Customer Service: A Tale of Two Extremes

Saturday, March 15, 2008 5:39 PM

Over the past week I have had two very different experiences with customer service at two companies. I’m a firm believer in letting the market regulate itself so hopefully these two stories will reflect the way they are intended to on the two companies.

The Bad: Sprint / Nextel WirelessAfter the SharePoint Conference 2008 in Seattle I decided I needed a new phone. Having been a long-time Treo owner (both the 650 Palm flavor and most recently, 700wx Windows flavor), I have grown tired over the last few months having to frequently reboot my phone by removing and replacing the battery. My plan was to switch from Sprint, my current carrier, to Verizon. I’ve got a Verizon wireless card for my laptop and get better coverage than I do with my cell. But the Verizon smartphone options just sucked… I wanted a full keyboard without any sliding action… similar form factor to the Treo. So I went back to Sprint and got the new Moto Q 9c (my favorite phone of all time after having it for a week).

So right away I couldn’t hear anything through the earpiece, only on my bluetooth headset. I figured it was some setting, but I couldn’t figure it out (even AFTER reading the instructions!). So on Friday I stopped by the Sprint store for help. They needed a tech to look at it for 45 minutes… please, call the phone… can’t hear anything? It doesn’t work right. So they replace the earpiece… still no workie. So they tell me they are ordering me a new phone. But, even though I protested and demanded they just give me a brand new one they had in a box in the store since mine was only 5 days old and I would be out on a business trip next week, they wouldn’t do it… I had to wait for my new model. Talked to a manager and he wouldn’t budge earlier. Had the audacity to ask if I would use it for my laptop Internet connection too. Just loved telling him “if you had better coverage maybe, but my Verizon aircard beats my Sprint cell coverage all over the country… and if Verizon had the Moto Q 9C in stock, I’d no longer be a Sprint customer.

Crappy customer service… you sell me a defective phone and then make me wait for a replacement while I can SEE the boxes of the new phones right under the counter. That’s CRAP… Sprint sucks. I can’t wait to share the following story with the Sprint store manager when I pickup my fixed Moto Q 9c next weekend.

The Good: AppleThis story starts out sounding bad. Thankfully my two sessions @ the SharePoint Conference were on Monday & Tuesday. Why? Because on Wednesday, suddenly, the keyboard & trackpad on my MacBook Pro would not respond, but would come back after 20-30 seconds. When in Vista I could hear the USB disconnect / connect sounds a few seconds after this would happen. Started happening every few hours then got more and more frequent. By the Saturday after the conference (one week ago today), the keyboard and trackpad were dead. The only way I could work with it was via external keyboard and mouse.

So on Sunday I scheduled a reservation appointment at my local Apple store’s Genius Bar. Showed up 10 minutes early and they took me in… the tech listened (and typed the whole thing into my case log) to the story and started diagnosing it right away. Mac’s have this uncanny ability to boot from an external drive, known as Target Disk Mode. The guys at the Genius Bar have a few FireWire drives loaded with OS' on them. So he plugs the Leopard one in and boots off the FireWire drive… from there he can quickly ID if it is a hardware or software issue. They can even apply updates to the Leopard OS on the internal disk from the FireWire drive! Now that’s ingenious!

Unfortunately the tech narrowed it down to one of two things: a recent keyboard firmware update that went sour or hardware. We both suspected hardware since the problem got progressively worse and then died. Anyway, I brought the machine back on Wednesday night (as I needed to copy stuff off for an onsite client workshop this week). The guy looked up my case and said “we’ll try the firmware update, but we suspect it is hardware so after you left, we ordered a few parts just in case." Holy crap… proactive service! He said I should expect to hear from him by Saturday.

On Friday afternoon I got a call from my tech. The firmware update didn’t work, and neither did the two parts they ordered. They are certain it is a hardware issue. But, instead of ordering more parts and trying again (likely to watch this cycle happen at least two more times), they wanted to overnight it to the repair center where they could fix it in likely 48hrs (since they had all the parts) and overnight it back… at NO COST to me! I expected to at least have to pay for shipping! But they called to give me the change to either come in and copy files off it that I needed or “we’ll image the Mac partition for $50 and reimage it just in case the repair shop has to wipe the drive.” Damn… that’s nice! Since I haven’t done much on the Mac side, I said go ahead and send it off.

While he couldn’t commit to a date, he guessed he’d get it back by mid-week next week. When he got it he wanted to test it before giving it back to me to make sure it didn’t happen again. He said I should reasonably expect to have it back by Thursday at the latest. When I mentioned I was going to be on the road next week teaching, he offered to overnight it to my hotel at no charge! I was taken back. Since I’ll already have my previous machine with me (my pre-Mac Dell D820), I didn’t want to risk missing it, nor was I eager to bring two machines back, so I just said I’d get it next weekend.

The personal attention to my issue and how my local Apple store was willing to go over and beyond to get the machine back to me ASAP really impressed me. Sure, I expect good service when you pay a premium for a laptop, esp one that is under warranty, but I never expected this. I’ll definitely be a repeat Apple customer, especially from my local Apple store @ the St. Johns Town Center.

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