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Reflections on a broken dryer

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Six Stupid, the preferred Customer Elimination Management (CEM) process design tool, is alive and well.

The circumstances: Our electric dryer’s heating coil burnt out.

The offender: In accordance with KJR policy you’ll have to infer which failing retailer that sells and services appliances is the culprit.

The plan: The service tech who diagnosed the problem ordered a replacement heating coil, to be delivered directly to my home, scheduling its installation a full week later to allow plenty of time for delivery.

What happened instead: The day before the scheduled repair I went on-line with the tracking number, and learned the part had been delivered to an address in North Carolina. My wife, the dryer, and I all reside in Minnesota.

Three days, ten phone calls (at least four dropped while I was on hold), and various queries, expostulations, and expressions of incredulity and annoyance, led to my being “informed” (in quotes for reasons that will be apparent) that:

  • The part was delivered to the store. The service tech would, I was told, pick it up. Which store? No answer no matter how many times and ways I asked. Had the information been U.S. troop deployments in Afghanistan, it would have been safe too.
  • The part was damaged in transit, but a replacement had been ordered and would be delivered the next day.
  • (Next day): No replacement order had been placed. But don’t worry, an emergency replacement order has now been placed, and should arrive in time for the rescheduled repair. Tracking number? None has been assigned yet. But it is an emergency order. May I speak directly to the dispatcher to confirm? No. Did the service tech speak directly to the dispatcher? No. But don’t worry. It’s an emergency order.
  • (Next day): No, there’s still no tracking number. But don’t worry. It’s an emergency order. What’s that mean? It’s an emergency order. Does that mean it will be overnighted? Don’t worry — it’s an emergency order.
  • It’s not our fault. “You can’t blame us. UPS damaged the original shipment. How were we supposed to know?”

One ray of sunshine: The company has already charged us in full for the repair.

It’s the six-stupid methodology because this little morality play sits at the confluence of at least six different pieces of stupidity:

1. Blamestorming: The customer service guy blamed UPS. Yes, UPS damaged the part. But who decided to not stock the repair part, and to ship directly to my address (presumably to save money by having no handling at a distribution center)?

Any time your company puts its reputation in the hands of another company, make sure your systems communicate so you know there’s a problem before your customer knows there’s a problem.

And don’t blame-shift. Your customers don’t care why you failed. Your customers care that you failed, and that you’re going to fix the problem.

2. Dropped phone calls? That’s so last century. Correction — I managed telecom in the 1990s for a couple of years. Dropped calls are so 1950s.

3. Failure to log: At least half of the folks I spoke with started our conversation by entering the original tracking number into the UPS site and explained to me that the part had already been delivered, as if my previous calls had never happened.

4. Keeping the customer in the dark. Don’t transfer calls. Conference them and perform a verbal hand-off. And don’t use the hold button when consulting someone else internally. Conference those, too.

Among the advantages: Irritated customers like me get to express our irritation at the person who’s in a position to do something useful … or who isn’t but should be. That gives them an incentive to do something useful without prompting next time.

5. Failure to anticipate process failure. Process designers take note: Your beautiful process will work most of the time. Your exception processes will often work too.

But not always. When they fail too, don’t hobble customer service reps with handcuffs, leg irons, and blindfolds. When the defined process has failed, Free Customer Service! The rules of hub-and-spoke practice management should take over.

6. Ignoring what IT knows. IT has mostly figured this stuff out, starting with a simple principle: If there’s an outage of any kind, the help desk should know before the first user calls to complain. If not, there’s something terribly wrong beyond the outage itself.

And a second principle: The job isn’t done when the call is over. The job is done when the user’s problem has been taken care of.

If that’s important enough for employees, shouldn’t it guide interactions with real paying customers — like the ones who will buy the appliances for their new abode from just about anyone else?

Comments (7)

  • I am a customer of COMCAST (cable INTERNET & TV) About 30 percent of the time I get dropped when I am trying to open a ticket. This is supposedly a “good” company.

  • This sort of thing, I find, *is* the exception. But it still happens way too often.

    My own recent experience involved a refund from an airline. It took 4 1/2 months to get half of the refund (they refunded 1 ticket instead of two).

  • So, did you get the dryer repaired?

    Reminded me of a similar story with a well-known cable company – after scheduling an appointment, my husband and I had driven 6 hours to coordinate my mother’s computer installation with them. Despite many calls and assurances that someone would be there, we ended up getting the part from a retail store, and doing the install ourselves – a week or so later the technician finally came and said we did a good job.

  • Well stroked (as usual)! But, knowing you a bit, how did you deal with this bog of stupidity beyond simple persistence?

    • Well, that’s the thing. We’re out of bourbon, so I was pretty much without recourse!

      Surprisingly enough, the part has since showed up.

  • FedEx is another company that has no idea what to do when things go wrong, especially if it’s an international shipment to/from some distant exotic location like Vancouver.

    After losing track of the overnight return shipment to Los Angeles on two equipment cases, things got increasingly worse for eight (EIGHT!) days, until they finally found the cases in Seattle, after which they inexplicably decided to split the shipment up and sent one of the cases on a four day vacation to New York.

    It took about a dozen phone calls and emails until they finally admitted they MAY have screwed up, and very reluctantly agreed to refund the charges.

    As a programmer friend used to say – Things will always find a way to get messed up. The important thing is not that things went wrong, it is what you do next. The very next step is critical in many ways.

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