Last night I saw a very interesting documentary about customer service on CBC, it is also available online here.
The documentary starts by showing how some customers behave badly to those who are there to serve us, and then goes on to show some examples of poor customer service from the corporate side. Watching this show brought several thoughts to mind.
Firstly, call centres. The way that many of these are set-up is a recipe for disaster. The people that you end up talking to do not have the power to do anything, and the whole organization is set-up to prevent you from getting to anyone who can help you. In this show you see an agent try to deal with an irate man who wants to know when when he will get his computer. The agent has no information in the system for that account as to when the computer will be ready, and has no way to appease the customer. She cannot get him to someone who can help, and is left to her own devices to ending the call. The real problem here is how that computer company structured its' business model for support.
Like many things in this world it all comes down to money. Customer support costs money, and a corporations selling goods or services has to divide up the revenue they receive into many different buckets (salaries, cost of materials, profits, customer service). Those companies with bad customer service have either not charged enough for their product, or have chosen unwisely to underfund customer support.
We as consumers have a role to play in this as well. In the PC market, margins are notoriously thin as consumers will quickly move from brand to brand over mere dollars difference. This leaves little room for the supplier to actually provide decent service. I recently made the switch to Apple, and I can say that I have no intention of switching back to PCs anytime soon. The reason for this is mainly service. I have had to have a couple of products that I have purchased repaired or replaced. In one case under warranty, and in another out of warranty. The service is stellar. They listen to your problem, do their own diagnosis and offer a solution. They do not try to minimize the problem or explain it away. If you need to get in touch with someone at Apple, it is super easy, by email, phone or in store.
We can solve the customer service problem by being loyal to the companies who provide great service, and abandoning those that do not. And yes, great service is not free, but it need not be expensive either. In the end you do get what you pay for, and some things are to good to be true. Take into account the price, service, support and reviews.
My experience is that if you pay a lot for something you do not necessarily get value, but if you pay bargain basement prices you are sure to be disappointed. Corners are being cut somewhere to get to that price, and if you cannot figure out where, then be careful!