Is good service honest service?

My iphone is being repaired at the moment. I sent it over a week ago, by special delivery. They have a neat little “track your order” facility. So I was notified when it arrived and also when it switched to “pending”, whatever that means. The site talks about a 24 hour turnaround time, but it’s now a week later and my status is still “pending”. Pending what – them getting the part, their technicians to finish lunch, or just me calling in to chase it along. After getting no response from emailing the site, I tweeted them and was told it should be with me on Tuesday. Well it’s now Friday and two further calls go unreturned.

I’m guessing that, like everyone else, they’re struggling with logistical delays due to the #uksnow – parts are coming in late, maybe they’re short of staff, or backed up deliveries are waiting to go out. Anyone reading the press would know this and I think most are sympathetic of this sort of “act of god” scenario. I certainly am. But if this is the cause of the delay, what I find odd is that they’re not telling me?

Is it ever a good thing to keep a customer in the dark?

Personally I’d be very happy if they moved my iphone status to “delayed” with a new estimated delivery date. It’s the ‘not being kept informed’ bit that I find annoying. It’s costing me time and effort to call in and chase them, and it’s all wasted if no-one responds. Result: I grow increasingly dissatisfied with a service that is probably (and I am guessing here as I’ve not been able to speak to them) in a situation for which I am actually sympathetic.

I’ve spoken to others in similar situations recently, many of whom are waiting on christmas gifts and fearing the same. It’s that word “fearing”. Why would any service provider allow their customers to feel fearful about their purchases? Surely it’s better to have them confident that a problem is being dealt with?

The truth that the service is experiencing delays is a negative, but a known negative is better than an unknown. It’s the same principle with queuing. People tend to be much happier to queue if they know why they’re queuing. I’ve read a study (still trying to retrieve it) that demonstrated how showing a queue of people video footage of the front end of that queue, helped them to stay patient. They knew what to expect.

Ignorance is not a good thing in a service situation.

People don’t like not knowing. They like to be treated as adults. But I suspect many service providers in the current situation turn into fearful pessimists – they worry too much about the delay’s impact on branded commitments like 24 hour turnaround etc and opt to hide away from what they can see – growing numbers of increasingly angry customers.

My guess is the people repairing my iphone are in that difficult vicious circle where you hold off announcing problems to customers whilst you race to resolve them. But you run the risk of problems accumulating faster than you can resolve them, leading to ever more problems.

My vote – service providers need to think and act like optimists. Nip problems in the bud, be honest, admit to delays and demonstrate you’re taking steps to resolve it. Have faith in honesty. It’s probably the best brand value for long term customer retention.  Like I say to my son “if you do something bad, tell me. It’ll be better than me finding out another way.”

Have a great Christmas everyone. Hope all your gifts arrive safely!

UPDATE: Another example of this point – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12033813 – when a service provider keeps people hanging on again and again whilst they faff about, leading to an outcome that is bad for the customer, and inevitably bad for the airline. Would be interested to know what airline this was, if anyone knows.

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Online leading the offline

Choosenick spotted this the other day, an article about sites taking the online experience offline. About the same time, I was watching TV when an Aviva ad came on (Aviva being the expensive new name for Norwich Union) for car insurance. Car insurance must be the most cluttered and clumsy marketplace in the world. If I hear another commitment to quote me less, I’ll go mad.

Anyway – the smart guys at Aviva ran an ad saying that when you phone for a quote, they will also give you quotes from their competitors. The ad plays it as if you were the ad executive at Aviva making the suggestion, looking at your colleagues’ reaction around the table. They look at you in incredulous silence for two, three seconds – an eternity in TV terms. It’s quite powerful, which is an amazing achievement for a car insurance ad.

Aviva are smart because they’ve accepted that no-one listens to “lower than your currnt quote” pledges any more. They also know that the marketplace is increasingly transparent – with sites like confused.com offering brokerage. So they sensibly expanded their service.

But that’s pretty radical. Not many company’s will tell you their competitors’ prices. It’s like the John Lewis “never knowingly undersold” pledge, but taken to new heights. Companies that absorb such digital realities and turn them to their advantage stand a far better chance of success.

More service less stuff

Heard some interesting discussions on this point over the last couple of days. The shared opinion seems to be that, just as with the 80’s recession in the UK, this recession is likely to push us further towards a service economy and away from a manufacturing economy. I guess I buy that, but there is a new shift back to craft – niche producers using online markets to shift their products. Isn’t that the new wave of manufacturing – millions of product variations, all wrapped up in a nice service experience?