The Role of Customer Service in an Economic Downturn

  • Comments: 6
  • Written on: February 15th, 2009

Last month Schrock Innovations screwed up badly repairing a customer’s computer.  Our customer had a Sony notebook and Best Buy said it would take 2 weeks for a warranty repair.  The customer was going to Spain in a few days and needed the notebook.  They brought it in to us for a speedy repair and in our zeal to provide a superior service experience, we fell flat on our faces.

There are only two ways for businesses to survive an economy in recession.  They can lower service levels and hunker down for the economic storm or they can raise your service standards and position themselves to take customers from their cowering competition.

The way your company handles difficult situations is more important than anything else if you are working to take customers from your competitors. Here is what we did wrong, why the laptop did not make it on the plane to Spain, and why we ended up buying our customer a whole new Sony notebook on our dime.  How would your company have handled this situation?

The Situation:

Alan brought his daughter’s computer in to Schrock because he needed it fixed fast.  Her Sony notebook was less than a year old and she had been saving for months to buy it.  The fan quit working, and the computer was overheating as a result.  Best Buy needed 2 weeks to send the unit away for repair, but her flight to Spain left in a few days.

We ordered the replacement fan, had it next day shipped to our service center, and then one of our notebook technicians started installing it – except it wouldn’t work.  They sent us the wrong fan, and it required more power that the notebook was providing.  We knew she wanted the notebook for her flight, so we rewired the power source to temporarily ramp up power to the fan.

We had done this for customers in a pinch before with no negative side effects, but this time it didn’t go so well.  The modification blasted the notebook’s audio and made the video spotty at best.  The damage was permanent.

We now had 12 hours to figure something out before her flight.

The Decision:

My techs were exhausted and they had done all they could.  I personally looked at the unit and came to the same diagnosis.  I was angry at myself for making the wrong call and telling my techs to modify the unit.  I was frustrated with the situation.  I was not looking forward to the phone call I knew I had to make.

I looked up from the notebook and Barb, Eric, Doug and Mike were all looking at me.  I took a deep breath and said quietly we have to do the right thing here.  We have to buy her a new notebook.  THis had never happened in Schrock’s history before.  I directed Mike to find replacement components to have a quote ready if the customer decided to repair the unit.  I asked Eric to find me the EXACT same model and get me a price and shipping time quote – to Spain.

More Problems:

Mike came back to me about an hour later.  The replacement motherboard we needed was out of stock everywhere.  He had even checked e-Bay.

Then Eric reported back that Sony has discontinued her notebook.  It is no longer available from anyone that he could find.  They had replaced it with a newer model that looked almost the same, but with an Apple-like Mac Book copycat keyboard.

I gathered all of the numbers together and settled in for the call.

The Phone Call:

Alan was understandable upset.  He reinforced that they had never asked us to modify the notebook.  His daughter was in tears because the notebook she had worked so long to save for was destroyed.

I told Alan about my plan to replace the unit and he was a little skeptical.  We went over every feature one by one so he could be comfortable in knowing we were not replacing his daughter’s notebook with an inferior model.

She departed for Spain, and Alan told us to go ahead with the order.

The New Notebook:

We rush shipped the new notebook to our Service canter rather than straight to Spain.  The thought occurred to us that she probably did not have her original program disks with her in Spain, and sending her a notebook with no software on it wouldn’t be much of a help.

Eric cloned her old hard drive to the new one and then repaired her Vista installation.  The result was a new notebook with old data and programs that worked perfectly.  We boxed it securely and shipped it to Spain at our cost.

The Lesson Learned:

There were a lot of lessons to be learned form this experience, but the biggest lesson of all was summed up nicely in a note that Alan sent to us after his daughter had her new notebook in hand.  Here is what he wrote:

Thor,

I received an international call from my daughter, Laura, early this morning. After the laptop had been shipped to Spain, there had been further delays caused by custom hassles and the payment of import taxes. But it was finally delivered to her today.

There are many aspects of this lengthy ordeal that have been exasperating and infuriating. But I am not writing to complain about the laundry list of things that went wrong. I want to thank you for the things you personally did to make things right.

I had a dull ache in my stomach the night before Laura left for Spain when she got her laptop back and discovered the jerry-rigged fan installation had damaged her audio and messed up her monitor. I had a gut feeling right then and there that her laptop had been permanently damaged. However, I calmed Laura down and reassured her that everything would be okay and we’d get her ‘fixed-as-good-as-new’ laptop shipped to her ASAP. But truth be told, I really didn’t believe my own words. I suspected I would be going back and forth for weeks with your company debating over whether or not her laptop was truly ‘fixed’ while my daughter remained overseas without her much-needed computer. You and I both know that this would have been the case with many computer companies.

They say a person’s true character is revealed during times of trouble and adversity. Clearly, you are a stand-up guy, Thor. I admire the way you took full responsibility for what happened to Laura’s computer and did what you could to make things right as best you could. Your actions speak volumes about the type of person you are as well as the type of company you run.

Best wishes and take care,

Alan

Buying a customer a whole new nbotobook is a tough pill to swallow anytime, let alone when you are working to make every dime count in a controlled expansion.  But the valuable lesson here is that customer service is based in actions and not words.  All of the expansion plans in the world don’t matter a bit if you lose sight of what makes good service – even in a bad situation.

  1. Jim Williams said on February 15th, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Great job Thor! It may have hurt to take a shot to the wallet, but you preserved your integrity, which in today’s economy is very important!

  2. tucsoncarinsuranceguy said on February 15th, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    One of my buddies is always talking about your blog at work – finally came and checked it out today, nice work! I’m subscribing to your rss feed – keep on posting!

  3. Thor said on February 16th, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    @Jim, yeah it was a pill to swallow, but this is one of the reasons we have grown so quickly. No one is perfect, but how you deal with failure says a lot about you IMO.

  4. Thor said on February 16th, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    @Spammy name man

    Welcome aboard! Thanks for stopping by and dropping a comment. (Just kidding about the spammy name)

  5. brad callen said on February 19th, 2009 at 4:44 am

    The way your company handles difficult situations is more important than anything else if you are working to take customers from your competitors.

  6. Brad Callen said on February 20th, 2009 at 4:27 am

    Good ways for businesses to survive an economy in recession. Nice details of the problem and the decision that can occur during the recession.

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