As part of my contract with a client, I have delivered numerous Customer Service training and seminars. I wish ASUS had sent their people to that training.

In a recent series of exchanges with a major computer company (where I was the customer, not a consultant), I was amazed to find how few of their “Customer Service” employees understood the basic principles of customer service. At this point, the exchange is still not over. I’m typing this on my old PC, since the new one is still packed up for shipping back to the company, and I’m pondering a key question:

What should be the focus of Customer Service?

I started asking this question last night, because I realized everyone I spoke with was only interested in trying to fix the problem with the computer. Let’s be clear, the problem isn’t world-shattering. The touch screen doesn’t work – it literally does nothing when I touch the screen. Now, for some of you, that might be a major issue. For me – since I’ve never had a computer with a touch screen before – it’s merely an inconvenience. I only want it fixed because it’s a brand new computer, and I could have saved some money if I hadn’t wanted the touch screen. At least that’s where I started.

Then I spent about two weeks back and forth with support trying to find the problem. They finally agreed it was hardware and asked me to ship it back for repair. No worries, I thought; I still have my old PC and can use it for a week or two until I get this back. With some poor communications of process from the support team, it ended up taking two weeks to arrange the shipping back to them. Then a normal two-week turnaround (shipping both ways, etc.). We’re now well over a month into the saga, but at least it’s over.

Only it isn’t. The computer wasn’t repaired. The repair center simply repeated a step I’d already been instructed to try (the one that led them to conclude that the computer has a hardware issue). Clearly they didn’t bother to test the touch screen after their “repair”, because it still has no effect.

Up until this point, getting the computer fixed was a reasonable focus for the company.

As of two days ago, when I received an un-repaired product, the focus should have changed, but it didn’t. In the last two days, I have chatted, emailed, tweeted, and spoken on the phone with at least 9 people at ASUS. All have been focused on getting the computer repaired. While that’s a useful thing to do, it shouldn’t be the focus.

The focus, at this point, should be fixing the relationship with the customer.

Once a company fails a customer – especially if they fail as blatantly and completely as this company did at their repair center – the focus should be on restoring the faith of the customer.

This company, however, doesn’t seem to get that point. Nearly everyone I’ve dealt with has been simply recommending I repeat the process and hope for a better outcome, without providing me any reason to expect it to be so. I did at least get a commitment from one manager that she would personally contact the repair center to try to help. Oddly, nobody seems willing to commit to any specific turnaround time for this.

When you fail a customer, it takes a superlative experience to repair the damage.

This is something Dell understands. I had a bad experience with their support center in the Philippines five years ago – which now counts as my second-worst customer service experience, followed quickly by my best experience ever. When I escalated that, I received fantastic service – including overcompensation (a new top-end laptop, monitor, and docking station), excellent personal attention from a pair of upper-level staffers (a fixer and the head of product delivery), and an explanation of internal changes they were making to ensure no customer would repeat my experience. They did everything in their power to make me happy, and converted me from being angry to loving the company in a few days. You see, they proved they actually understood their failure, and did something to make it right in my eyes. And I never had to ask. In fact, they did far more than I was planning to ask for (key point: over-deliver). Because of their stellar efforts to repair the relationship, I bought another Dell the last time I needed a computer.

Given my recent experience, I regret that I didn’t buy the Dell that was my second choice this time. I chose the computer from ASUS based upon the great features, but I’m now reminded how much more important service is. Even if it gets fixed this time (and I have no confidence in their ability or willingness to ensure that), what am I to expect the next time?

As of this writing, I’m attempting to get a refund (something I’ve been alternately told is available and impossible). I’d rather have the better service – and my higher confidence in that service – than the product with features I really wanted.

I will update this post with any further lessons learned from this exchange.