Surfing the Riptide of Customer Service, part 1

Deep Maze
Creative Commons License photo credit: psd

A friend of mine tells me this story about a recent experience while trying to get service at the local Apple store.

As the tale winds on, we’ll stop and go over a few lessons and suggestions along the way. It’s a long and winding story, but it’s critical to include the whole thing so that you understand the entire scenario this customer experienced and how it impacts your business.

So here goes…

So, Sunday, my iPhone could receive calls but nothing would display on the screen. I tried holding down the power button for some time but that didn’t help. I held the power button and the front button down and nothing happened there either.

I was on my way to the city when this happened. I pulled into a quick stop and asked a young man to borrow his phone so I could call my wife and put her on the project of locating the Apple store nearby.

I stopped in there, a big open space store with lots of folks, and a young lady met me at the door. I explained the problem and she called a young man over. He held both buttons down for a while and it rebooted. I thought I did that but, obviously, I didn’t hold them for enough seconds. My old Windows phone would clear everything out of it when I did that so I was too jumpy to wait long enough.

I remembered as I was leaving that one of the 2 iPod Touch units we bought for the kids was having headphone jack issues. They said just make an appointment and we’ll look at it, either fixing it or replacing it.

An appointment.

You have the customer in front of you. You have already stopped whatever you were doing to help them and you have solved one problem.

The next solution will take 2 minutes to fix or you’ll replace the unit and return the broken one to the factory (definition: the repair department of the 21st century).

Yet – you send the customer away instead of helping them right then.

Everything in this story that happens from here is a waste of company time, a waste of store time, a source of potential frustration to the customer and a way to waste a pile of the customer’s time.

Alternative: Spend perhaps 2 more minutes of working with them as they stand in front of you. Avoid delays, possible appointment snafus and take care of the customer at the first opportunity – or at least figure out if you can help them quickly.

Mistakes happen to everyone and every company. You can’t necessarily prevent a bad human interaction. You can prevent a bad design (yeah, that’s ironic, given that our example is an experience with Apple).

When these problems are designed into a system, people get caught in a riptide of customer service.

Instead of getting to shore, they get pulled farther and farther from their goal and yours: solving the problem and getting back to living their lives or back to work. You should be looking to find and eliminate the traps engineered into your business processes.

Everyone has a name for them: Whirlpool. Riptide. Twilight Zone. Black Hole. Maze.

Is there one of these places designed into your business processes? Your customer service system’s worst nightmare cases might tell you exactly where it is.

Your customers who encounter it certainly can tell you – but you might need to ask.

In the next part of this series, we’ll learn more about this Apple experience.