Well delivered apology = good customer service

The difference between good and bad customer service is a well-delivered apology. When somebody calls your company because he has a problem, it’s just good customer service to give a well-delivered, well-timed apology. It might not be you or your company’s fault that this customer is having a problem, but your customer is somehow not having the best experience with your service or product and you should be sorry about that. Whether you really are sorry is another matter, but honestly, saying it right from the beginning will make helping them a lot easier and a lot more pleasant, especially if it really is your fault. Then, when you do fix it, your customer will be that much more grateful (or at least won’t be as pissed because you apologized for it right from the start). And if you can’t fix it, your customer is more likely to write it off to “c’est la vie” (although he could just go crazy too– c’est la vie).

Case in point: about a month ago, my Dell laptop started doing strange things. Basically, it would just shut off if I happened to move it around slightly. You could imagine how annoying that would be. Now, first, let me point out that this problem was basically caused by wear and tear on the computer and I will admit that I am rougher on my computer than most people are– of course, most people probably don’t carry around and use their computer as much as me either. So, this little Dell has really been around, but I’ve never done anything horribly wrong to it– dropped it hard, stepped on it, etc. In any case, I called Dell, explained to them what was going on, and they said that they would send someone out the next day (our department always gets the full three years of onsite labor and parts). Well, the customer service person I talked to told me that I would get a call between 10 am and 12 pm about when he would be coming by. By 1 pm, I still hadn’t gotten a phone call and when I spoke to a different customer service rep, I had the following converation:

ME: I was supposed to get a call from a third-party technician about a repair scheduled for today. I was told he would call between 10 and 12 and it’s past 1 now and he hasn’t called.

DELL: Well, the repair request was sent out yesterday and we have to ship the parts to him, so he won’t call until he gets the part.

ME: What part? Nobody ever told me a part needed to be replaced.

DELL: The motherboard. The repair request was to replace the motherboard. And the technician has to wait until he receives the part from us before he can call you. And that will most likely be tomorrow.

ME: Well, I was never told that anybody was waiting for a part to be delivered and you said that he was supposed to call me this morning between 10 and 12.

DELL: I didn’t say that.

ME: Well, no, that’s obviously not what I meant. When I say “you,” I mean “Dell.”

DELL: Well, he should call you tomorrow once he gets the part in.

Me: Fine.

Okay, granted, he actually did call while I was on the phone with the bad customer service rep and in the end, despite the fact that he never actually made it onto campus and we had to reschedule for the following day and that the problem returned a few weeks later and was only fully resolved with another 2 on-site service appointments, everything got resolved.

A few days after that first service appointment, I got a customer satisfaction survey from Dell. Oh, they picked the wrong time to ask me for my opinion. I gave them a lengthy review of what had happened and the fact that outside of a delay here and there, the real problem I had was just the attitude I got from the customer service rep. Simply put, it was just bad customer service.

Let me contrast this with an example of a great customer service experience. Now, I have expressed my love for my new Blackberry profusely when I first got it and I still love it, but like anything you love at first sight, you learn while it may not make you love it any less, nothing is perfect. The Saturday after I got it, the data services stopped working around 2 pm. At first, I figured the network might be down for a little while. But by 7 pm, it still wasn’t working and I was annoyed. I went to request a new service book to register the device with the network, but there was no option anymore to do that. I called T-Mobile technical support and they said that my data service had been suspended for some reason. So, they turned it back on, enabling me to request a service book. I waited for a little while, but still hadn’t received a service book and was starting to get really annoyed, but I had my own birthday party to go to, so I got off the phone.

Fast forward 5 hours later– I’m slightly drunk, full of Asian fusion cuisine, and am determined to get data service working again after my co-birthday party guest of honor started calling me “Miss T-Mobile pre-pay only” when I had told everyone about how T-Mobile had cut me off (said co-guest of honor had been trying to send me PIN messages all afternoon with no success). In any case, so I’m on the line with what I’m sure is customer service through prison workers or Indian outsource workers at 2 am. In the end, it turns out it was completely their fault– I guess where you turn on data for this new device is somewhere different than for the previous Blackberry and my account got screwed up. Minutes later, the data was flowing in as if we were in the land of digital milk and honey.

While I was tired and drunk and really just wanted to go to sleep, I didn’t get angry at the T-Mobile people because they consistently apologized for my inconvenience. They didn’t know if it was their fault or how it happened, but obviously, I’m a good customer and hell, I did just spend $300 on a new device from them, so they were sure to apologize for my experience not being as lovely as it could be. In the end, they were the ones who fucked up, although I give them a little leeway since it was a brand new device out on the market, but it didn’t get me mad at them. Maybe if getting data service back was a lot more critical (if I didn’t have email access otherwise) or I was in a rush, I might still be annoyed, but from a customer service perspective, T-Mobile hit all the sweet spots.

The same holds true for when I brought my Blackberry into work on Monday and realized that the antenna in this new 7100t is even shittier than in the 7230 and I couldn’t get any signal any more in office. I sometimes get phantom signal and somehow manage to suck down a few emails and an occasional voicemail, but otherwise, nothing reliable. I contacted both RIM and T-Mobile for hopes of some type of antenna boosting device or plans for more cell sites near my office. In the end, I didn’t get either, but they were all apologetic (although RIM could stand to be a little more apologetic for how shitty the antenna is on this thing) and T-Mobile even offered to give me 50 free bonus minutes to make up for my drop in coverage. Granted, it’s the equivalent of one post-work bitch session, but it’s something.