When last I blogged, I shared that my iBook had suffered a sudden demise, and that I was girding my loins to deal with the “Certified Applecare Repair Center” near my home.
What followed was both comedic gold and entirely classic Singaporean “Customer Service.” The short version? I’m going to take my laptop to a REAL Apple Store in the US.
I enter the repair center, get my queue ticket, and wait to be called.
Repair Dude (henceforth known as RD)-What’s the problem?
ME-My laptop was fully charged. I started watching video on iTunes and it died. I tried charging it, waiting, and turning it back on, but it won’t turn on.
RD presses power button. Nothing happens. He frowns. He presses it again. Nothing happens.
RD asks another RD for a power cord. He plugs it into my laptop and presses the power button. Nothing happens. RD frowns. He presses the power button again. Nothing happens.
I begin to wonder if he is missing the part where I said it didn’t turn on.
RD goes and gets another power cord. He plugs it into my laptop and presses the power button. Nothing happens. This seems shocking to him. He confers with first one, then two additional RD guys. Another power cord is brought out and they take turns pushing my power button.
I am feeling a distinct lack of faith that this is going to end well.
RD to me--It doesn’t turn on.
Me-I know, I told you that when you asked me why I brought it into you.
RD-Can not run test to find out what’s wrong if it won’t turn on.
I consider the relative merits of banging my head on the desk.
RD begins to examine my laptop in great detail. He points to a very minor dent on a corner of the laptop that has been there for months if not over a year at this point–Dent is why no can work?
ME-No, that’s been there forever. The dent isn’t going to affect what is clearly an electrical problem. It’s under applecare for another year, so…
RD begins to examine the laptop in greater detail, asks me to sit down. He is very clearly distressed that he can not follow what I’m guessing is the procedure his manual has outlined which I’m just going to go out on a limb and say is that when a customer brings in a broken laptop, you turn it on and run a certain diagnostic test. That he can’t do this is clearly distressing for him, as is the fact that I’m saying such technical things as “can you please note down that if there is a hard drive issue, that I want the hard drive back, regardless of condition” (which would be a fairly standard thing to say at a genius bar at this juncture…it would be a note left for the tech people as part of the work order).
I watch as he begins to fill out paperwork, noting every scratch, sign of wear and contemplate such niceties as genius bar employees who seem to actually know and use Apple products on a regular basis compared with what is currently passing for customer service. I consider the value of empowering your employees to step outside the box and view a problem from various angles and figure out the approach that might work best in a given situation.
Eventually RD gives me a slip and tells me it’s going to be sent to the service center and that they’ll call me.
My Phone Rings
It’s a Service Center Dude (SCD) who wants to tell me what’s wrong–There are two problems-the keyboard and the main part of the computer.
Me-What do you mean the main part of the computer? Motherboard, hard drive, what?
SCD is confused–The main part
I close my eyes and pray for strength. Elanor chooses this moment to start begging for attention, causing me to have a “Calgon take me away” moment.
Me-There’s no such thing as a “main part”–can you please be specific
SCD-It’s the blahblah
Me-What’s a blahblah
SCD-It’s the blahblah
I’ll spare you the back and forth for several minutes as I try to force him to explain what on earth a blahblah is only to finally discover that it’s the motherboard, which Apple calls some cutesy Apple-specific name. Had I had this conversation with a genius bar employee they say something like “It’s the motherboard….we call it a blahblah”
Me-Okay, so how long to fix it?
SCD-It’s not covered
Me-...Um, it’s under applecare
SCD–blah blah negligence blah blah not covered
Me-fine, whatever, I’ll pick it up and take it to Apple in the US
It’s not that I don’t believe that there may be damage that isn’t covered by my applecare warranty, and we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. It’s that (A) Genius bars in the US have a fairly flexible notion of what “covered” means as opposed to the more rigid definition held in Singapore (B) if something is broken and it’s going to be expensive, if I’m in the Apple Store, they’ll give me the option to fix it, purchase a refurbed laptop for a discount or a decent discount overall on a new product. In Singapore I’m just told it’s broken, it’s not covered, sucks to be me.
The experience was in many ways a stereotypical “customer service” exchange in Singapore. The rules are the rules and the procedures are the procedures. There is no flexibility, no individual agency on the part of the customer service rep, and the very idea that you might want to step outside the lines or want more information than “how much” is met with confusion and disapproval. With some exceptions, you too can experience this by asking to substitute a side dish at a restaurant. I can’t tell you the number of “but that’s not what comes with it” that I’ve gotten for wanting fries instead of mashed potatoes or whatever (Western restaurants, although not Hard Rock are among the exceptions). When we wanted to buy a printer, Ravi asked the employee about something relating to a technical spec. The rep couldn’t answer the question, but just continued his high pressure “buy it” sales technique.
I remember when I first got a retail job. I spent a week in a back room watching videos on everything from shoplifting to how to properly fold a towel (I worked at a department store in the bed/bath department). I also was presented with and trained in customer service protocols. The customer is valued. The customer represents money. The customer should be treated like a welcome visitor. Get a vibe from them if they’d like some attention or not. Introduce yourself and make it clear that you’re available to answer questions. Do whatever you need to to make them happy. Discount an item if it’s stained. Triage unhappiness. Develop a relationship with repeat clients. The customer is king.
An example of how this works is my local Gymboree outlet in Boston. I shopped there regularly, and the manager learned my name and my daughter’s name. He’d tell me about an upcoming sale. He’d take the time to look in the back if I needed a size that wasn’t out himself. When I moved away and needed to stock up on bigger sizes and summer fabrics, he pulled all the old summer stock out from the back for me. When I’ve popped in on return visits, he still knows my name and Ellies and remembers that we moved to Singapore. He pulls backstock that was going to be remaindered for me, helping me fill in E’s wardrobe, even when what I need isn’t in season. He’ll call other stores on my behalf to find a specific item in a specific size. He goes above and beyond, and I reward that by trying to do the majority of my shopping with Gymboree Outlets in his store.
To be fair, it’s not universal. I’ve gotten some great service here, too. But it’s far more rare. In Singapore, I tend to frequent a specific spa for leg waxing, prenatal massages, and pedicures. I’ve been going for a year. They know my name, I know their names. They ask how Elanor is doing, and chat with me before and after a treatment. I recently had a less than perfect experience, but I elected to give them another chance after that because we’d built a relationship and I was able to write it off as an off day on their part. If we didn’t have that relationship, I would’ve just found a new place to go to.
Don’t get me wrong…there’s plenty of lousy customer service in the US.
But overall, the goal of every store (mid and high range, at least…lower end stores count on low prices to bring you back regardless of how much the service sucks) is to build a relationship with you to keep you coming back, and employees are empowered to do that through a variety of strategies. In Singapore, there is the checklist and it must not be deviated from.
That lack of flexibility is one of the things that does wear on me. It’s frustrating to feel like you’re beating your head against a wall, thinking that what you’re asking for is no big deal (because it isn’t in your experiences). And as an expat, it’s just one of those things that you mostly try to work with…or you beat your head bloody. And sometimes it means you just take your laptop back to the US for a repair.