Inventing Poor Service

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Greetings. I can only assume that the folks at Best Buy, the giant electronics and appliance retailer, make a lot of money from selling service contracts. And I also assume that, as they face greater competition from other big box stores and on-line retailers, “service” is likely to become an even bigger part of their business strategy. What I can’t assume is that this industry leading company has taken the time to figure out how to provide an efficient high-quality service experience. Now I realize, according to most of the top consumer affairs publications, that it’s not a good idea to buy the extended warranties that are enthusiastically offered on most product purchases. But given the added complexity of many new appliances and the fact that our three growing kids generate more dirty laundry than several small countries, I decided to cave in three years ago and purchase a five-year plan for our new washing machine. And three years into our relationship this proved to be a wise investment when the washer seemingly lost the will to perform. In fact, each load brought a veritable symphony of issues that included:

  • The inability to complete a large load
  • The habit of becoming unbalanced constantly
  • The proclivity to make obnoxious beeping sounds
  • The tendency to shake uncontrollably
  • The inability to complete a medium size load
  • The need for continuous adult supervision
  • The inability to complete any size load
  • The tendency to always act guilty
  • And so on…

But thankfully, or so I thought, we had a Best Buy service agreement which meant that we were covered for these and any other maladies that might bring down our washer. “Covered” to the extent that we had five weeks and twenty hours to wait to get the machine back up and running. If that seems like a bit more time than one might expect to repair a simple machine, let me explain how the folks at Best Buy figured out how to create a system for making their service repairs take so long…

First, it took ten days to get a service appointment given the schedule of the one technician assigned to our small corner of the U.S. He was just slightly too busy we were told. And when he arrived for the initial visit he quickly looked at our machine, scratched his head, and proclaimed that it had “software problems.” “How do you know this?” I asked with a sense of curiosity having just completed my first four-hour service window with only a bit of apparent wisdom to show for my time. “Because this model always seems to have these problems,” he replied. “Awesome,” I responded, “so you can simply install the new software and we’ll be ready to go?” “I could if I had the part,” he continued. “But I don’t have one on the truck.” Which struck me as a bit odd given that my initial call identified in detail the machine in question and its particular problem. “No, we don’t actually stock these parts even though they fail regularly,” he noted as if giving a lecture for a new class that might be titled: Great Moments in Customer Service 101. “Which means what exactly?” I inquired. “I’ll have to order the part and you’ll have to make another appointment.” “Perfect,” I thought…that way I can devote another week and another four hours to getting this puppy up and running.

Second, he returned a week later with the replacement parts and quickly made the repair. He then suggested, with apparent confidence that this would definitely do the trick and headed off to his next appointment. “Shouldn’t we test this before you go?” I asked, lacking the full faith and confidence that should come with having service performed. “I’m kinda over booked today,” he noted, “but this will work for sure.” And as he was unable to stick around he missed the chance to see that our trusty machine quickly replicated the exact same problems that had warranted his two visits. “Perfect,” I thought. I’ve just devoted another week and another four hours to not getting this puppy up and running.

Third, my call back to Best Buy generated another appointment for the following Tuesday. And once again I rearranged my schedule in the hope that a new and better solution would arrive. But when the next appointed day arrived I waited dutifully for the service technician to show up only to discover that they had made a mistake in transcribing my appointment and had me scheduled for Wednesday instead.

Fourth, I rescheduled for the following Tuesday and called the night before to confirm. And on that day, near the end of my latest four-hour window a new technician named Anthony arrived from Virginia. He had apparently been summoned to solve the mystery and seemed from the moment he knocked on our door to have a very different take on the problems afflicting our washer. “It’s the shock absorbers,” he said with a quiet confidence. “They consistently wear out in these machines.” “Awesome,” I responded–experiencing a slight case of deja vu all over again, “so you can simply put the new shock absorbers in and we’ll be ready to go.” “I could if I had them,” he continued. “But I don’t have a set on the truck.” Which struck me as a bit odd given that my initial call identified in detail the machine in question and its particular problem. And my seemingly never-ending interactions with Best Buy had only served, I thought, to reinforce the notion that I owned a specific Whirlpool Cabrio washer. “No, we don’t actually stock these parts even though they fail regularly,” he noted as if giving a lecture for a new class titled: Great Moments in Customer Service 102. “Which means what?” I inquired. “I’ll have to order the part and you’ll have to make another appointment. “Perfect,” I thought, that way I can devote another week and another four hours to getting this puppy up and running. Drumroll please! Though I should note that Anthony did apologize for all of the challenges we had faced in meeting our civic duty of wearing clean clothes.

Ten days later, near the end of my fifth four-hour appointment window, Anthony returned with the new shock absorbers. And after helping him to install the little buggers, he hung around to see how the machine would perform with the correct fix to its problems. Like a charm I’m happy to report. Because it turns out that he was a fantastic service person…working in a company that clearly doesn’t have its act together.

We win in business and in life by being skilled at delivering the service that our customers pay for. Any by making sure that any wasted time should be ours instead of theirs.

Cheers!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Alan Gregerman
Alan Gregerman is an award-winning author, consultant and keynote speaker who has been called "one of the most original thinkers in business today" and "the Robin Williams of business consulting." His work focuses on helping companies and organizations to unlock the genius in all of their people in order to deliver the most compelling value to their customers.

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