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A Shout From The Attic: Customer Service

...I had the same trouble with a Bex-Bissel Steam Carpet Cleaner. The black powder that came out from its underside told me that the commutator was chewing its carbon brushes up. If they would supply me with new brushes, for which I would pay, then I would rub smooth the commutator, replace the brushes, and carry on carpet cleaning. They told me to take it to their service agent for inspection and report.

I checked with their service agent and he quoted me $25.00 for inspection and report. I explained that I knew the problem and how to fix it and if he would supply the brushes I would take care of it, but wouldn’t pay $25.00 to be told what I already knew...

Ronnie Bray tells of customer service - good and bad.

When I worked for Neil McEwen, the latter part of my employment was in Customer Service. Neil explained his customer service policy to me, saying, "I will bend over backwards to make a customer happy, even if it costs me money!" From that moment on, we didn’t discuss customer service again, for it was not necessary.

Fortunately, although some concessions were made to unhappy customers from time to time, none of them cost Neil much, and unhappy customers were converted into happy ones because someone listened to their complaints, heard them out, sympathised, and made a positive response, usually in the form of a free saw blade, or a visit to set up their machine to perform as it should.

During my seven years with Neil, there were only two customers whose complaints could not be met. One was a customer that used a precision tablesaw to rip down railway sleepers, and he admitted that his workmen would let the full weight of the sleeper fall onto the extruded aluminium table. It doesn’t take a genius to see where he was going wrong and why the setting went off each time a ton of oil-soaked sleeper slammed down on the delicate table on a machine the was intended to provide precision cutting for high class cabinet makers.

The other was a man that had a German Scheppach made bandsaw almost thirty years old, in which one of the inner spindles had broken. I called the factory in Germany and they said that model had not been produced for more than twenty years since their modern machines were much improved. However, they promised to search their cellar in Ichenhausen just in case they could locate a part for his ancient machine.

I told him what they were doing and he was delighted. I lent him a brand new machine so that his production would not suffer, and he went away happy. A couple of weeks later the Scheppach factory reported that they had found a spindle from an old model bandsaw, and were shipping it to us.

When the spindle came in I called the customer and gave him the spindle at no charge. Unfortunately, when he got it home he discovered that it was not the correct one. The factory said they had no others and were not set up to produce one of the old spindles his machine required. I explained this to the customer and he exploded in fury, saying all manner of unkind things. I apologised, explained that our company and the Scheppach company had done their best but regretted that nothing further could be done. He said more unpleasant things, and that is when I told him that he needed to learn gratitude, because we and the manufacturer had done all we could do, and while we deeply regretted we didn’t solve his need, he still had the new bandsaw to use.

At this he softened, and asked if he could hang onto the new bandsaw until he could see if he could have a local maker make him the part. To this we agreed, and a week later he had had a new spindle turned out by an engineering shop. When he returned our bandsaw, he said it would have been cheaper if he had bought a new bandsaw from us than have the part made, but that he had committed himself to have the it made purely out of frustration and anger.

Other than those two examples, we managed to put smiles on the fases of all our customers, which was a considerable feat, especially with retired engineers that took up woodworking as a hobby but couldn’t get the fine tolerances with wood that they had with metal. As Alan Varnham, our machinery engineer would explain, "Two tenths of a thousandth inch in metal is the same as two tenths of a sixteenth of an inch in wood. You make it precise by fitting it together tight, and square." Still, it was a hard lesson for some of them to accept.

In recent years I have had much cause to complain about lack of customer service stemming from disinterest in after-sales service by companies indifferent to customers once the cash hits the till. My personal gripes include a fast food outlet in Tennessee whose notion of a ‘Chicken Plank’ was based on the size of whatever the frozen food factory supplier put in the box, and the manager, Dave, upon seeing the offensive item – that was to ‘plank’ as ‘leaf’ is to ‘mighty oak’ – explained that the ‘planks’ came in frozen, at a size determined by the imbecilic machinery in a factory somewhere back East, and he had no power to do anything about my impoverished purchase. He could not, he said, exchange it or give me a refund. I told him to take a good, long, hard look at my face, because once I walked out of the door of his place he would never see me again.

A decent manager would have weighed the evidence – about 0.5 ounces – and cheerfully replaced it with two other planks of reasonable size as advertised all over the interior of his establishment. That would have endeared me to him, and to his business. In addition, the fifteen or so other waiting customers witnessing the exchange would have been positively impressed with his customer service.

I have had bad experience with my mobile telephone suppliers that neglected to provide me with minutes and service days that we were contracted to do automatically. After several months wrangling with them, I cancelled that service and opted for a different service that they advertised for the same monthly amount for twice as many minutes talk time. I gave them a different account number to withdraw the monthly payments, since they said my bank refused to pay them, and thus far this has been working well, except they have reverted to the old minutes without so much as by-your-or-my-leave!

Naturally, that has me breathing fire, and spitting pins and feathers at them. Besides which, I contacted my bank and they said they had never had a request from the ‘phone company for payment! I shall broach the subject again with them, but their system is so slow that it takes fifty minutes to process a complaint, and their e-mail customer service is a bad joke.

I had a year long struggle with the Sunbeam company to attempt to procure a pair of carbon brushes for our blender. The company’s Customer Service Department dropped the ball time and time again by failing to continue a protracted e-mail correspondence with one of their Customer Service Agents. It was when I demanded the telephone number of their CEO to discuss my twenty cent brushes with him that some movement followed. However, I was disgusted to learn that the CEO did not take calls from dissatisfied customers and neither did the manager of the Customer Service Department! They could not explain exactly what either of these two officers did in the company, nor could they explain why the Customer Service Manager did not talk to disgruntled customers, of which I was one.

I was never rude to them, but I did become blunt and examined their characters openly for them to see how their company appeared to this customer. After eighteen months of wrangling, they sent me, not the twenty cent carbon brushes, but a new blender. If this one ever goes down, instead of trying to get parts of it, I will deep six it and use a hand whisk.

I had the same trouble with a Bex-Bissel Steam Carpet Cleaner. The black powder that came out from its underside told me that the commutator was chewing its carbon brushes up. If they would supply me with new brushes, for which I would pay, then I would rub smooth the commutator, replace the brushes, and carry on carpet cleaning. They told me to take it to their service agent for inspection and report.

I checked with their service agent and he quoted me $25.00 for inspection and report. I explained that I knew the problem and how to fix it and if he would supply the brushes I would take care of it, but wouldn’t pay $25.00 to be told what I already knew. He wouldn’t budge, and so I got back to Bex-Bissel. Eventually they asked me to send them the whole machine back, for which they emailed me a returns label and, in time, they sent me a new machine. What a waste of time and money!

Recently the toilet seat riser became wobbly. Anyone with moderate to severe arthritis knows the value of this simple contraption. Examination revealed the front clamp, a significant plastic fol-de-rol, had assumed an unnatural shape. Hardly surprising since it has yielded ten years of yeoman service. I contacted the manufacturer, Carex, and asked how much a replacement part would be. After letting them have the model and serial numbers, their customer Service representative said she was sending a brand new complete unit as a one time replacement.

The elapsed time from my initial contact to the dispatch of the new unit was less than twenty-four hours! I have profound gratitude for Kylie Miller and her wonderful gesture of generosity and concern for a customer that will henceforth keep the name of Carex health products foremost in his mind as a company I shall have no hesitation in recommending.

Dave, Sunbeam, Bex-Bissell, &c. – are you taking notes?


Copyright © 2011 – Ronnie Bray



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