Customer Service that Serves Customers

Written on March 14, 2008 by
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My job title at Puget is ‘Director of Inventory’, which is a fancy way of saying that I’m responsible for keeping track of any parts that aren’t currently inside a computer. Among other duties, I have the delightful job of arranging Return Merchandise Authorizations (RMAs) with our suppliers – just as our customers come to us for warranty support, we can go to our suppliers or the manufacturer to get defective parts replaced. It’s rewarding to see a stream of broken parts go out the door and come back in a couple weeks as shiny, functional equipment, but trying to get warranty support can also be one of the greatest hassles known to man.

I’ve set up RMAs with over thirty different suppliers and manufacturers, and have had experiences that range from the disinterested-but-functional to the helpful to the downright horrific. I’d love to tell horror stories, but I think I’ll save that for another day – my purpose here is to rant about the unnecessary obstacles that are often set up between a customer and the working part that they paid for.

One quick disclaimer here. Because Puget is an established retailer, we sometimes get support and RMA privileges that aren’t available to an end user. We have arrangements with half a dozen of our biggest suppliers, but for everyone else we’re stuck with the same process as Jon Doe Customer who bought the part at the local big box retailer. I have a pretty good idea what the average person has to face when trying to get support or replacements for their PC components, and I’m not impressed.

Pick a major PC component manufacturer. Any major manufacturer. Now go to their website. Now try to figure out how to get a broken part replaced. There are two or three that I know of that make it simple to apply for an RMA. Everyone else – you’re doing well if you can find it less than fifteen minutes! The instructions are often hidden deep in the bowels of their overgrown websites, and require navigating multiple dead ends and false trails to find your way to a form that was created some time during the website’s previous revision.  (A hint if you ever find yourself in this situation: check the warranty policy page, sometimes there will be a useful link or a phone number.)

This could be the result of sloppy website maintenance, but often it appears to be deliberate – they want you to use their online no-effort-required-on-their-part troubleshooter that asks if you’ve remembered to plug everything in, and loops you back to the beginning when you exhaust their options. Barring that, they want you to call customer service, navigate a six layer voice menu, and wait on hold for half an hour until a representative can ask you all the same questions about making sure everything’s plugged in. The last thing they want is for you to apply for an RMA – that would imply that their perfectly designed part may actually have broken!

As much as I’m casting this attitude in a very negative light, I’ll admit there are some circumstances where hesitancy to issue an RMA is reasonable. It’d be a waste of time and money to replace a ‘broken’ video card that just needed a driver update, and this sort of mistake certainly does happen. We at Puget insist that customers contact tech support and go through at least a minimal amount of troubleshooting before sending a computer back for repair. However, there’s a difference between doing basic troubleshooting and forcing the customer to jump through hoops, and it’s disappointing to see that many companies tend towards the latter. It’s nice to have tech support information available online. It’s not nice to be forced to dig through all of it before you can find a live person to talk to.  

I was inspired to write this post by one particular experience a few months back. It wasn’t a bad experience – quiet the opposite, in fact. I’ve always admired the quality of Logitech’s products, and I snapped up a VX Nano mouse the day it became available. It was delightful to use, so I was quite disappointed when it died after four months and no amount of battery changing could bring it back to life.

I navigated to their website with trepidation – large companies with a wide product range and distribution area like Logitech often have the worst tech support. Sure enough, there was an online troubleshooter, but instead of sending me in circles it directed me to contact support by phone or email. I sent an email explaining the troubleshooting steps I’d tried, and hoped for the best. To my delight, I heard back within one business day. The technician summarized what he thought I’d said and asked me to correct him if he’d misunderstood (he hadn’t), requested a copy of my receipt, and said that he’d submit a request for a replacement part. Best of all, he apologized for the inconvenience – he really seemed regretful that I’d had trouble with Logitech’s product. One business day after I uploaded a copy of the receipt, I received an email saying that a replacement mouse had been sent, and also inviting me to contact them again if I had any more trouble in the future.

Every interaction with Logitech was quick, painless, and very courteous. I was very pleasantly surprised by the experience – I’ve worked with dozens of companies for hundreds of RMAs, and this was easily in my top five best experiences, even including the companies we have arrangements with! That this level of service was given to Jane Doe Customer is nothing short of phenomenal – most companies of that size treat end users with something varying from distain to disinterest. At best, I’ve seen tech support agents that really want to help, but are bogged down by an overgrown and clumsy system.

The real shame of all this is that Logitech didn’t do anything outside the reach of the rest of the industry. They used the same website technologies, outsourced personnel, and communication systems as everyone else – they just used them effectively! This shouldn’t be so unusual. I know that many companies have this level of infrastructure available to them, I’ve had to fight my way through it. There is no good reason they shouldn’t be able to match Logitech’s example. Until they start doing it, shame on them. I’m buying Logitech.

Puget Systems is committed to offering helpful and timely support. If you’re having any difficulties with your Puget computer, please email support@pugetsystems.com, use the form on our support page, or call us at 888-784-3872. We try to have someone available to answer the phone at all times during business hours, but because we’re a small company it’s not always possible – don’t worry, we will get your message and get back to you.

Tags: RMA, Return Merchandise Authorization, tech support, warranty support, rant, Logitech