Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Customer service: a vote of confidence

Some years back, we bought a rather expensive combination oven. One that had a microwave, convection oven and a grill. Unlike most peopke who splurge on on of these, I didn't come to regret it within a few weeks. I used it almost every day. Then it went wrong, a few days (of course) after the warranty expired.

I took it in for repairs. What a brouhaha. After trying several different places, it seemed that the thing to do was chuck it and buy a new one.

The microwave I have now started life as a comination oven, too, but suddenly started making dreadful grinding noises one day when the convection oven was being used. Same story, it seems. One simply doesn't repair these things. The spares aren't available and no-one has the skills to work on them.

And it seems to be true of most appliances - or such has been my experience, anyway. Gone are the fix-it workshops that used to repair all manner of things.

When something goes wrong with your kettle, you buy a new one. When the iron gets tacky underneath, you buy a new one. When your DVD player starts to play up, you buy a new one.

By contrast, my vacuum cleaner broke the other day. It has this little clip thing that allows the extenion hose bit to revert to being part of the handle. It's a fairly reputable brand (and I'm broke), so I thought I just check out their website.

It seems you can buy pretty much every single part of every single one of their cleaners - even one that is several years old (like mine). I discovered that the broken clip-thing is called a wand release catch and goes for just £2.50 plus P&P. I ordered it forthwith.

I sang their praises for the next two days, telling everyone how their service indicated a confidence in their own product. That they expected the whole to last longer than some of the parts (sorry, dreadful play on words).

The catch duly arrived today and I snapped it in place with ease. I gave the cleaner an experimental push and then pulled it back towards myself. The 'wand' as I had now discovered it was called, came back without the cleaner.

Feeling cheated and disillusioned, I phoned the service desk (number prominently displayed on the side of the cleaner) to complain. The man asked me whether I had popped the spring in place. Spring? In spite of the fact that (as I then discovered) it says "Spring not included" on the order screen for the catch, I had not even noticed that I needed one. "Never mind," quoth the helpful man, "it happens a lot. I'll pop one in the post for you today. No charge."

Now that's more like it! This is service that, as I said, speaks of the manufacturer's confidence in their own product. They make themselves easy to find and, when you find them, they offer you a solution.

They used to run an ad campaign that said the every single new staff member had to go out on to the factory floor and build one of their vacuum cleaners. Everyone, from the most junior to the most senior member of staff has to know how they are constructed and what goes into them. Not only that, but they seem always to be innovating and thinking ahead.

It's official. I'm a fan. My next vacuum cleaner - assuming I ever need one, that is - will be another Dyson.

Moreover, I'm going to take a leaf from their book. I'm going to look for ways to provide that kind of service to my own customers.

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