Monday, November 14, 2011

Customer Service - by Trial & Error!


My only claim to understanding or appreciating an Apple product is my iPod Nano, which my buddy had gifted me 6 years ago. A 4 GB nano, I didn't know actually how to even switch it off when I first laid my hands on it. Since 2005, it has been one of my favourite companions, accompanying me in my life's journey. The voice clarity on the iPod was one of the best I've ever heard in my life - even the Nakamichi headphones that were kept for sampling CDs at Musicworld (where I started by professional career a decade ago) weren't as great in terms of audio quality and clarity as the original apple (white-colored) ear phones. Over the years, I have added so many other devices to my kitty for listening music but none like the iPod nano. So, when it stopped working abruptly, I was worried. I logged online and tried some trouble-shooting methods although none of them came in handy. And finally I heeded the advice of one such post - which was to visit the nearest Apple store! Which I did. Only to be disappointed by the approach of the staff out there! The discussion ended in less than two minutes - yes, just two minutes. The staff heard my problem, connected it in his Mac and came back to me and said that it was working perfectly well. And he glanced as though I should just move on with my old monumental piece for a new swanky one... Well, he didn't say it out loud, but I could make it.

iPod Nano
I walked off in disgust but came back to the store again, this time to propose an alternative - switch off and switch on in "Disk utility mode" which he attempted. And said that the scroller wasn't working and the only alternative would be to replace it which would cost about a hundred dollars! And again, he was referring indirectly that I give up! He also suggested to erase all the data, format the device and then I try at home, which wasn't the best route possible. But I agreed since I had all the music backed-up so I would be fine as long as the device was working well again. When I tried connecting the iPod later on my laptop, it wasn't working either. So, his "customer service" methods were just by trial and error. Try this. Oh, if that doesn't work, then try that. And so on. A day later, I installed some Microsoft updates on my system and... pronto... the iPod was working!! Strange as it may sound, the issue was not with the device at all - just that some new updates were required for it to work. And all this from a so called "Apple Support Team member". Ufff. Thank God, Steve is no more to see all this, I mumbled.

(Suggested Reading: Retail Staffing)

So, why this kind of an approach to "Customer Service"? I ain't an Apple basher nor am I a die-hard fan. I love electronic devices as they make our life easy. And they make it simpler to use them for the purposes they were intended and invented for. Unlike many other electronic products / brands, Apple doesn't have a designated service center. The Retail store also doubles up as a service center where users can bring their devices for any kind of trouble-shooting, including migration from MS to Mac.While the technically-abled are behind the scenes fiddling with the devices, the young boys ( and girls) who attend to customers are not as strong in their technical skills as are expected to be. I see this issue is common across various other retail formats too. 

Apple Imagine Store, UB City, Bangalore

While I agree that the staff attitude and behavior in this case may not be intended to be the way it was, it does send wrong signals to present and potential customers. And this was the second time with me. In an earlier instance, when we had walked into the same store, the staff failed to provide us a proper demo of the iPhone 4, which led us to change our mind to another store and eventually, Samsung (Galaxy S4) benefited, I would say! The staff were already profiling their customers (mentally) even before knowing the intended reason for their visit. Too bad. This is common across many other premium and luxury brands. For example, If a customer asks for the price of a product at an upmarket watch retail store, then the staff begin to think that he/she is merely there to appreciate the product and not necessarily buy them. At a premium apparel store in Bangalore which houses many brands such as Versace, Armani, Boss and so on, the sales manager doesn't walk up and greet customers whom she thinks may have come window-shopping. The higher the value of the product, the lower is the importance given to visitors and potential customers. 

(Suggested Reading: Luxury Retailing in India)

Retail Staff, who start their careers in the front-end at the beginning of their careers slowly make headway to higher roles and positions and during the course of this journey, forget the basics, at times. Retail Training Managers and the Business Management also fail to train their staff to keep them competent all the time. Unfortunately, Customer Service has become, as I mentioned earlier, by Trial and Error many times! And all this in the country which chants "Athithi Devo Bhava", a sanskrit slogan which means to say guests should be treated like god. Pity the Guests. Amen! 

(Suggested Reading: Customer Service)

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