Things That Work, Things That Rot

I think I know why Apple is one of the most valuable companies in the world, if not the most valuable. Simply stated, the company’s products are elegant, and they work. They are intuitive, and they work. They are designed with vision, and they work. Most of all, they work.

Am I willing to pay a premium for that? You bet. Are a lot of other people? How do you think they amassed more cash than our Federal Government (which, incidentally, has proven of late that it does not work). Yes, people will pay a premium for elegant, intuitive, well-designed, visionary products that work. To the victor go the spoils. We get tremendously useful products. Apple gets our cash. We may grumble about the constant upgrade cycles, but we shouldn’t often grumble about the value proposition, We get what we pay for, and in my mind, it’s worth it.

My experience earlier this year buying my first iPad could not have been more pleasant. I began my research polling friends on my Facebook page for feedback on what configuration to buy, and not only got great information, but rave endorsements for the iPad2 itself. I then went to the local Apple Store and despite the fact that they were sold out of iPads, a very well-trained and nice salesperson spent a great deal of time with me going over my options, then suggested I order my iPad online (with free shipping and engraving) to get it sooner. Other customers in the store were also Apple evangelists and offered me lots of friendly tips on apps I might like. I went home, ordered it on a Monday afternoon, had it on Friday morning, and used it all that weekend without any need of a manual or user guide. To take this all the way home, on a recent business trip some of the functionality froze, but when I searched my issue on Google, there was plenty of user feedback that accurately told me how to “reboot” the iPad and unfreeze the grayed-out state I encountered. The fix from problem to resolution with community help took six minutes.

LoveCustomersCompare and contrast this experience with my recent encounter with my telecom company. Early last week, my broadband connection to the internet vaporized—gone, kaput, no warning, no connectivity—in the midst of this week’s heavy stock market trading, which made the timing even more problematic. With sweat inducing trepidation, I called the 800 service number, and after five minutes of voice assisted prompts, I got a very polite person on the phone. This person thanked me for my business, assured me I was appreciated, took my phone number in case we got disconnected, then began to ask me to plug and unplug things which I told him I had already done. Thirty seconds later he accidentally cut off the call. He never called back.

I dialed the 800 number again, went through the voice mail prompts, got another polite human being ten minutes later. This person apologized for the first person cutting me off. Then after some give and take and checking with her supervisor several times while she put me on hold, she communicated to me more than thirty minutes later that my “old” DSL modem, which they had sent me in 2005, was incompatible with a change they had made in their network “at the central station” (sadly, my neighborhood is largely stuck with ancient DSL technology, but that’s another grating story). She then congratulated me on my eligibility for a new and improved free modem upgrade, which she would order for me as soon as her supervisor approved it. I had to go to a meeting, and indeed, 45 minutes later she called and left me three voice mails to congratulate me again that the free modem had been approved and would arrive in 24 hours. It did.

Unfortunately when I connected the new modem, it did not connect to the internet, so I called the 800 number again. After the voice prompts I got another exceptionally polite employee on the line, and this person apologized for the fact that the new modem did not work, but told me a ticket was open and would be resolved by Friday. It was Wednesday. I needed to be online. The nice person said he would escalate the issue, but that a configuration change had to be made at the central station according to the notes in the file.

I lived without hard-line internet through Thursday, saved by my iPad which of course worked fine. On Friday morning I still had no internet, so I called the 800 number again, went through the voice prompts and got another wonderfully polite person who apologized again, but told me the switch at the central station had not been adjusted because of a work stoppage, asking me if I had heard or read about this. I said I had, but I wondered why they would have made a network configuration change earlier in the week, not told me, and sent me a free modem that needed to be configured at the central station when there was no one available to do that. The wonderfully polite person agreed with me that this was wrong, and said I should have been called before the change was made originally to advise me a new modem was coming before they had sent it. I asked if all this was supposed to happen without me calling and he said yes, absolutely, then apologized again for the inconvenience.

I asked when I would have my internet connection again, and he said he hoped it would be by Monday, if someone was available to make the change at the central station during business hours, since they did not work weekends, if they were working at all. I offered some less than polite words about the impact this was having on my ability to conduct business in a turbulent equities market, and suffice it to say, with a certain number of carefully worded phrases (including a promise to write this blog entry), my connectivity was restored about four hours later.

I suppose that’s one way to take a job to completion.

I write this not specifically as a celebration of Apple and an indictment of my telecom company. I offer it instead as a lesson in excellence and the loyalty a true commitment to customers will garner. What Apple does should be the norm, not the exception, but because it is the exception, they enjoy almost unreal loyalty from their customers. I believe most if not all businesses once aspired to such a level of passion, but today, not so much. Mediocrity seems to be good enough for a lot of businesses, and as customers, we are just supposed to grin and bear it. That’s one of the true costs of everyday low prices. Quality can become a coin toss.

Perhaps it is time to put a stake in the ground and demand better products and services in every capacity we consume. With all this choice, customers are supposed to be Job #1. But are we really? If we have been reduced to being consumers rather than customers, than at the very least, let us consume well—without frustration, without anger, with reasonable expectations of the value chain. I have a better idea: let’s not be consumers, let’s be customers and expect to be treated that way, with respect, forcing healthy market competition for our loyalty. We pay a lot for this stuff, honestly, we do. Quality should be a given.

Not much to ask, products and services that work—and that work well, all the time.

Then again, perhaps I might share with you another example of trying to replace a battery for a mobile device from a branded store where the device remains on sale but the batteries not so much. Nah, I’ll spare you, just scroll up and do a search and replace.


2 thoughts on “Things That Work, Things That Rot

  1. Just about everyone I know has a horror story to tell regarding their cell phone and wireless services provider. They do seem very good at apologizing. But not much else on the customer service end. I particularly like the “we appreciate you for being a long time customer” intro that they use. Yet they don’t seem to show the appreciation. Case in point….I’ve been an AT&T customer since the Reagan administration. I’ve paid my bill faithfully every month. Last month, I ordered a new phone and was preveneted from completing the order because my payment was one day late. The polite representative told me “there is nothing I can do. I cannot override the system”. That seems to be the ultimate cop out. If they want to fix customer service, two things have to happen: 1) customer service reps need to be empowered to serve the customer and 2) as you indicated, when calls are dropped, the rep should be required to call back the customer immediately.



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