4 recent incidents prompted this mini-rant about customer service.

First the Bad:

We were one of the very first users of Sprint PCS service. We were in San Diego and had a Pioneer Plan phone. The deal was the phone was to have no monthly fees for life but paid a very high per minute charge. When we moved back to Colorado we still kept our Sprint phone although there was no Sprint service here. Several years later Sprint bought Cleartalk and we decided to get cell phones with Sprint and switch our wire line to my phone number. We’ve had the same phone number in my family for over 30 years and I was not about to change it. This took filing a complaint with the FCC about our local phone company who initially refused to transfer the number. Long story short we did manage to get the number switched to Sprint service.

Now, several years later I’m looking at doing more bill paying on-line and was having problems getting set up at the Sprint web site. I contacted their on-line chat help and they assisted me in getting the accounts set up for the two current phones here in Colorado. But when I tried to get our old Pioneer line phone set up I couldn’t do it at all. Found out that Sprint, with no warning and no notice, had cancelled the phone for non-use. We typically used it once a year when traveling as it’s per minute charge was still less than the roaming charge on our existing phones. Now I can see asking about canceling a phone but to do so without ever a single warning to the customer that it was going to be cancelled was really bad. Sure the phone number didn’t show up on Sprints new billing system but I didn’t expect it too because it had no monthly fee. Not only did Sprint cancel our long term phone number and contract but they also refused to re-instate it even with a new phone number. If going to supervisors is like levels on a game I made it to level five before stalling out.

FInal result, no additional Pioneer plan phone in our house and down to 2 Sprint phones. Unintended consequence for Sprint. The Pioneer plan phone we had was the only reason we stayed with Sprint for so many years. Without that link we are now shopping cell phone plans in our area and expect to switch when our contract runs out. Sprint’s inability to provide the customer with a clear warning of impending significant changes has lost them a very long time customer.

Bad Customer Service Number 2

I run on a Macintosh. I spent the last year gearing up for the switch to Leopard (10.5.6) because I had many legacy applications I needed to replace or upgrade. So finally I made the switch around the first of the year. Major operating system upgrades are always fraught with hassle, particularly in how they handle printing and scanning. I had verified at the HP site that our laser multifunction printer a model 3015 was one of those that would be supported by Leopard. Note the printer is clearly listed on page 6 of this document and has no notes that scanning will not be supported. I know it is an older printer so I checked it first.

Hewlett Packard Launch PDF 

I follow all the procedures and install Leopard per all the instructions. I get printing to work but scanning no longer works on my machine at all. I started searching the HP site for help. Discovered that some folks from several months ago said HP was not yet supporting scanning on the multifunction printers. So I download and install HPs latest driver SW thinking that might fix it.

No such luck. I finally call HP service after being lost in their e-mail service for days with no response other than stock answers to reboot and install new drivers etc. When I finally found a person to talk to the answer is that HP no longer supports scanning under Mac OS X Leopard for their multifunction printers. No amount of pointing out that their own website says they do got any results. I was offered the chance to buy a new HP multifunction printer at full price.

Needless to say this will be my last HP printer. When this one dies or as is more likely I can no longer get cartridges for it I will buy something else. I will never buy another HP product because they lied. Had HP honestly documented on their web site that scanning would not work under Leopard for my older printer I’d have been upset but not totally unhappy. I could have planned for how to handle the change and in fact probably would have bought a new HP printer. Instead I went out and bought a nice Fujitsu ScanSnap S510M and got rolling on scanning year end documents within minutes.

Now the Good

I got a kindle from Amazon last summer. The first one had some problems which resulted in Amazon sending out a replacement. By the time the replacement got here the first one was working. It was an authentication error with the EVDO data service that got fixed at Sprint. By now we had decided that we needed two kindles in the house so I called Amazon and they said to keep the replacement and after 30 days my credit card would be charged. I did and they did. I download and read a lot of samples, put a number of them in my save for later section on Amazon and also have a lot of the free books from both feedbooks.com and Gutenberg on my kindle. I started having problems with it not holding a charge for overnight. I used Amazon’s call me back now service option. The support person called back immediately and we spent several days back and forth testing things and working out a solution. Along the entire thing I was able to get back to the same support person I had originally spoken too, so he knew the history and understood the problem. Amazon was all ready to send me a new kindle but I was sure it was a software problem not a hardware one. I managed to get enough samples and music off my kindle and left it plugged in overnight to fully re-index the system and the power draining has stopped. I still suspect it is a bug in the power management and other kindle owners report a similar thing on occasion but it is rare. The kindle appears to go into an infinite loop reindexing the system under some hard to replicate circumstances. During the entire episode the Amazon rep was cheerful and helpful and called me back when I asked and really worked to try to help me get my kindle back operating properly. I was very impressed and will continue to buy kindle books. Now I’m not going to get a kindle 2, but I’ll look at kindle 3 when they come out.

Good Customer Service Number 2

My last good customer service episode was with Apple. I was trying to put some MP3 files on an SD card to use in our non-apple music player. I could get the card to less than half full and then I’d start getting errors that the card was full and there was no space. The mac system reported over 1 GB of space left so I was confused. Putting the card into a Linux system showed that for some reason Spotlight was reserving a huge space for indexes and there was no way to turn the indexing off for that drive because it was a removable card. I used Apple’s call me back now option and got a real human on the phone almost immediately. The customer service rep stayed with me for over half an hour as we tried various options and finally we got the card reformatted. He stayed on the line waiting while I slowly transferred over a bunch of files to get up to the limits to verify that the problems was fixed. Sure I wish the solution had not involved a full reformat of the card but I was pleased that the customer service rep was willing to stay on the line until I was satisfied it was all working even though it took a long time. None of this reformat and call back later BS.

So the lesson for businesses is that you need to keep in mind that customers can be very loyal if you keep us informed of your plans, call back when asked and do not lie to us about your service.

In these hard economic times companies would do well to remember that one upset customer will tell many, as I am doing on this blog, and that retaining a customer is far better than to trying to get a new one.technology,