Web Informant #361, 12 March 2004:

Taking ownership of the customer




Let's take a moment here to talk about how computer vendors support their customers. A friend of mine, finding out that I was looking at Brother printers, mentioned how the technical phone support for her Brother all-in-one device was outstanding. Not only did the folks on the phone walk her through her problem and listen, but when they had to escalate the problem the first support person stayed on the call and briefed the second tech support guy so my friend didn't have to go through her whole sob story again.


While this is anecdotal, it drives across an important point: so few vendors' support staffs want to take ownership of their customers. Granted, they get paid on the basis of how many calls per hour they can complete, not on how the customer is feeling at the end of the call. But it is precisely these feelings that can make the difference between a customer for life (which my friend with the Brother printer could now be considered) and a customer who will run kicking and screaming into the hands of the competition at the earliest opportunity.


You almost have to be a shrink to understand these feelings. It has nothing to do with technical prowess, or how good the equipment is at doing its original tasks. It is all about the customer feeling that they have been taken care of during the explanation of their problem.


Contrast this anecdote with another one that I had experienced this week. I have been helping fix a computer of another friend of mine. This friend is 11 years old, and while his parents bought him the PC, he is being groomed for one of those customers for life, with the added bonus that his purchasing years are going to be measured in many more decades than those of us that can be called middle aged. And that is something that I think is being lost on many of the computer vendors of today.


When I first visited this family of five, they had a motley collection of aging PCs that they were interested in upgrading. They were exclusively a Dell family, and were busily surfing the Dell Web site to find the latest bargains. Some of their motivation had to do with the age of their gear, certainly. But their kids were getting older and their applications more demanding, and they were maxing out what they had. The parents had plans to buy a total of three new PCs for themselves and their kids over the next several months.


Now here is where it gets interesting. I had just been through a fairly extensive cost comparison with another friend and found that for their particular price point ($1100-$1500), HP had better configurations at somewhat less money than Dell. So I recommended they look at HP, and they agreed that the HP configurations were a better buy. But before placing their order, they had to deal with their son.


The biggest hurdle wasn't with Mom and Dad, but with my 11-year old future volume buyer. He was staunchly in the Dell camp, and wouldn't even let his parents buy him the HP configuration. So they placed their order for one PC, and waited to see what their son would think of it when it came in.


Of course, the kid liked it, particularly when he compared it to the creaky Dell that he was used to. When the first HP PC came in, he set it up without any difficulty. There were a few networking things that I had to help him with, but by and large everyone was a happy camper. So the son reluctantly agreed to give up his Dell bias, and they ordered a second HP PC for him. This is where the story takes an unexpected turn.


This second PC was a lemon, pure and simple. The video and sound cards had all sorts of strange problems, and ultimately I replaced the video card with a working one that I had in my lab. In the meantime, both the parents and the kid were on the phone for hours with HP tech support at various times. Each time, they would get basic instructions, but no one at HP wanted to take ownership of the problem. In frustration, I spoke to my friendly HP public relations person to try to get some help for them. Of course, this got the desired results: soon they were talking to someone in Carly's office and getting a replacement PC shipped to them. But more troubling is that they couldn't get anyone on HP's phone line to call them back, or to acknowledge that the computer really wasn't working and they had been through all the standard tests and reboots to try to fix things.


This is HP's downfall, because ultimately the consumers will bolt and find more friendly support for their business. And while I am focusing on HP here, I am sure there are plenty of other vendors that could qualify.


In the meantime, take ownership of your customers, please. If you still want to have them.


Entire contents copyright 2004 by David Strom, Inc. 

David Strom, dstrom@cmp.com, +1 (516) 562-7151

Port Washington NY 11050

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