Customer Service: Getting What You Want With Minimal Fuss

A few weeks ago, I was unplugging my laptop from the wall to save power, as we hippie types like to do, when the grounding pin decided it wanted to stay in the wall outlet. It snapped right off, which rather irked me, because I had to go out to the box and cut power to that circuit and then prise out the damn pin with a pair of pliers.

My laptop power cord, with the grounding pin sitting next to it.

Staring at the woeful remains of my once robust power cord, I decided to do something I don’t usually do when I call customer service: I identified a goal, and I decided to accomplish that goal, no matter what. I would be graceful, but determined, and I wouldn’t stop until I’d gone all the way to the top, if I had to.

My goal was simple: Get Compaq[1. Well, actually, HP handles their service contracts, but whatever.] to replace my power cord. For free. Given that I’ve had this computer less than a year, clearly something like this is the result of a manufacturing defect, not any unusual activities on my part, and thus, Compaq owed me a power cord.

I started at the bottom, with a help ticket submitted online. This is, in part, because I absolutely loathe phones and will avoid them as actively as possible. If I could get rid of all my phones, I would, believe me, because I hate them. I’m actually kind of terrified when they ring, and have to crawl out from my hiding place under the desk to answer them.

So, I politely stated my case, and got a response. Lo! Compaq would replace my power cord. Hooray! Oh, except, wait, the technician thought I meant the converter block, which is covered by warranty, not the cord running from the outlet to the converter. That, mysteriously, is not covered by warranty, as the emailer helpfully explained to me.

I expressed my dissatisfaction. I took a leaf out of Consumerist’s book: I remained calm and polite, I kept it short and simple, I explained why I was not satisfied with this resolution, and asked if there was anything else that could be done. I mentioned I was a long time Compaq customer and that this was not the kind of service I expected when I purchased my laptop, but I didn’t make any empty threats like claiming I would never buy anything from them again.

The response: A phone number I could call to ‘escalate’ my customer service ticket. I duly called, was asked if I wanted to escalate, said ‘yes please,’ and then an entertaining comedy began. The technician told me it wasn’t covered by warranty. I explained that I knew that, but wanted an exception for the circumstances. Could I please have one? The technician put me on hold. He came back to say it was covered by warranty after all! But wait. He meant the converter, again. After a lengthy discussion where I longed to just send a picture, we established which power cord we were both talking about. Not covered by warranty. I plead for an exception again. I stay friendly and low key. He says he will check with a supervisor. Answer: No.

I, again, expressed my dissatisfaction with this outcome. I told him I knew it wasn’t his fault and he didn’t set policy, but could he, perhaps, forward me to a supervisor with a little more authority? He could. And he did. The supervisor and I went through the same dance. He finally said he didn’t have the ‘authority’ to dispatch a power cord, but ‘knew someone who did’ and ‘would arrange for a call.’

I was beginning to think I’d sunk into the belly of the beast, but lo and behold, a lovely lady called, and she was super friendly and bubbly, and after some token resistance, she agreed to send me a new power cord, free of charge, ‘just this once.’ She sent it express, no less, and even followed up to make sure it got here ok.

What did I learn from this experience, other than that Compaq’s peripherals are, shall we say, not of the best quality?

I learned that, yes, being obnoxiously friendly and laid back really does work. This is something that has always made sense to me on an intellectual level, but actually doing it was a bit hard. I just tried to focus on my days in retail, when people would berate me for policies that were not my fault, and I would quietly make their lives difficult. The people who were friendly, and nice, I would go out of my way to help out. Same rationale works with product complaints, surely? As indeed it does. The quickest way to a technician’s heart, just like anyone else, is making it clear that you know you are talking to a human being, not a robot.

I also learned that roadblocks are pretty much deliberately set up, which I think is shitty. I set a fairly low-key goal, and really there’s no reason the entire power cord and power supply shouldn’t be covered by warranty. But the fact is, I am not the first person this has happened to, and someone with less time or less persistence would have ended up paying $50 for a new power cord, which is just unacceptable. I think that a hallmark of good customer service should be providing good service from the start, not forcing people to go round and round to get a simple product replacement.

So, you know, props to the folks at HP for doing the right thing and replacing my power cord. People on the lower level aren’t responsible for management decisions and I bet they hate the policy about warranties every bit as much as I do. Boo to management for not making such things automatically covered by warranty for the first year, and here’s hoping that changes in response to the polite, friendly, and laid-back letter I mailed to HP’s executive branch.