Ashwin's Weblog

Doing things right or doing the right things

  • Posted: March 15, 2010
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  • Author: Ashwin Prabhu
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  • Filed under: General
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  • Tags: No tags set for this entry.

Recently I had an interesting experience dealing with a big hardware services firm. The company proudly claims on its website that it is an ISO 9001:2000 certified company. In their own words they offer “extremely strong commitment to quality by providing guaranteed products and services”. I found all the feel-good marketing words in their corporate manifesto. Ninety nine out of hundred people would have subconsciously tuned out all the marketing mouthfuls, but as fate would have it, I was actually taking the pain reading it.

To put things in perspective, here’s the story so far -

A few weeks back I had approached <no-name> systems, an authorized HP service center with my dead, out-of-warranty, HP Pavilion laptop. One of their support engineers briskly inspected my laptop, pressed a few function keys and concluded that the problem originated because of a faulty NVidea Graphics chip. He noted down the serial numbers on my laptop and accepted the laptop for a detailed diagnosis after which, I was told, I would receive a communication from them estimating the damages to my wallet. When the estimates did arrive, I was flabbergasted to see a motherboard replacement recommendation with a price quote of Rs. 10,000 + taxes, roughly the price of a new netbook [Lesson 1]. I did my due diligence by seeking a second opinion from another “HP authorized service station”, and you would not want to hear the amount they quoted. It made Rs. 10k seem like a throwaway bargain! [Lesson 2].

With time at a premium I went ahead with the first service center. Three days passed and I did not hear from them again. When I inquired I got an unapologetic reply stating that they had run out of stock and were in the process of sourcing the part from a third party, and they could not guarantee any timeline. All the courtesies they had shown earlier when acquiring a new customer had vanished. Two weeks and a few follow-ups later I decided to pull out. This got them busy. I received a couple of calls informing that they will swap my motherboard with a used spare from their workshop. This would be a stop gap arrangement until they can source the part, and best of all, I could take my laptop home! I agreed. They charged me a standard 1.2k service fee for the replacement which they would adjust against the replacement cost of the new motherboard.

But wait, something was fishy. How could they be trusting me so much to let me walk out of their store with a temporary spare, without demanding a security deposit?  How could they have Reactivated Vista without my consent? After asking many such questions, they finally admitted to reflowing my GPU. If you do not know what reflow means, consider yourself lucky.

I was disgusted. First they lied to me and then, in their bid to buy some more time, they reflowed my motherboard – potentially risking other components. As fate may have it, the arrangement worked only for 15-20 hours. I contacted them again, and was told to wait yet again. The wait extended for a week. I guess by then they realized they had tested enough of my patience and suggested I try elsewhere, which I did. I got my NVidea Graphics chipset replaced at a non-HP service center within 2 working days.

I contacted the first service center demanding a full refund of the service charges. The same  executive who had suggested I go elsewhere was now explaining me their “no refund policy”. I talked to her manager and the managers’ manager, who reiterated the same lines, this time reading from the company policy handbook. Apparently, it does not matter to them if the laptop stopped working the moment one stepped out of the service center – their company policy said “no refund”, and they were bound by their process to follow the rules.  I realized I was talking to trained employees who were functioning perfectly right as per the processes, and had long lost their independent decision taking ability. I needed to talk to somebody who had some decision taking authority. The office receptionist was uncooperative and would not share the contact details of higher ups in the company!

Customer Service

Left with few options I scanned their corporate website for any grievance redressal policy. I found none. With no other options, I gathered the names of founder and operational heads, and found that the founder had a LinkedIn profile. With a simple LinkedIn exploit (so much for online security) and a little bit of luck I retrieved the founders personal email address. I scripted a short email to the founder/CEO with all the executives whom I had communicated earlier in the CC list.

Dear <list of names of customer service executives>

<A few lines setting the context of the mail>

I thought I would share my perspective on the same.

I could have blogged about my experiences dealing with you, posted poor reviews of your service on many review websites, like others do and could have negatively influenced a significant percentage of your potential customers who Google for the nearest HP authorized service center. Instead I chose to cordially discuss the matter hoping to resolve the issue soonest possible.

<snip>

I have discussed all this with you in person and am putting this in mail just for record.

In good faith,

Ashwin Prabhu

I have no clue what followed after I sent that mail, but within minutes of sending the mail, I received a phone call from the operations head of the company apologizing for what I had gone through. He then personally saw to it that the refund check was delivered to my residence the next day [Lesson 3].

Although they finally got to resolving my issue, the whole saga was a live manifestation of how an organization’s internal processes when defined without adequate consideration can confuse employees into believing that they are doing things right, while not actually doing the right things. Not getting such simple things right on a prolonged basis will adversely reflect on the organization’s Net Promoter score.


My Takeaways:

Lesson 1:  Big service centers do not like to get their hands dirty fixing each of their customers problems. They almost always recommend replacing the component, even for minor glitches! In my case they found it convenient to recommend a new motherboard rather than mess around with GPU chip and solder iron.

This is not just true of laptop service centers, but also applies to all big service stations ranging from those servicing refrigerators to your car. Its much easier, faster and cost effective for them to replace a part than actually get down to fixing it. New parts always come with an additional manufacturer warranty and hey, profit margins on spares are huge.

Lesson 2: Do not be fooled by the tag “Authorized service center.” It  just means that the authorizing company (HP in this case) is satisfied with the competency of the service provider in dealing with its products, and has granted it a license to service its products under warranty. Working as an agent on behalf of the authorizer they are free to set their own service standards and pricing with their customers. Do not confuse  ’Authorized’ for a franchisee – they do not operate like the McDonald’s chains where you can take for granted a certain standard and uniformity in ambiance, service and pricing across all its stores. What this also means is that everything they offer is negotiable, from services to product pricing – many do not know this.

In case you were wondering, the other service center quoted Rs 24,000 + taxes for the motherboard and then reduced it by 15% and another 5%, but I was  not in any mood to deal with them even if they had cut their price by half.

Lesson 3: Do not waste your time and effort talking to people without any decision making authority. If you want to get your job done fast, find out a way to skip through all the layers of bureaucracy. Your chances are increased if you discuss your matter directly with a person who can take independent decisions or at least influence decision making within the organization.

5 people have left comments

Vidya - Gravatar

Vidya said:

So true … Sudhir faced similar problems with HTC … the local so-called-auth-center were cheats. They said the battery had not been sent from the HO … Sudhir called them and spoke to them – then and there …. so sheepishly the local center said they would look around again and finally replaced the faulty battery ….. they wanted Sudhir to leave the phone with them … for a week …. !!! Crazy …

What’s with the webLog() ? :) Log of your web exploits ?

And what is the ‘chinese’ ? symbol ??

Posted on: March 30, 2010 at 10:28 AMQuote this Comment
Ashwin Prabhu - Gravatar

Ashwin Prabhu said:

Ashwin.webLog() in programmer parlance is a method call, meant to grab attention of any passerby software engineer/developer/programmer, it does not mean anything.

The symbol is Japanese for kaizen. Initial thought was to name the blog along those lines, but I dropped the idea midway. Since I had spent too much time photoshopping the symbol, I let it stay :D

Posted on: March 30, 2010 at 6:07 PMQuote this Comment
Vidya - Gravatar

Vidya said:

It is a method call alright … but reminds me of the call to the logging method ! :) )) So wondered if that was your intention :)
U photoshopped that symbol ? …. :) ))

Posted on: March 31, 2010 at 8:19 PMQuote this Comment
Ashwin Prabhu - Gravatar

Ashwin Prabhu said:

Yes, after flicking it off Wikipedia :-o

Posted on: March 31, 2010 at 8:24 PMQuote this Comment
bob - Gravatar

bob said:

That’s why I tell people to find a small independent repair shop….I used to manage one in los angeles.
In a small shop we care about each and every customer, unlike the big stores where the techs get hourly pay
we only get paid a commission on each job. So we do our best to provide good service, we want you to return.

Of course my thinking was we should first of all provide quality service and be honest & fair with everyone.
And in a small shop if something does go wrong you can always speak directly to the owner.

We offered 90 day warranty on all our work, and if something goes wrong and you return it then we do
our best to fix it again and if we can’t make it work then I’d would offer the customer a refund.

Posted on: April 7, 2010 at 8:00 PMQuote this Comment

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