Is This a Problem – Part 2

Last week I posted a story of a failed freezer, ruined food, and a customer support experience that could be summed up as “That’s how we do it.” I invited comments and asked:

“Is this a problem?”

And when I say “problem” I mean, is this a “problem” from the standpoint of the company’s internal process?

There are some interesting comments, some about the internal culture of the company, others about the support process itself.

But I promised to offer my thoughts, so here they are.

The key question is “What did they intend to happen?” While we can speculate, unless we have the process documentation or are otherwise privy to that internal information, we really don’t know what they intended in this case.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Frank’s experience was exactly as the company intended it to be. Then, from the point of view of their internal process, there is no problem.

“Wait a minute!” I can hear, “Nobody wants  a customer to never buy the product again.”

And here is my point. We don’t know. This company may be perfectly willing to accept that consequence, i.e. “fire the customer” to preserve their warranty cost structure. They certainly would not be the first. Whether that is good business or not is a totally separate issue. The question is “Did they produce this result on purpose, as a logical, foreseeable outcome of the process as they designed it?.” If the answer is “Yes, they did” (and only they can know), then there is no problem. It might be bad business, but the process is working just fine. (I acknowledge that “bad business practices” can result in unintended results – like bankruptcy. But my point is the results are the outcome of a process, and the process is the result of a decision, even if that decision was to “not care.”)

The key point here is that only after there is clarity of what should happen, can the process itself even be addressed. Until the intended result is clear, then there is no way to see if the process works or not.

Was there a problem here? I don’t know. But this is what I would like people to take away from this little story.

Whenever something in your company seems “not right” ask this really powerful clarifying question:

“Did (or would) we do this on purpose?
If the answer is anything other than an unqualified yes then it is likely you have a problem.

Here is a tougher position: If something was unpleasant for your customer, and you don’t intend to fix it, then embrace the truth that you did do it on purpose. Take responsibility for your decisions, look in the mirror, and say “We meant to do it exactly that way, and will do it the same way next time.” If you can’t stomach that, then go back the the first question.

Here is an extra credit question for this little case study in customer support.
What, exactly, did the customer want here?

4 thoughts on “Is This a Problem – Part 2

  1. Hello Mark,
    It’s not only the freezer with a technical problem. It’s also the loss of frozen food which was inside it.
    So i think this customer does not only wants his freezer to be repaired, i think he wants the stuff which was in it while it was still in operation, is replaced.
    And the new slogan for GE freezers:
    Fresh in, fresh out!

    Regards,
    Edwin Speijer

  2. I think the customer wanted to save his food. He mentions it twice. I think the customer would consider it OK to wait a week for repair or replacement if it were not for the spoiled food. If this would have been a GE washer or dryer, I think the customer would have been OK with a week.

    Need a place to save your food? Use your neighbor’s freezer. That’s what neighbors are for. Or throw a party and eat the food.

  3. If the customer is like me… then I want to hear some good news. GE made me upset by creating a problem, so now I want something out of GE. So I shake the tree and see what comes down. In this case, I would have said to myself oh-well, good bye GE. We all know that life is tough and you can’t always get what you want.

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