The Value of Customer Service

Two recent experiences have highlighted for me, yet again, the immense value of top-notch customer service.

First, I'm working with a new photo scanning company, GoPhoto.com, and in the process of trying out their service I discovered a few things worth mentioning to management. They accepted my information very gratefully, and more than that, comped me the entire order. Clearly they need not have done that, and honestly, it's not a completely altruistic move, as I am a potential investor. On the other hand, I got the clear impression that any customer would have been treated as well - this is one of the components of GoPhoto's "special sauce" for gaining and retaining customers, after all - and such a response is absolutely the correct one.

Today I experienced a similar level of great support from my old friends at the Apple store. I've had great experience with them in the past (two hints: buy AppleCare, and don't lie to the technician), and today I went in with another issue. The battery on my MacBook has started increasing its girth so that it no longer was able to fit into its neat little compartment on the bottom of the laptop. Sadly, AppleCare coverage of batteries lapses after one year, not the three on the system itself. But the technician simply said "we can do this outside the system for you" and installed a new battery off the shelf. I don't know whether Apple gives its "geniuses" leeway, or whether it's a matter of policy to make it appear so, but whichever it is, Apple retains a delighted customer. Heck, I'm even posting it to the web for them!

On the other side of the equation is FirstAlert. One of the Smoke/CO detectors we had installed in our house last year failed. I called the warranty phone number and talked to an agent who had me replace the batteries in the unit, whereupon it started screaming bloody murder yet again. He acknowledged that it was faulty, and though it claims to have a seven year warranty, made some noises about how it was not under warranty, but he would replace it anyway. So far so good, and not so different from Apple, though he did not explain how this failure would not be covered by the 7 year bit. The capper was this: he said they would send out a new unit to arrive in 10-14 business days. This is such bad business, I was speechless. Can you imagine the lawsuit if there were a fire during that time, and someone perished because there was no alarm in my living room? Right answer is "yes, it's defective. you can either pick up a new one this afternoon from <choose local store name>, or it will be on your doorstep tomorrow morning."

Bottom line in all of this is that the extra mile in customer service is your best marketing. All entrepreneurs should keep that in mind, even though it's hard to do when things are moving at the breakneck rate of a start-up, and when cash flow is at such a premium. Delegating real power to the front line, as it appears Apple does, is also a huge win. This so humanizes a large company, and it goes doubly that a small company must present a human face.

Copyright 1997-2017, Ben Littauer