Defying Expectations. How Good Customer Service Can Turn a Negative Into a Positive | July 24, 2004

We’ve all experienced poor customer service before. Whether it’s seeking help from your hosting company or returning faulty goods, these situation rarely end positively. You get bounced around from person to person, end up being transferred to the wrong department or sit waiting for a return phone call that never happens. When you do finally talk to somebody they either treat you like a fool or assume the problem is your fault.

The level of poor customer service is so endemic that we actually expect it. We expect that when the TV breaks, we are going to have to spend weeks on the phone to trying to get it fixed.

Companies seem to spend inordinate amounts of time and effort getting your business, but very little effort when something goes wrong. However they really are missing an opportunity. It’s at crisis points where people need help the most and when they are at their most impressionable. Do a bad job and they’ll leave with a sour taste in their mouths, but do a good job and they will be loyal customers for years to come.

An excellent case in point is Apple Computers. I bought my girlfriend an iPod for Christmas, but after only a short while the remote started to wear out. A couple of days ago it finally broke so we contacted Apple to complain. Less than 36 hours later I was signing for a new remote and along with a new set of headphones.

This has to be the best service I think I’ve ever received. No back and forth phone calls or waiting weeks for somebody to email. Just fast, effective service. We went from being pissed off with Apple because the remote had broken to singing their praise, all because they didn’t muck us around.

Every time somebody interacts with your company you have an opportunity to impress them and reinforce your brand values. Generally it’s much cheaper to retain clients than it is to recruit new ones. That means it’s vitally important for companies to look after their existing customer base.

This will probably sound obvious but it’s something that I think many companies forget. The quicker and more efficiently you get something resolved, the cheaper it’s going to be for you. When I have a server problem I end up having to ring our hosts half a dozen times before I find somebody willing to help. Rather than spend 10 minutes solving the problem and leaving me thinking what a great service they give, I make 6, 5minute phone calls and leave thinking that we really must get round to switching hosts.

I’m sure this has something to do with Apples fast service. What’s the point of spending an hour having to deal with a broken $5 component. Just send out a new one. The customer’s happy and Apple have just saved themselves an hours which they can better spend coming up with cool new products (or dealing with iPod battery complaints).

Posted at July 24, 2004 9:58 PM


Steve said on July 24, 2004 10:09 PM

I have nothing but praise for Apple (and Curry’s - shudder!). I bought an iPod in April this year. On a recent car journey I noticed the battery barely lasted 3 hours so I returned it to Currys where I was informed by the salesperson that Apple’s policy was a no quibble exchange if inside the twelve months warranty. So out I walked with a brand spanking new iPod boxed and sealed! Great service? I think they’re world leaders in the field!!

Michael said on July 24, 2004 10:17 PM

While I can’t agree on the Apple service (they made a right mess out of my recalled iBook) at all, I think you are right about the weird focus some companies seem to have these days.

I’ve worked on implementations of CRM and Telesales systems and I think what most companies think is that insatlling one of those is all you need to make sure you care about your customers - way off it, of course !

My prefered method when things go pearshaped always is a written letter to the Head of Customer Services of the company in question.

As far as providers and web services are concerned, I sent you my recommendation the other day, Andy ! (hope that was okay)

Adrian said on July 25, 2004 9:19 AM

My only experience with Apple involved the purchase of an Airport card for my other half’s G4. We needed it fast so opted to pay extra for the rush shipping option (2-3 days I think). I was sent a tracking number within minutes and when I checked it, found that the item was being shipped from Taiwan or somewhere similar. The tracking number details told me it would be a couple of weeks before the expected arrival. Somewhat annoyed, I called Apple and they refunded the shipping charges amongst repeated apologies and never once asked for my Grandma’s maiden name.
Their customer service rocks but the online stores cannot always do what they promise. Far better than most of their competition however.
Many companies fail to realise that the customer service department might be one of their most important. For this reason I have begun to see Apple in a new light and my choice of host was made for the same reason.
When will the others catch on?

Tom Phippen said on July 25, 2004 12:54 PM

I had to call Apple yesterday, I just got one of the new 20GB iPods that wouldn’t take a charge, The website wouldn’t accept the serial number so I called and a 2 minute phone call later and everything was fine.

I’ve heard Dell’s customer service is very good as well, though that might be because they get a lot more practice?

Henrik Ladefoged said on July 25, 2004 2:22 PM

I strongly agree. Another aspect of good customer service is a rather novel concept. The Truth.
Often times telling a customer the bareboned truth, be it good or bad, can seriously deflate a potentially hostile situation.

Yolanea said on July 26, 2004 1:22 AM

Wow, this website is really helpful in finding out little notes for life.


Either way, I completely agree with you -

I mean when my VCR broke, I had to make like 20 phone calls to Phillips to try and get it fixed, and when I did get someone on the line, he was genuinely surprised that no one I had talked to previously could answer my question because it was fairly simple and direct.

I have then changed VCR Companies a few times, and I bought a Magnavox DVD Player. :-)

Fernando Dunn II said on July 26, 2004 5:32 AM

It’s true. Good service can cover a multitude of errors. Sometimes all it takes is a “we apologize.”

I think that’s why Wal-Mart is so popular. Though some of the workers are morons, you can return any item two years after purchasing without a receipt. And then they apologize to you.

Søren Lund said on July 26, 2004 8:14 AM

It’s good to know that Apple actually does manage to handle a repair case without incident. Try asking me how I feel about Apple after the screwed around with the repair of my iPod for 5 months. They certainly need to do much more than just handle my next case with expedience to make me a happy customer again.

Alex said on July 26, 2004 10:27 AM

Andy, I’ve had good and bad experience with Apple, my worst was the carry in guarantee with my G5 when I bought it. There was a motherboard failure on day 15 and instead of saying, hey, it’s only 1 day after we’d normally just give you a new machine, they made me wait two weeks for a new board to be sent out. I explained it was critical to my work, they didn’t care, they just stood by their legal obligation which is their perogative but when you spend that much and it’s for your livelihood, you’d hope for some understanding. That said, I did have a bug with my iPod and I experienced similar service to yours so on balance, I guess it works out in the wash.

Les Kaybone said on July 28, 2004 2:35 AM

You people make me sick.

wee David said on July 31, 2004 2:49 PM

Can’t let the last word on this be Les’s. I jumped from years of using PC’s and bought a iBook G4 recently and, separately, an Airport Extreme card for it. Long story cut short, it wouldn’t work properly. After a few phones calls to Apple, they shipped another card. This could’ve taken up to 28 days, but usually with 2 weeks I was told. That was the Sunday. Card arrived on the Tuesday morning. It also didn’t work properly. In desperation - I was facing the iBook going back to be checked out - I tried “refitting” the card, forcing the Airport wire into it this time. Bingo. Turned out it was fine all along, just not fitted correctly. The Apple guy didn’t scoff when I phoned to apologise, he sounded genuinely happy that I now had everything working.