February 26, 2010

Well-Motivated Customer Service

Yesterday, I knew I'd have a long wait in court before my case was called, so I brought my Kindle with me to pass the time in the hallway.  Just as I was folding it up to go in to the courtroom, a guy walked past me, brushed up against me, and it fell to the ground.  Well, it wouldn't turn back on.  And there were these funny, faded horizontal lines coming from the midpoint of the bottom of the screen, and every time I pressed a button or tried to turn the thing on again, another pixel of the fading lines appeared.

When I called customer support, I had to get bounced through three people, but eventually found someone who knew something about how Kindles work, and he said "Nope, it's busted and you can't fix it.  Let me verify your address."

A sinking feeling set in at the pit of my gut.  "Wait!"  I said.  "I can't fix it?"

"Yep.  That's why I'm going to send you a replacement.  You'll have it tomorrow.  No charge."

"I...  I...  Wow!"  I confirmed my address and sure enough, the replacement Kindle came today, and it took me less than two minutes to log back on to the website and download the approximately fifty books and twenty magazines that I had on the old one.

So -- that's about 28 hours I had to do without my Kindle.  And if I'd really wanted to read something, I could have logged on to Kindle for PC and read it there in the meantime.  The replacement came to me free of charge, and I have a box to send back the old, busted product for Amazon to refurbish and re-sell later, also at no charge to me.  By the time I got home, I'd already had the thing charged up and now it's like the whole thing never happened.

What's sad about this is that this counts as an exceptionally good customer service story -- something rare and wonderful in its pleasantness, reasonability, and ease of use.  And that I was deathly afraid that Amazon's reaction would be, "Oh, too bad, so sad, customer mistakes are out of the warranty so you'll have to buy a replacement."  Indeed, that was my presumption, and the cause of the sick, sinking feeling I experienced when the tech guy said the Kindle couldn't be fixed.

Indeed, we can contrast this with my recent ordering of a replacement AC adapter for my laptop -- HP charged me an unreasonable amount of money for the spare part -- there's no way this thing costs eighty dollars.  Back when I had the Gateway Ultra-Heavy model, a replacement AC adapter for that cost three dollars.  I only agreed to pay the $80 demanded by HP because I want to make certain that whatever replacement I get will work.*  What's more, HP wanted to charge me an additional twenty dollars for next-day delivery.  Here is a company that just plain doesn't care whether I have a working computer or not.  They sold me the unit, and now they'd just as soon not support it -- and the misfortune of my cat deciding to use the power cord like the way the dogs use their chew toys is, for HP, an opportunity to earn more profit rather than an opportunity to generate goodwill.

Amazon treated me much better than HP did.

Now, you'll notice that Amazon has every financial reason in the world to want to do this.  The Kindle they sold me doesn't produce a revenue stream for them unless I'm using it and buying more books and getting more magazines.  So they want me to have a working device for the very good reason that a) I paid for it, and b) the more I use it, the more money they make.

But it's also a model for other companies to look at -- when you care about providing good service, when you care about making sure your customer has a working product they're happy with using, when you have to put your money where your mouth is in terms of keeping your customers happy, this is how customer service can work.

* I'm sure that there are plenty of tech-heads out there who will tell me that there were way cheaper ways I could have solved this problem.  I'm happy to hear them for next time, but I did what I did and it seemed like a reasonable thing to do, and most of all, I can't go back in time and change what I did.


zzi said...

You must have gotten that new government kindle I've been reading about.

Dan said...

I was braced for the worst when you started your anecdote, and delighted that it turned out so much better.

On that note, I recently had what I can only hope was the worst customer service experience of my life, because I will lose my mind if I ever go through anything worse. Suffice it to say that the New York State Education Department (which is in charge of all professional licenses) flagrantly does not care if you ever get what you need. At one point during my hellish 15-minute exercise in futility, I was directed to a voicemail box with an outgoing message that says flatly that, due to call volume, messages left will not be returned... followed by a beep.

zzi said...

Dan - wait until you have to go to the New York State Medical Department.

Friendly Technocrat said...

TL, I used to perform warranty repairs on Compaq PCs, long before HP acquired Compaq.

The price of the spare parts was structured based on the quantity in stock. The idea is to price spare parts progressively out of reach as the quantity in stock declines, so that a sufficient number of units remains on hand for repairs performed for free under warranty.

I've seen a darned computer mouse priced at $140 in the inventory database... not because it was worth $140, but because it was a discontinued model and there were only two left in stock. Priority goes to customers with active warranties.

I'm not saying this is the best business model ever, but it's why your charger costs 80 bucks.

Fnord said...

Regarding the AC adapter: I got a used/refurbished one off the internet (not from the manufacturer) for my Dell Latitude, and I'm quite happy with it.

I first ordered it, not knowing it would work, but because it was less than a quarter the cost of the OEM part, so I figured I could have one or two fail on me, and still be ahead of the game.