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How not to do customer service

July 26, 2011

Frustration, anyone? (flickr - KM&G-Morris)

Does this sound familiar to anyone? You want to give your money to some company for a good or service, but they are too incompetent / disinterested / confused to take it from you. This seems to happen more and more frequently as online commerce “matures.” Case in point:

MPOW provided me a lovely little HP Mini 5103 netbook. It’s tiny, runs for nearly ten hours on a charge, and now that I’ve removed Windows and made it a quick-bootin’ open-source-lovin’ Ubuntu machine, it makes me happier than any computer I’ve ever used. There’s just this one thing …

That battery with the super long life is kind of fat, well 22 mm thick to be exact. That’s not large, but what it means is that the battery extends beyond the chassis of the computer. The upside to this is that it tilts the keyboard at a nice angle. The downside is that it makes the netbook somewhat harder to fit into a small bag, and it adds weight to an otherwise featherweight machine.

Googling around convinced me that there might be a smaller profile battery available for this netbook, but the various third-party vendors are vague as to which models which batteries fit, and they also tend not to give dimensions for batteries. Naively, I thought I’d just ask HP. Ha.

Welcome to the obelisk. First, I went to their sales site, and attempted to use the “chat with an agent” function. After clearly describing the issue, the agent told me he/she would look for an answer. After waiting about 15 minutes, what I learned was that since I’m in Canada, I have to speak to HP Canada. Really? Can’t you just tell me if the part exists? If not, I’m done. If so, then I buy it via HP Canada.

The agent gave me a link to a Website, where I again explained the entire issue in their email contact form. This is their response, redacted for brevity:

Dale, after reviewing your email, I understand you have HP Mini 5103 PC with battery 597639-541. I understand you want to get a smaller battery to fit in the chassis of the PC.

Translated: I answer emails via a strict script. Points, however, for grasping what I seek.

I greatly appreciate that you have forwarded your concern and had given us a chance to assist you in this matter.

It’s not a concern, it’s a product inquiry. I want to spend money!

Dale, HP Mini 5103 PC is a business support PC and we do not have the expertise on the product as we are dedicated to support Home and Office use product.

Why oh why do I give a rip about how you organize yourselves internally? Who cares if I’ve emailed the janitor who cleans HP’s office in Timbuktu; route the inquiry internally and get me an answer, and don’t put the burden on me. Oh, did I mention: I WANT TO GIVE YOU MONEY, NOT HAVE A RELATIONSHIP! Oh, and using my name twice is just creepy.

I will suggest you to please contact our HP Tech support number: 1-800-474-xxxx and tell them to connect you to HP business support for the HP Mini 5103 PC and they will assist you to get the smaller battery if it is available for the product.

Translated: subject yourself to Dante’s phone tree to reach the staff that I should just call on your behalf. Oh, and there’s only a minimal chance of success, since we may not even offer a smaller battery.

If you need further assistance, please reply to this message and we will be happy to assist you further.

Um, no. I’ve received no assistance, only frustration. Since hardware such as this is really just a commodity (we’re not talking about an iPhone here), it’s safe to say that I would think twice about an HP.

Does this sound familiar? How do you cope?

  1. July 26, 2011 11:17

    Ah, but you didn’t end up in a “phone assistance” that “guided” you in a super-slow automatic voice (of course, because you have the money for such a service call) through all the possibilities of concerns by “pressing 1” to “pressing 6″…?

    I had this with a “special battery” for a wireless landline phone once. I needed one because the original one just died away. The email assistance told me to call a certain number and there they said to me they could order such a “new old battery” and deliver it in about four weeks. I just laughed at them and went to the shop next door and bought a new wireless phone from another company with technology-neutral aaa batteries. At least I know where to get such… And yes, I gladly pay money to avoid frustration. It’s like a tax return: If you have the patience to deal with all the crap you could actually get a bit more money out of it. Or you just tick the minimum of necessary boxes and be done with it. Free time, yay, I’ll have a large one please!

    …By the way, a wonderful episode on customer service is the Mobistar container prank:

    • Dale permalink*
      July 26, 2011 12:11

      Good point, Katrin, about having to pay for customer service. At least that little trick doesn’t exist in North America (yet). That has always bugged me in Germany, not least when calling taxpayer-supported entities.

      Great video. Glad they did that in Belgium. In the US, the police would have been called immediately, they in turn would have assumed it was a terrorist act so the FBI and CIA would have been consulted, with the result that the container would have been stormed and the occupants sent to Guantanamo. Mobistar would get a citation from the government for their contribution to the war on terror.

  2. Roger L permalink
    February 8, 2013 18:57

    The best and most true part of your post: “I want to give you money!” and they are so concerned about not saying / promising the wrong thing they shut you down not just now but for the whole rest of your product-purchasing life.

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