I value customer service.
A quick glance through my CV would show that I have yet to work any job (that lasted more than a month) where I wasn’t interacting with people pretty much all day, and trying to help them do something, even if that something was to spend money on my company’s Stuff. (Any jobs I’ve had where I was purely making Stuff, I was still part of a team, and there was plenty of interaction.)
I think that it’s partly because of this that when dealing with both salespeople and customer service folks, I have a strangely double-edged perspective. I am both more critical and more understanding than I would have been way back before I’d worked those jobs. Some people think I’m too demanding of customer service agents, but the fact is that I’ve been in their shoes, that I managed to be polite, and if I can do it, they can too. Conversely, however, I will never rant at a telemarketer for calling me at dinner time, nor will I just slam down the phone on them. I know that they know their job sucks, and that they’re just trying to get all the way through the script — just once, please — so I try to be nice when I tell them I’m not interested.
I think it would be fair to say that I hold people in customer-facing jobs to high standards, but that I will also do my best to treat them fairly and with respect.
With that out of the way, it’s time for a little story. This is a story of The Boy, who regularly purchases items (games, movies, miscellaneous small, nerdy widgets) off the Dell website when they have a good sale.
Now, I have no love for Dell. I feel that their company has an almost parasitic model — waiting for others to fund the research and do the work, then roughly duplicating product with the cheapest of parts and only passing thoughts given to efficiency and product quality — but it could be argued that I’m biased. The Boy actually feels the same way about them (just, maybe a little less strongly), but still found their site to be a good source of deals on the occasional (non-Dell) item. He was, for the most part, a happy customer.
Until the day when his much-anticipated order of a Wii game arrived in the mail and it turned out that they had shipped him the Nintendo DS version instead. No problem. Errors in shipping happen. He called them up to have the mistake rectified.
Now what actually happened was a little tricky. The two games on the website were apparently linked to the same SKU, because while the emailed order confirmation stated “for Nintendo Wii”, the SKU it listed was the same as the one that shipped. Apparently Dell had a little mistake in their inventory database. Fine. Nobody’s perfect. Nobody’s data is perfect, either.
The woman The Boy spoke to first spent a good 10 minutes (I know because I was eavesdropping while spatchcocking a chicken — my first attempt!) informing him that he had clearly ordered the wrong thing and there wasn’t much she could do about it if he ordered something he hadn’t meant to. When asked how he could return the product (as it was still in the packaging, wholly untouched), he was informed that Dell did not have a return policy for gaming accessories.
Frustrated that this woman refused to acknowledge that the error was in fact Dell’s — specifically, their inventory system’s — in spite of the confirmation email from them stating that he’d ordered the Wii version of the game, The Boy gave up and asked to speak to a supervisor. He waited on hold for over 15 minutes.
Eventually, a man took his call (who knows if he was a supervisor or not) and The Boy politely explained his dilemma. The man verified the emailed confirmation (“Huh, that’s odd. It says it’s for Wii.”), hmm’d and haw’d and eventually informed The Boy that he would do him the great favour of mailing him an RMA slip which would allow him to return the game for a refund.
At no point did anyone apologize for the company’s mistake, or the inconvenience it had caused.
At no point did anyone even appear to be interested in correcting the error by shipping The Boy the game he’d ordered and paid for in the first place.
At no point did it even seem like anyone believed The Boy when he insisted (with proof!) that he did in fact order the correct thing and that it was the company that was in error. In fact, when The Boy pointed this out to the man on the phone, the man merely responded that he had no idea how such a thing could have occurred. Also that, no, he wouldn’t be shipping the correct game. There was nothing he could do. The Boy took that as an opportunity to inform the man he’d never buy anything off the site ever again.
Now, it seems to me that if your company spends no money on R&D, then it should have a whole whack of money to spend on other stuff: marketing, promotions, keeping customers happy, maybe? When I’d ordered dpn and had one arrive broken, KnitPicks (a company with fantastic customer service) didn’t bother having me mail back the broken needle; they just mailed me a new set of 6 — the lady on the phone cheerfully told me to keep the other 5 I had for spares “just in case!” — because the hassle and grumpiness on my part wasn’t worth the money they’d save. Trivial example? Maybe, but KnitPicks isn’t exactly a huge multinational. I kind of figured that Dell, being something of a Big Name in the consumer computing world, would at least try to make things up to The Boy.
The Boy’s game was normally $56, on sale for $36. We’re not talking a huge amount of money, here, from a corporate standpoint. It seems to me that for a company as big as Dell, keeping customers happy, and thus preserving their reputation as a place worthy of a shopper’s dollars would be a pretty high priority.