As a consultant, I am often asked the question “How do I build a customer base that is fiercely loyal?” I don’t think there is a perfect prescription for developing it simply because companies are fundamentally different from each other, as are their customers. However, as a customer, I can tell what delights me and what doesn’t. Here are three stories that I want to share and what it taught me about how companies approach customer service.
The Good: Best Buy
Last week I spilt tea on my 3-year-old, very loyal MacBook Pro and it decided it didn’t like it. I am not as diligent in backing up my data as I would like to think I am and I was in complete panic mode. Losing the laptop was one thing (my Apple Store buddy told me that spilling liquid on your Mac is like totaling your car), but the data? Three years of hard work, tons of reports, insights and intelligence. I had to get the data back. I called up Best Buy and was told the service from Geek Squad costs about $200. However, when I landed at the store, the customer service person said “Why do you want to spend all that money when you can buy an external hard drive sleeve for $28 and you could do it yourself?” He showed me how to insert the drive into the sleeve, plugged it in, showed me that all my data was intact and sent me home, charging me only for the sleeve. I was predictably ecstatic. Now, let us move on to the Apple Store story.
The Bad: Apple Store
The first place I rushed to after my tea disaster was the Apple Store. Even after I told the customer service person at the doorstep what my issue was, my waiting time before actually speaking to a service personnel was about 40 minutes. I think by that time my Mac progressed from being a casualty to DOA. And when I did get hold of the service person, I was told it would cost me about $800 and a few weeks time before Apple could repair it. That was when I made the big mistake of telling them that I might as well get a new one if repair costs are going to be that high.
From that moment on, all service talk became sales talk and within 15 minutes, I had a shiny, new Mac in my hand and was poorer by $1500. Apple didn’t want to take a chance at backing the data because of the liquid surrounding the hard drive which could spoil their “very expensive equipment”. I was recommended a great company that can restore my data, was given a business card and sent home with the very reassuring words, “don’t worry, these guys are great. Apple works with them all the time.” As a die-hard Apple customer, I believed them.
I duly called the data restore company and was quoted a price of between $5,000 – $9,000 to get the data back. These guys must be kidding me, right? I told them I was not Malaysian Airlines trying to get the deleted data from the flight simulator of the MAS370 pilot. I was frustrated and more than slightly angry at Apple for wasting precious time.
The third story is not about my laptop but about Delta.
The Ugly: Delta
Flying domestic in the US is painful enough but wedged between two passengers in the last row is stuff that nightmares are made of. And when one of them gets into the plane drunk and takes a fancy to you transports this story into the realms of horror. As the plane took off, the drunk next to me was getting more intrusive, talking to me all the time (OMG, talk about bad breath), asking me what the ‘thing’ I was holding in my hand was (an iPad), peering into my screen, and eventually leaning on me and nudging me with his elbows if I didn’t answer yet another pointless question from him. Refreshments were being served and the Delta flight attendant sold the drunk 2 beers and 2 shots of vodka. Hey, we do want to do more inflight sales, don’t we? I will not bore you with details of what happened subsequently. The drunk became more drunk (though I thought it wasn’t possible) and abusive. I had to summon the flight attendant twice before I could change my seat, which was well over an hour after we took off.
A few days later, Delta sends me a survey asking about my ‘inflight experience’. I filed a complaint with them about the incident and the indifference of the cabin crew. Four days later I get a mail from Delta saying that they were indeed distressed to hear about the unfortunate incident and how wonderful that alternative seating arrangements were made. BTW, we will send you a $50 coupon in 48 hours as token of appreciation for your patience and continued patronage.
Three Guesses Who is Losing a Customer
I was amazed at how different the three approaches to customer service were. Best Buy delighted me because they predicted my need and offered me a cost-effective and workable solution even though I was was ready to spend more. Apple gave me something without really understanding the intensity of my need and ability to pay as they were intent on closing a sale rather than resolving my problem. Delta was not only patronizing but they really diminished my value as a customer by putting a cheap price tag on it.
Best Buy probably didn’t do a big sale with me that day but they have won my loyalty. Any guesses where I would go next time when I need expert tech advice? Apple did a big sale but I lost my confidence in them as a company that cared deeply about the customer. Under the carefully-cultivated veneer of great customer care at the Apple Store was a sales machine keen on making you spend more. So when Ron Johnson says that “the most important component to the Apple experience is that the staff isn’t focused on selling stuff,” I can only raise a skeptical brow.