Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Customer service

I was reading this post about terrible customer service at Ronni Bennet's blog, Time Goes By, and couldn't help but see myself in her shoes more times than I care to remember. In general, I'd have to agree that customer service just isn't what it used to be. In my darker moments, I think the world really is going to hell in a handbasket and service and civility have gone the way of the dodo.

Well, yesterday, proved me wrong. To counterbalance all the bad and lack-of-service tales of woe out there, here's my story:

We've had trouble with our house alarm in the past week or so.

I received a message from the alarm company telling me that there might be a low battery problem with our system. That evening, I checked the panel and everything seemed fine. I didn't think any more of it. A few days later, the dreaded yellow "trouble" light came on and the silly thing started beeping every ten seconds. So, I called the alarm company back and a very nice woman tells me that I should do some troubleshooting to determine exactly what the problem is. Meanwhile, she says, I can stop the beeping by pressing any key. She says the warning light will stay on as long as there's a problem, but the annoying beeping should stop. If the problem persists, make sure to call back.

Okay, so I stop the beeping by pressing the * key and the yellow light also miraculously goes off. So I think, maybe it was just a glitch in the system and everything is fine. But no, a few hours later, the light goes back on and the darn thing starts beeping again.

It's now late in the evening and I figure no tech person is going to come out in the middle of the night without charging about a gazillion dollars an hour. So I dig out the instruction manual to see what the problem might be. I follow the troubleshooting tips in said manual and find that I've got a "Defective Stand-by Battery". It also says the battery should be replaced every three years. We've had the system for eleven years - I guess we should have read the manual more carefully. It tells me how to turn off the annoying beeping, but that I must call the installer for further assistance. Great! My "installer" sold the company several years ago to another company, which in turn sold it to the present company. I wonder how much this is going to cost me, especially since it's not a system they installed.

The next morning (from work) I call the alarm company back and tell a different woman that, according to the alarm panel, I have a defective stand-by battery. The nice lady transfers my call to the tech department.

A friendly techie answers (which is unusual in itself - I've never spoken to a friendly technician). He tells me that I need a new battery (in more ways than one, I might add). I ask if I should make an appointment for someone to do it. Well, he says, you can do it yourself. It's pretty easy, just like changing any battery. It'll save the cost of a service call, he says. You can get a new battery at any battery store. I didn't realize there were such things as battery stores, I tell him. He reassures me there are. He even names a couple. He gives me the details: a 12V SEALED LEAD ACID battery (he even spells it out to me) and it's either a 4 or 7 AmpH. It should be about $30. Just open the panel box to find out if it's a 4 or a 7. Do you have a key? Well, no, I'm pretty sure I don't. I would have kept it with the instruction manual. Well, he says, sometimes they put it on top of the box or tape it to the side. The same evening I go straight to the alarm box to check for a key. No key.

(I must also explain that this panel box is not easy to get at. It's situated under our front stairs, behind the hall closet. In order to get to it, you have to remove all the junk from the closet floor, remove a cut-out panel door and crawl through a 2 ft by 2 ft opening. It's where I put our Christmas decorations and boxes that won't fit anywhere else.)

The next day, I call the alarm company back. I explain my predicament to the woman on the phone. She is very sympathetic. She suggests that their technicians might have a key that fits, but she can't be sure because they no longer install the system I have. If they can't open it, they'll have to drill the lock. She can book an appointment for me, but it won't be until Monday at the earliest (this was last Thursday). I really have no choice. She says the service call is a minimum $85 plus the cost of the battery plus GST (federal tax).

On Monday, a nice young man named Kevin arrives. He apologizes for being a bit early. I look at him curriously -- it's 1:58 pm - the appointment was for anytime after 2 pm. I show him the way to the alarm box and apologize for all the stuff he has to manoeuver around. No problem. I guess he's used to it. He tries all the keys he has on his key chain, but none of them work. No problem. He tries to turn the lock with a screwdriver. Finally, he jimmy's the door open. In about ten minutes he's done. The yellow warning light is still on, but Kevin assures me it's just resetting and will go off in about five minutes.

Meanwhile, he writes up the bill and I'm ready to get out my cheque book. Then he asks how I want to handle the payment. I ask, is there a choice? He says, you can write a cheque or use a credit card or we can bill you later. I pick bill me later. No problem.

We take another look at the alarm panel. The yellow light is still on. Strange, says Kevin, it should have reset by now. He rechecks the battery to make sure it's okay. It seems to be working. A worried look comes over his face as he says, well maybe it's the system itself, but I'm sure it's not. I'll just put up these security stickers for you while we wait a little longer. Ten minutes later, yellow light is still on. He goes to put his tools away and says, well sometimes it takes older systems longer. Don't worry about it, but if it's still not off by dinner time, call the office in the morning. Talk to Karen. I'll let her know you might be calling. If you need a new system we can replace this one for free as long as you sign a three-year contract for the monitoring. I figure we haven't switched in eleven years, what's another three? All the while, Kevin is acting like all this is somehow his fault and keeps trying to reassure me that he's sure things will be fine. Forty-five minutes later, the light is still on and he says he must leave, but don't forget to call Karen in the morning if the light's still on. Okay, Kevin. Thanks for all your help. He leaves and I figure either the light will go off or I'll be phoning Karen to arrange for a new system.

I go off to do other things around the house. Several hours later, the phone rings. It's Kevin - asking if the system rebooted yet. I had completely forgotten about it and wouldn't have checked again until after dinner. But he was concerned enough to call ME back.

If you've stayed with me this long, my point - and I DO have one - is that as annoying as it was to go through this, it was an unexpected pleasure to find that every single employee I dealt with was both friendly and helpful. A rarity these days. Either management is doing something right or they lucked into some very good employees.

PS. Late edit: the company's name is Protectron


Simply Coll said...

Comforting to hear that you received such good service. It does seem to be a rare occurrence these days. I can't say that I blame the employees as much as I do the employers (for bad service, that is). I do believe, especially in this day and age, many employees have very large work loads as the companies attempt to save pennies.

Hay said...

People (and companies) can surprise you sometimes. Not all people are in it for the money, some actually care about their jobs and I think Kevin is one of them.

It's actually not all bad today. Some companies have found out that employees work better if they are happy.

Tim Whelan said...

Fortunately not all businesses are bad. There are many out there that think building trust and loyalty are very important. Glad to hear about one more.

I fight for policy changes and customer respect all the time and as a consultant in this field I have dealt with my share of short sighted managers and owners. But, times are a changing.

If customers keep up the preasure and revolt a little they get the message. Big companies will take the longest for obvious reasons. I hope you emailed your blog to the company. As customers we shouldn't just complain when they get it right we need to tell them as well.


ell said...

Good point, Tim. I'll email them today.

ronny said...

The town I'm in is small enough that I don't have too many customer service problems at the places I usually shop or do business, they even know me and my normal habits but when I have to go to the city for things it's very different. Some stores even border on outright resentment that you are there at all.

I also see customers treating employees badly and being overly harsh with their complaints. I think that people in general are getting ruder and customer service often just reflects that. I do think that positive feedback is a good idea, everyone likes to hear they are doing a good job.

Walt Vegas said...

It's the blog that never ends! I just keep reading and reading! ;)

Don't you think you may've been having a little rosey recollection though stating that customer service was better way back when?

Here's my bad customer service story. I went to Wal Mart to buy totes for moving. I spent 45 min there. I could see what I wanted, but I couldn't get it, and the ones I could reach didn't have lids. I talked to five different people, and no one could help me. I left and went to Lowe's. I was in and out in less than five minutes!

ell said...

I definitely think service in small towns are better. I had similar experiences in a smaller community. I think it's partly because many of the businesses are owner-operated and there's a vested interest in keeping people happy. Word of mouth in a small town can either make you or break you.

There's something to the observation that people seem ruder these days. But I'm one of those ornery individuals that believe in "killing 'em with kindness". I just keep smiling and being pleasant, but insistent, no matter how rude someone gets. They either give up, or smile themselves.

rk, serves you right for shopping Wal-Mart - don't even get me started.

Ronny said...

I smile so much that the check out guy at the grocery store once told me that he had thought I was simple minded or on drugs because when I first started coming in. He said it always seemed I was smiling no matter how long the line or pushy the people. Later when he got to know me better he mentioned it and I thought, do I really occur that way? but ah, well, I'd rather be simple and happy than pushy and rude.

ell said...

ronny, simple-minded and stoned, huh?

We should shop together. They'll think we're from some kind of hippy-happy commune.