with Apple, but also Canon (very recently) and Hewlett-Packard… and there are others. Additionally, there are retailers that treat customers similarly. The point is that with a sufficiently broad focus that isn’t aimed at capturing every opportunity to extract every available dollar, the long-term success of an enterprise is virtually guaranteed. Customer service is what separates the outstanding ventures from the also-rans. It’s what keeps me coming back.


Catherine said...

I totally agree with you on that. I'm not sure if Apple gives such good service in New Zealand, my husband deals with maintenance on our computers. I know he's a big fan of Apple, which is why I have one too.
Michele sent me back again

Helene said...

It is funny how many companies dont get that! I have noticed a huge difference in costumer service down here in FL from that in the northeast! I think because tourism is such a big business... idk but it is WAY better here. People all seem pretty happy to be doing their jobs!

You're up late! lol

Anna said...

Again...loving Apple!

I have been on both sides of retail and I value customer service. From the person who answers the phone to the actual service issue itself. It can make or break a business in my opinion. NIKON is another company that has given me good service.

I have heard you say it before will keep me coming back and I will tell my friends all about it!

Carli N. Wendell said...

It's so funny that you say that. APPLE, to me, has a "We're APPLE. If you want our cool pretty stuff, you're going to deal with iPod batteries that last less than a year and cost $60 to replace" kind of attitude.
One of my ex co-worker's videos:

And while I know this doesn't fit with all of Apple everywhere, I was really put off about a year and a half ago when I was in an Apple store. A young African American man, whose only crime was wearing "street" clothes, was checking out some iPod cases. One salesperson walked up to another and said, "Watch this guy. I guarantee he's going to try to steal something." Nice.

Unknown said...

I love Apple too!! They are a great company with an excellent product!

Anonymous said...

I've posted about customer service before....or the lack of it.
SO I'm very impressed with your story about Apple. I do have an Apple iPod. Does that count?
Seriously, when a company goes the extra mile for the customer...I'm just like you. I'll pay extra for their product. It's priceless, in my opinion.
Great post about a great subject.

kenju said...

From your blog to the ears of all CEO's - I hope!

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike! Michele sent me. How do you do it? One minute I'm greeting someone - start word verification and then lo and behold you beat me! I don't understand. does everybody have to do word V?

Shephard said...

I wrote a post about customer service a month ago. It can be frurstrating when language, outsourcing and apathy stand between the customer and decent service. But there are pockets of it out there. So far so good with Dell, as well.

Great post!
Michele says hello!

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike. Michele didn't send me, but I came to say Hi since you visited me.

Customer service is a HUGE issue with me. The bulk of my writing is in customer-service related issues and I can say with confidence that the company which succeeds is the one which has a marketing department focused on helping the customer choose their company and a triple-sized service department focused on showing the customer that they made the right choice. Marketing may get the customer, but Service KEEPS the customer - and all those within the customer's influence. It's a powerful and profound message that not every company has realized. But if you look at market share, you'll see the ones who have. Samsung may make a cool flat TV, a smokin washing machine and a great phone, but I'll never know first hand about them because they refused to stand behind a $90.00 MP3 player they made. Their loss in the end, since eventually I'll buy those things, and I won't even remotely consider a Samsung.

And in response to you, yes, they do happen at the right time. Usually, when you least expect it. :-)

utenzi said...

My Dell that I have at home is over 7 years old now, Mike. I'm thinking of replacing it and I keep considering Apple--but I really don't like their OS nor that one-button mouse. A story like this though does make me consider Apple more seriously. It's nice to have problems taken care of painlessly. It's great that they treated you so well, Mike.

Michele sent me off to CA to see you!

Unknown said...

Apple gives good customer service because they ship products with known problems and know they have to replace them. It has happened recently with their laptops. But they're nice about it. Dell, on the other hand, won't even hire Americans , farming out their CS overseas, and thus insuring that the CS totally and completely sucks, as the CSreps do not know their product line. Drives me NUTS.

Here via Michele

OldLady Of The Hills said...

It's great to read about GREAT Customer service....I wish I could echo your positive feelings about anybdy that I deal with...2 banks that are hopeless, hopeless, hopeless....and a laundry list of others....I think I'm hung up on those two banks because they handle our money. If they cannot get the simplest thing right--like "please send me my checks back..." Well, what else aren't they getting right. It is wonderful to hear about Apple's attitude towards customers...I've never heard about this before and it makes one wish they also owned and ran banks! (lol)

Anonymous said...

I have just had a wrangle with Lloyds Bank sending my annual statement with no postage which meant they wouldn't deliver it until i collected it or paid postage plus handling charge. It is peanuts but caused me nuisance and all they can do is pass me from pillar to post knowing full well that sooner or later I would give up. So Lloyds Bank and Scottish Widows are inefficient, lazy and unable to rectify their mistakes. Feel better now:)

Anonymous said...

And Michele sent me. Bedtime!

mckay said...

i'm on board with ya, big guy. having had the bulk of my jobs in the CS realm, i've always expected the highest quality out of myself, my staff and others when i'm the consumer.

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

hey mike
i agree with the customer service ideal - it's the same with the kind of service you get at a bar or with a meal - i find the french lead the way, and we brits are the worst! (sweeping generalization that will get me into trouble with the fine service some brits provide)

shame the apple people where i livde aren't as wonderful - recently my keyboard pad and disk drive went on my mackbook pro and to replace them it cost me 250 in parts and another 250 for 2 hours labour - clearly i am in the wrong job - the worst of it was that they didn't check the keyboard worked and none of the top line of keys worked when i got home - they even wanted to charge me for replacing that when they hadn't checked it in the first place!

ok, rant over - for the record, i love and will always love my mac

Anonymous said...

Yep, Apple's outstanding. Customers who are satisfied are a sales force that works for free and the vast majority of companies don't get that.

You asked a question at Michele's and since I'm so late to hear it, I'll add my 2 cents here:

Why would visitor comments outnumber visitors?

Unless a discussion thread starts, it can seem hard to jump in. If something has been said, a person would feel odd to just write nod, I agree.

If the post feels complete, there isn't much room to comment. If the comments seem to cover it all, why say more?

I did a post that had a couple links lately on how to get more comments.

Unknown said...

Wow--that beats the hell out of DELL who refused to give me my $100 mail in rebate even though I missed the deadline because of health issues that took first seat in my life at that time. I even wrote them a letter telling them the special circumstances.

Well, I do love my DELL desktop, so I opted to buy a DELL laptop--which I just received in the mail last week. I like Dell's customer service department, and I've heard the owner speak several times (on TV) and I like his outlook on business. Also, my cousin works as an programmer for Intel and suggested that DELL is the best PC out there.

I've only used the Macs in school while teaching. I am much too familiar with the PC to switch now, even though your post makes a great case to switch from DELL to JOBS!

Great post!

PS I think you wrote a post on bad customer service when you first started blogging, didn't you? If I remember correctly, I think my first comment on your blog was regarding bad customer service. I could be's very possible considering the meds I'm on! :O

Hey Mike--I'm interested in getting your gut reaction to my latest post. What do you think? It kind of gives you an idea of what I've been thinking, experiencing, and living since I took a break from blogging until I got the new laptop.

See you over at Jaibhakti! :)

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Been there, and done that.

Whenever I am on the telephone with someone, I take a deep breath, and try to stay out of the results, i.e., how the conversation will turn out. Inevidibly, I am disappointed, but if I go in with no expectations, things go easier.

By the way, I love that rooster you have posted. Very posh!

Begered said...

I understand your frustrations when it comes to poor customer service. Oe of my biggest pet peeves.

Glad to hear when someone gets great customer service.

The Zombieslayer said...

As a guy with two Macs (one laptop, one desktop), I'm glad to hear that story. I've never had to take either in for repairs, but it's still good to know, especially since I only do business with companies that treat me right.

That's why I do business with OSH over Home Depot. OSH treats me like a valuable customer. Home Depot treats their customers like numbers. I'd rather pay the extra 10% and get decent service.

Lady Flare said...

ah'.....if the people who handle costumer service are that great then it only means the company takes care of them pretty well....boils down to corporate culture...

carmilevy said...

I had a similar experience when my iPod died. Prepaid envelope, two-day turnaround, no hassles at all. They clearly want me to buy another one. And I will.

And maybe a Mac to boot! When my laptop started to die, the store where I bought it was unbelievably useless. They'll never get anothre penny from me.