Sunday, June 23, 2013

Customer Service - A Cautionary Tale

What is wrong with this picture?

I know I'm talking to the void here, so my words will have minimal impact on the particular business I used to have my embroidery machine serviced. I cannot seem to send an email with this picture to the business owner, who freely published her email on her website's blog. (Still trying to arrange a day I can go in and speak with her in person, and show her these pictures.)

As I am satisfied that my machine has not suffered for being serviced there, I won't mention names. But if you should find yourself in a predicament with your sewing machine tech shop (or any tech shop), I would like to share my experience.

This is the correct orientation for the thread guide bar.

When you know something is not right with the service you have received, you have to stand up for yourself. The tech guys don't necessarily know everything. They certainly know more than you do, but if my tech guy could make this mistake (not just once, but TWICE, after being told about it the first time, too!), your tech guys could have selective vision, too.

Red flags that your experience may not be pleasant:
  1. Your tech guy keeps referring to your 4-needle semi-industrial embroidery machine as a MemoryCraft when you're booking the appointment. (He's not familiar with the model you want to have serviced, and does not know what to expect.)
  2. Your tech guy refuses to give you a service cost estimate up front, says he has to see the machine before he can say anything. (He doesn't want a binding contract up front. He also doesn't want you to shop around for comparable pricing. You could be saddled with an inflated service fee.)
  3. Your tech guy gives you an unrealistic time estimate based on his mistaken impression that your machine is a domestic single-needle model. When he sees the machine in person, he doesn't revise his estimate, and takes it from you anyway. Then he doesn't call you when the deadline has passed, and you have to continually call back to find out what a more realistic time frame would be.
  4. Your questions are met with evasions and industry jargon: bafflegab. He says he is in daily contact with a manufacturer's rep to discuss your mysterious machine and its chimaerical behaviour. (This means he is not trained on this machine, but won't admit he's in over his head.)
  5. He doesn't have the servicing costs when he's arranging the pick-up appointment. Then he prefaces the actual cost with a rationalizing: "Industry standards for servicing the Janome MB-4 are seven hours to take off the cover and calibrate all four heads, at $60 per hour..."

All of this is unacceptable.

It's okay to get angry, but don't ever speak to your service centre in anger. You don't know who is petty, and who is truly professional. Also, this may be your only service centre in a 200km radius! Your best practices are to not ignore your gut at the beginning, like I did, and to keep your machine service records in a folder - like I did, thank goodness!

You must speak up throughout the weeks you are machineless. Don't pester your tech guy, but call on the deadlines to arrange a pick-up. Call once a day, at the same time, asking for an estimated completion date if he won't give you one. Record the dates and times you spoke, the name of the person you spoke to (don't be too timid to ask him or her to repeat their name, if you didn't catch it the first time), who called whom, what was said, whether the estimate was offered, whether the tech guy was polite (mine was, every step of the way, and it was the only thing at the end of the tired transaction that kept me civil).

Don't rely on your recollections days after the facts. Keep your pen and paper handy when you're on the phone with the tech shop. This is important, so you maintain an objective accounting of your experience, and not some shopped version where you're the hero, and the villains still have your machine. It's a business transaction, not a vendetta.

If "store policy" is cited as a reason for not giving a cost estimate or time estimate, check that with the store owner! Don't be too timid to check the facts! Where you have the option of taking your business elsewhere, shop around. That's what the estimates are for. A good service centre knows its competitive edge is in the quality of its work, and its stellar customer service, not just a low price. You don't want the LOWEST price, you want the BEST price.

Also, if you feel you have been charged far too much for a service, the machine maintenance records will be your graph. "It has never cost $420 for a tune-up for this machine!" must be backed up with actual receipts and numbers. My tech guy ended up knocking that price in half, in light of the bungled customer service, the history of the machine, the fact that I had purchased the machine from THAT STORE, and had had it serviced in THAT TECH SHOP before. Last year, it was $169.65 - taxes included - at a competitor. I was satisfied with the work there, but I thought I needed a software update for the machine's computer, and only an authorized dealer has access to it. (No one would tell me my version was, indeed, the latest. That information is not available on the Janome website, either. Another customer service fail.)

Ignore competition-slamming: "They're not an authorized dealer and service centre for that brand. They don't know what they're doing." Or at the end: "I found some red gunk in the machine. That's not the recommended lubricant for this brand of machine. Those other service guys don't know what they're doing." Picking fault with the competition is a scare tactic, and it has the same bad aftertaste as a political attack ad. Ignore it, ignore it, ignore it, because they all do it to some degree.

And lastly: Leave Feedback, if your experience goes south. The store has a website, with contact information. Or write and post a letter, keeping a copy for yourself. Keep it brief, list only three things you feel have the most room for improvement, and offer to expand on it in a bigger email. Pictures like the ones above can hammer home your point without ever requiring you to raise your voice.

I would say your most effective window for feedback is One Week, but that's just a number I pulled out of my head. The tech shop likely has a limited warranty on their labour, so the sooner you give them the chance to make good, the better.

If you dare give them that chance.

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