Customer Service… on the other side of the desk

We only really learn about life by experiencing it and no more so than in Customer Service. Over the last few days I’ve had a customer service experience that I’ve found very interesting. A situation in which my very negative opinion of a company was turned around to a pleasantly positive one.

I’m not a big mobile phone user but with the huge movement in mobile apps I thought I needed to understand the new generation of smart phones. From a developer’s perspective I’m not comfortable with Apple so I went for the HTC Desire running Android 2.2.

The best (legitimate) offer on the web was with Orange so I went ahead and purchased the phone with a monthly contract.

Problem no.1: On the final confirmation stage the web page animation seemed to hang then after about a minute showed an error message saying that I needed to phone Orange to complete the order. So I phoned and spoke to some bloke who was very pleasant and apologetic. He took my details again and said the phone would be with me tomorrow morning.

Next morning the phone arrives.

Problem no.2: Instead of an expensive state-of-the-art piece of electronic wizardry the parcel contained the cheapest looking piece of rubbish I’ve ever seen. (Even my wife, who is not the most technically savvy consumer, looked at it with horror.)

So I phoned up and said they’d been a mistake and the wrong phone had been shipped. The customer rep apologised and said she would cancel the contract and I’d need to re-order. “Can’t you just collect this phone and send me out the one I ordered?”, “Sorry sir that’s not possible”.

Problem no.3: Anyway, I couldn’t just quickly cancel the contract. I needed to break the seal on the box, open it, unwrap the phone, take off the case, and read some number in the battery compartment, find the SIM card, which was floating loose in the packaging and read that number too. I couldn’t help but laugh when, after all this, she asked “So why would you like to cancel your contract?”.

With the contract cancelled she forwarded me to the Sales group, who informed me that they don’t have the HTC Desire in stock. It looks like the original sales guy wanted his commission so badly that rather than tell me the phone wasn’t in stock he’d take the order, get the commission, and send me out the cheapest phone they have knowing that the contract would simply be cancelled when the phone arrived.

Fuming, and promising NEVER to use Orange again I went to look at other carriers. However, before I did I thought I’d give the Orange web site a look to see if they’d taken the product off the site. No, it was still there. Now I know that at this point I should have just tutted and moved on but I was in the mood for creating trouble so I phoned Orange again.

The rep who answered said they’d just received a new batch of phones and he could send me one immediately. I said don’t worry about it, if I wanted the phone I’d order it through the web site (thinking to myself that it’d be a cold day in hell before I ever purchased something from Orange again). The sales rep (who was actually called Steve) was very persistent to the point that I explained why I had such a negative opinion of Orange. Steve apologised, said it wouldn’t happen again and he’d sort it out. I politely rejected his offer and said I needed to go.

The end? Well, not quite. Steve phoned back. He seemed genuinely troubled by my recent experience and wanted to sort it out. He said he could process the order immediately with all the information already in the system and the phone would be with me tomorrow. Guaranteed. In my slight state of shock at his concern I agreed.

And to my surprise the phone, in all its shining glory, arrived as promised. However, what I was more surprised about was my attitude to Orange. My strong negative emotions (which I was eagerly intending to rant about to anyone willing to listen) had gone. Just like that.

Lessons learned:
– If you incentivise your sales staff purely on sales and not quality of sales bad things will happen.
– You don’t need to pay compensation to rectify a bad situation. Steve never offered me a discount and I never asked. I thought the price was fair. All I wanted was the product.
– A little concern, empathy, and professionalism can go an awful long way to turning around what seems like a terminal situation.
– Persevere. Customers assume you don’t care about them. Show them you do.
– Problems happen, that’s life. How you sort them out is what counts.

Oh, and the phone? One word: Astonishing.

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