“Tales of Cables and Customer Service

Thoughts July 2009

Jyrki Wahlstedt 

Well, this should be in singular, as I write of one cable only. It is just that for some reason the title sounds better in plural. But that may be just me.

Anyway, it was in the middle of a beautiful spring day, when I noticed a small break in the coating in the USB-cable of my iPhone. It is a vital part of the system, as it serves both in syncing and in charging the device.

Over time the hole grew wider and bigger, and eventually the coating broke totally exposing the metal wires inside the cable. The gap from the USB-connector to the beginning of the coating was about 3 mm long. That was a gap big enough to make me worried about my safety, even, electrical shocks are not something I try to get.

What to do with the cable? As the use of the cable had been completely normal, I had charged and synced my phone with it, I had carried it in my bag to and from work, I had not used a knife nor any other tool to it, my idea was quite clear. The cable was part of package I had bought in July the previous year (remember, iPhone 3G was not available in Finland before that date), so the cable should be under warranty.

Well, I had not bought the phone from any particular shop, I had received an option, so to say, in some kind of lottery at the launch party of iPhone here. So I called the operator's customer service telephone. Nothing, no help. I called again a few days later, with no better result. Then I waited again, and thought, what to do. I decided to visit a shop the telephone operator has here in the city I live in. They had no spare parts in the shop, no proper cables either, so I could not get a replacement. They were also unsure, whether the cable should be replaced under warranty. They told that cables from another manufacturer were available in another shop 20 km away.

Next I called Apple's telephone support. They were friendly, couldn't help me, however, because Apple does not sell iPhones in this country. I described my situation, and the cable's also, and heard that they are customarily replaced. I did not doubt that in any way, as I have had exceptional customer service from Apple earlier that I have described in another story.  But that is another story, too. So I called telephone operator's support telephone again, to no avail.

The next thing was to visit another operator shop in the city. They were so professional that they sent the cable to a service company located in Tampere (almost 200 km away from where I live). Seemed to me a bit unnecessary, but that's the procedure there! The result of this was, of course, that I had no cable even to charge my phone. Fortunately a colleague of mine has an iPhone, too, so I could use his cable for charging.

To my utter dismay and astonishment, about one week after I left my cable to the shop, I received a call from the service company. Some mechanic there had finally looked at the cable, and decided that it had a mechanical failure, not to be replaced under warranty. I could have told them myself that there was a mechanical failure, some of the wires were broken, but that was the result of some material or manufacturing problem, not my misuse or neglicence. I told them to send the cable back to me.

My dismay and anger was so great that I couldn't do anything about it for a few days. Then I called Apple's office here in Finland, but after that call I decided (as the person I talked to assured me once again that the operator is the only one able to fix the problem) there is only one way to go.

One day, late afternoon, I then dialed the number of the operator company's phone exchange. After a longer than normal discussion with the person in the exchange I was connected to someone, whose position I don't know. His name I heard, but it isn't relevant here. I started to pour my frustration upon this poor guy, but apparently he knew some storage inside the company, because he cut me short and told he mails me the cable.

Ok, the result was nice, in that I got the cable. The process was not nice, because things shouldn't work like this. Another person in my situation, not as stubborn as I am, would have given up a long time before getting the correct outcome. I felt occasionally like chasing feathers in the wind, it was quite desperate.

Customer service is very difficult. For companies it means expenses mostly, it is not profitable in itself. However, a company selling products must show respect to people buying their products. A good customer service is vital in this respect. It is not a good idea to make customer service a multi-tiered, very fractured structure, in which responsibility can be thrown to other parties. Some other companies make it even worse by making the first tier of customer service behave with extreme arrogance, close to threatening the customer. In this case the first tier of customer service was polite, and friendly, but didn't have the power to do anything. It seems that gone are the days, when “customer is always right”. Doing the customer service right makes, however, the customer willing to continue business with the company. In cases like this, in which the company has a monopoly, it should look at the long-term viability of its business also, not just a quarter. This company makes it so and so, I got the cable, but I should have got some compensation due to the hours I spent in telephone, in the different store, due to the kilometres I drove in vain.

The basic thing really is, what role does the customer have in business, does the company have any ethical or moral obligations, does the company really want to do the right thing?

© Jyrki Wahlstedt 2009