Bob Sutton has been having a bit of a customer service nightmare with HP. You may have heard of Bob… HP now knows him pretty well and should have known better than to mess with him. You see, Bob is also the author of Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management, which just last month we called one of the best business books of 2006, and the upcoming The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. I’m looking forward to reading that one.
Bob has a widely-read blog called Work Matters, and he used that forum to tell the world about HP’s interpretation of customer service in a post titled Why ‘Industry Standard’ is a Dumb Excuse. Basically he had ordered a laptop, and after seeing in the confirmation that it wouldn’t be shipped for 20 days, he decided to cancel. Thus the ordeal began.
He spent 30 minutes that evening, and another 20 the next day, just trying to find information on how to cancel the order. He finally called and after 15 minutes of runaround was told he was "8 minutes too late"… but not what he was late for. He called again the next day and after being on hold for 20 minutes got the runaround from a live human in "customer service." He was even offered $100 not to cancel (note to everyone: remember that HP gives you $100 off if you threaten to cancel…!). Finally he got someone to cancel the order.
The excuses he received were amazing, but unfortunately all too common. He even received a lengthy comment to his post, presumably from an HP rep. They said the situation conformed to "industry standard," that the customer service folks couldn’t talk to the factory because the worked different hours, and that the cancellation policy was in the fine print. "Did you take the time to read the terms and conditions?" was what one HP person wrote.
Actually insisting you read the fine print is ridiculous. Yes, the legalese is important, but who really takes the time? It is purely CYA for the company, in this case HP. We learn who we can trust to provide a truly customer-focused and customer-friendly experience, and several comments on Bob’s post pointed to the likes of Amazon and Charles Schwab. As Bob puts it,
I should not have to read every single word of a contract when I buy something — to paraphrase Jeff Bezos of Amazon, that is the kind of thing the cell phone companies do to customers they are trying to screw, not companies that care about their customers. If I need a lawyer every time I buy something from you, I should just switch to a company where this isn’t the case.
Aside from the customer service side of things, there is a direct lean aspect. One of HP’s excuses why it was so hard to cancel the order is because "HP begins processing orders immediately." Not bad. But a ship date 20 days later? Somewhere there’s a lot of waste of waiting or unnecessary processing, as Dell can usually get even the most complex configuration out in less than a week. Building a laptop today is usually a fairly simple process of slapping a few foreign-made modules together.
It only takes a minute of negative attitude to destroy a decade of positive reputation. And if you do it to the right person, the world finds out about it.