When I was in Germany (and I apologize for starting another post by laughing at my dear friends in Germany), I laughed at the lack of irony that they had no word for "customer service." When I talked to Germans who had been in America, they smiled and agreed that it was a problem. When I talked to Germans who hadn't, they wondered what I meant. You see, you go into a shop and the sales clerk glares at you until you make a purchase. It's really something else.
I was happy to discover on my way back from Nigeria that the Germans have invented a word for customer service: Kundenfreundlichkeit (customer friendliness). I think that does a wonderful job expressing the essence of what was missing. The problem was, when something went wrong, I didn't know if I could just walk up to someone and say I was looking for a little customer friendliness. Would that be accusing them of being unfriendly?
I had two opposite experiences in customer service this week. I got a new Dell for the family to use. Not surprisingly, it had an error right out of the starting gate. After an hour, Dell informed me it was my internet company's fault: Time Warner. I spent more than three hours on the phone with three different "technicians" who knew nothing more than to tell me to uninstall and reinstall their antivirus protection program. The second one was so unhelpful, and did such a poor job responding to my questions, I informed him he was failing the Turing test. He hung up on me just seconds before I could inform him that his fix hadn't worked at all. I asked the third guy to escalate my problem to a real technician right off the bat, but he still took me through an hour of less-effectiveness before agreeing. Tech support wouldn't get back to me for 24-72 hours.
Last evening, a bit over 24 hours later, they sent me an email saying they had called and missed me. They hadn't - no one called, and we have the technology today to know that no one called. They said they had sent me an email with instructions. They hadn't. I asked them to please do so. They said they would call me back 30 minutes ago. Yeah, still waiting on that.
In fact, as I am writing this, they gave me another email saying the EXACT same thing, that their call didn't get through when I'm sitting right next to the phone and that I should follow the instructions in a non-existent email. We changed all our plans for the afternoon and had rushed around trying to make sure we were there when they claimed they would contact us.
Time Warner and their CA Internet Security have done a good job for us, but their customer service has been extremely annoying and ineffectual. I am officially not recommending them to friends and family.
Contrast this with the good people at Diapers.com. I made an order today and forgot to add a few things to it. I called them to ask to hold the order and add them. They not only did, but the clerk called me back a few minutes later to say that she had thought their pricing system was off, gave me a $10 discount, and would call corporate on my behalf to try to straighten out the pricing issues. Wow! Not only that, but they always give 2-day free shipping that has been known to arrive the very next day. We have loved being their customers the last three years.
I also compare this to another experience I had last week with Avon. I had forgotten to add another item to my order, but they refused to amend the order. So as a result we bought less from them because I didn't want to pay the $15 shipping.
This is probably also a good point to mention my friend Mike Dixon who does research on service experience as part of a company's product. He has a good blog on the subject.