Bad Customer Service: Why Being Right is Not Enough

Wednesday March 13 2013 - , ,

Every now and then I encounter a situation with another business that results in me thinking “How could they be so stupid?” I’ve just had an unhappy dealing with such a business. In this case it is a company that sells add-on modules for a PBX (telephone) system.

I purchased a module on the strength of a blog post announcing its availability and some of the features sounded pretty neat. There’s a free open-source equivalent that does more-or-less the same thing, but I wanted to support the company because they produce some pretty useful free software, so I decided to purchase the module rather than using the free one.

Well, once I got it installed, the first thing that hit me, in great big letters, is that the module is in beta:

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That doesn’t seem right, I’m not accustomed to paying for beta quality software, and I didn’t notice that mentioned anywhere when I purchased. Oh well, never mind.

The job of this module is to let me configure my phones. For a few years I’ve used Cisco 7900 series IP phones, and the free open source module works well with them. This new module says it supports Cisco phones too, so I go ahead and try to make a configuration for my phones.

Second problem: my phones are not supported. Doh! They said they supported Cisco phones byt actually they support Cisco/Linksys phones and not the slightly older Cisco phones that I am using.

Now I am guilty of making some assumptions here. First I assumed that a for-pay software product is going to be production quality and second I assumed that since I’m paying for it, it must therefore deliver at least as much value as the free equivalent. In my world, these are normally safe assumptions, but in the world of open source, there are different rules and I am wrong on both counts. I take responsibility for not checking the disclaimers carefully enough, that’s my fault.

However, I thought that a reputable company would want to give me my money back if I had not received any value for my outlay. Again, I’m guilty of thinking this to be a reasonable assumption, because that is how I treat my customers. Wrong again. This is the response I received to my request for a refund:

There are no refunds. The product description in the store states that it's beta, it will probably always be considered beta due to the number of devices it supports and the frequency that those manufactures release changes. The product description page links to a full list of supported devices. We can not support the Cisco 7900 series as they were designed to work with the Cisco's Call Manager. Our legal team has reviewed the Cisco licensing regarding those phones and concluded that we can't offer any support or advise for setting them up with FreePBX and/or Asterisk. Within in the templates for each phone you can drag the buttons around to configure them. There is a bug in the latest release effecting the firmware that should be fixed in the next day or so.

No refunds. Ever. The customer is always wrong. I press my point and threaten them with a chargeback via my card issuer (this will force them to refund the money and will cost them additional fees). I think maybe they’ll see sense and just give me a refund. Nope:

Feel free to process a chargeback but every blog, sales slick, documentation states this is Beta. That is why its 25.00 not 100.00 or more. Our written refund policy says no refunds. if you issue a charge back you account will be banned here, the store and FreePBX.

So, adding insult to injury, not only are they prepared to throw away my goodwill by telling me I’m wrong and making me feel foolish, but they are prepared to ban me from their store and ensure that I never make any future purchases. The discussion goes back and forth a few times and they put up defences as to why they are right and I can’t have my money back. Technically, they are right, in the product details it does say that the software is a beta and it does list all the supported devices and mine are not in the list. So technically, this is my fault. While they are technically correct, they completely miss the point that, while it may be my own stupid fault, they are rubbing that right in my face and not giving me any value for my money. One of the hardest lessons to learn in business is that being right is not enough.

Then they close the support ticket and the inevitable “Customer service survey: please tell us how we are doing” email arrives. So I let them have it, both barrels. I draw their attention to one of my favourite blog posts, written by one of my personal heroes, . Joel runs a software company but he has some pretty stellar ideas on how to run a business – any business. In Joel's article titled Seven steps to remarkable customer service, he writes (in point 7) that greed gets you nowhere:

The no-questions-asked 90-day money back guarantee was one of the best decisions we ever made at Fog Creek. Try this: use Fog Creek Copilot for a full 24 hours, call up three months later and say, “hey guys, I need $5 for a cup of coffee. Give me back my money from that Copilot day pass,” and we’ll give it back to you. Try calling on the 91st or 92nd or 203rd day. You’ll still get it back. We really don’t want your money if you’re not satisfied. I’m pretty sure we’re running the only job listing service around that will refund your money just because your ad didn’t work. This is unheard of, but it means we get a lot more ad listings, because there’s nothing to lose.

Over the last six years or so, letting people return software has cost us 2%.

Joel understands that unhappy customers are a big liability, far worse than not having the money they would have paid, because an unhappy customer is someone who can damage your reputation. They might even write a blog post about how awful your company is.