A Geek's Guide to the Customer Service Experience

By John Palinkas
Apple logo, Steve Jobs

A Geek's Guide to the Customer Service Experience

By John Palinkas

I have read many articles and white papers about "The Customer Service Experience." Many of these pieces stress that providing a pleasurable experience is essential to building and maintain an ongoing relationship with your customer. I agree that making your customer feel valued and appreciated is an important component of maintaining a long-term relationship. But I wonder, Are companies coming to depend on the customer experience to cover their flaws in providing basic service?

My partner Charles Araujo is a fan of Apple. He talks frequently about its business model and its dedication to customer service. I recently had an opportunity to sample Apple’s customer experience as I had received an iPad Mini as a gift and decided that I would give it to my wife as a present. However, I knew she would prefer the full-size iPad, so I decided to exchange the Mini for an iPad Air. I drove to the Apple store in a nearby mall to exchange the Mini.

On entering the Apple store, I was immediately greeted by Laurie, who asked how she could help me. I explained the situation, and Laurie said we would need to talk with one of two individuals. She took me over to Mark and explained my situation. He took the serial number of my iPad Mini and left us to look up the model's record. He returned and told me the Mini was not purchased at an Apple store, and explained Apple usually does not take returns of items that were not purchased at an Apple store, but he added that he would like my wife to have the better experience of the Apple store, so he would see if he could do the exchange the Mini for an Air. When Mark returned, he explained the Mini was last year’s model (gasp!) and as Apple was no longer selling that model, he could not exchange the Mini.

Since I was in the mall, I went to Best Buy. I had to wait in a line to talk with a representative. When I explained my situation, the representative said she needed to call a manager. She asked me to step aside so she could wait on the next customer and that she'd help me once the manager returned her call. The manager called back after a few minutes and approved the exchange. It turns out the Best Buy and many other retailers are still selling the model I wanted to exchange, so Best Buy had no problem taking it back. The representative asked another associate to get the model I wanted from stock, and again I had to step aside and wait a few minutes until the associate returned with the Air. Since the representative was busy with another customer, she asked the associate to handle the transaction. Unfortunately, he was a new employee and needed to call someone else for help to process the transaction. In the end, however, I was able to exchange my iPad Mini for a new iPad Air—without a sales receipt.

The customer experience was totally different at the two stores. At the Apple store, Laurie stayed with me the entire time and chatted with me while we were waiting for Mark to return. She also expressed her regrets at not being able to do the exchange. Laurie and Mark also suggested some alternatives for me (i.e., return the Mini to the store where it was brought, try an Apple reseller, etc.). At Best Buy, the customer experience was nowhere as pleasant, but I accomplished my primary objective.

Everyone talks about how important the customer experience is to maintaining the relationship, but resolving the issue is also critical. I wonder if companies are starting to depend too much on the customer experience and are not paying enough attention to basic service.

A Geek's Guide to the Customer Service Experience

One more anecdote about customer experience: I want to recognize Comcast for a great customer experience. Within a few days of the iPad Mini exchange, I noticed an error on my monthly Comcast bill. With dread, I called Comcast customer support. I will not go into any details, but will say customer service lived up to my expectations of providing horrible service (without resolving the error). While trying to decide my next move, I found a page from Tom Karinshak, SVP of Customer Experience, on Comcast’s Website. It provided an opportunity to provide feedback directly to Karinshak. I filled out the online form and assumed it would end up in the bit bucket. In less than two hours, I received a phone call from an ECARE specialist, Kimberly. Since I was out, I missed the call. Kimberly also e-mailed me and asked for the best time and phone number to contact me on. I had done some investigation of the billing error and discovered the cause. I responded to her e-mail with the details of the problem and a suggested solution. The next day, I received a call at the time I requested, with the issue resolved in the way I suggested. What made this interaction even more amazing was it took place during a weekend.

Although this is a temporary fix to Comcast's above-mentioned customer service woes, I give credit to Karinshak for recognizing the issues with Comcast customer care and taking steps to provide immediate relief. I know there is potential for Comcast to always provide a great customer experience. Why? Two months before I had contacted Comcast’s Cable Card Activation Group, and they are the most professional, efficient and pleasant support group that I have spoken with in years.

A few observations to remember when developing or upgrading your customer service experience:

·         Resolving the service issue is more important than the customer experience

·         All things being equal, customers prefer a pleasant experience

·         You can always turn a horrible customer experience into a great one

In the end, it is the personal service that determines whether a customer service experience is a pleasant one or not.

About the Author

John Palinkas is a partner at The IT Transformation Institute. ITTI is a catalyst for transforming the IT industry. ITTI helps change the DNA of IT teams, solving today’s problems and breaking the cycles that led to them, and to create next-generation IT organizations. John has spent more than three decades in the IT services industry, working with industry leaders like AT&T, AT&T Solutions and British Telecom. He has led numerous multimillion dollar, multiyear outsourcing and service-delivery engagements for dozens of Fortune 500 firms. He has extensive experience and expertise in IT transformation efforts, outsourcing analysis, M&A integrations and service implementations. John serves on the executive committee for NJ SIM Chapter, the leadership team of NJ itSMF LIG, and is a regular contributor to CIO InsightHe can be reached via email at John.Palinkas@TransformingIT.org, and you can follow him on Twitter via @jpalinkas.

To read his previous CIO Insight article (“A Career Moment or Career Suicide?”), click here

This article was originally published on 01-22-2014