What a dripping faucet, taught me about great customer service. 

 February 19, 2013

By  Pascal Depuhl

…and why a high-tech firm ends up being worse than Chinese water torture!

It’s work getting new customers. Not that retaining them is easy, but it takes a lot more effort to land that first job than it does to do a great job and be hired again. But have you ever thought to put a dollar figure on how much you value them? I recently had two experiences with two very different companies and learned first hand how much each of them was willing to pay to keep me as a customer.

¢55 a day bought Earthlink 6 months of my loyalty

Enter Earthlink. I just received a lesson in how to treat a long-term customer, actually, I got a lesson in how not to do it. Let me back up for a little bit, I have been a customer of Earthlink, an ISP, for over 15 years. That’s long-term and that’s a commitment in anyone’s book. (I bend over backward for clients that I have worked with for a lot less than that.) OK, back about 6 months ago, we started experiencing problems with our internet connection and our VOIP, both provided by Earthlink. I started calling them to get the issues fixed. You put up with the typical (frustrating) scripted troubleshooting – you know the “Is your modem plugged in?” kinda stuff. Then you buy the $99.- modem since the phone technical support can not figure out what’s wrong and says it must be the modem (we did that twice at $99 a pop). Two weeks later the modem shows up, a short time after that you call back, ’cause it’s not the modem and your back to “Is your modem plugged in?” tech support, but you put up with that because you have a relationship and you want to give Earthlink the benefit of the doubt.

However, in the last two months we’ve had about 5 technicians out, people from the phone company that runs the copper line, people from the company that Earthlink leases the DSL service from, and Earthlink people themselves. (The only guys, that knew what they were talking about, were the AT&T telephone techs and the Covad IT guys.) Anyway, now the service starts dropping DSL sync for hours at a time, which means no internet and the dial tone disappears for days on end (The last no-dial-tone-episode lasted 10 days). Many phone calls later (from my cell), that always begins with the promise to fix the problem today and “Is your modem plugged in?”, I finally – after 6 months call Customer Service, to ask for a refund – I figure I should get at least the 10 days with no dial tone refunded.

The absolute best quote comes from Savio, an Earthlink Customer Service Supervisor. After talking for about 2 hours, here is how Savio explained, why Earthlink wouldn’t give me a refund on non-working services, that I paid full price for:

“Because of the complex nature, availability and underlying infrastructure of Internet Service, it may not be possible to provide a best guaranteed Service to everyone.”

Savio, Customer Service Supervisor @ Earthlink

Wow. I was floored. Earthlink is unable to provide me with a dial tone or an internet signal that does not drop or disconnect every couple of hours, because of the big bad internet. Buh huh. Seriously? I had called because I believed that I was entitled to a rebate, not a credit for future services, but actual money back into my account. The Customer service rep I was speaking with earlier, Michelle, had promised me a refund of $82.50, but couldn’t get her system to do that. That’s where Savio came in, to get this fixed. He couldn’t figure out how to do that either (full disclosure: I did have a phone rep refund me $30.- earlier for the same issues, so I know he can do that if he wants to), but he told me that he was sticking to his decision to offer me credit. He was impolite, self-opinionated, stubborn, and unwilling at best or incompetent at worst to help me get this issue resolved. In short, he absolutely did not care for Earthlink’s customers. In his defense, I have to say neither did anybody else, so it must be the companies culture.

I got a phone call from Alex @EarthLink corporate, after requesting Savio to connect me with his supervisor, who conveniently was not available. So Savio set up a call back from corporate and in 5 minutes Alex had refunded me $69.90 to my bank. Do you think I’ll recommend Earthlink? I’ll give you a hint AT&T currently has a technician at my house, that is installing their internet service and VOIP at my house. It’s gonna be 3 times the speed at half the price. As an added bonus their technician is friendly, knowledgeable, and is even setting up our whole (and it’s a fairly complex) Wifi network; which he isn’t required to do. He is here to set up the modem in my house, but he went way above what he had to do, feeding voice and data back from the modem through my in-wall cables into switches, patch blocks, and routers, helping me set up 3 separate Wifi zones in the house. He did not leave until he was sure that everything worked although AT&T does not provide support for your home network. He did a phenomenal job. (Thanks Greg.)

The dripping faucet, that turned into the sweetest sound I’ve heard in a while.

The brand new replacement faucet Kohler send us
Replacement parts Kohler send almost added up to a complete faucet.

Now let’s look at another customer service experience I had recently. When we remodeled our kitchen 10 years ago, we bought a used cast iron sink for $4.- and splurged on a Kohler faucet ($300.-). Recently it began dripping. I called Kohler up with a partial serial number and the customer service rep that was on the phone was very friendly and knowledgeable and able to find out what faucet we had in about 5 minutes. I had no receipt, nor was I showing up in her database, but nevertheless she took another 5 minutes to figure out all the parts she needed to mail me (it ended up being the whole faucet, with the exception of the handles). The one and only caveat she asked me about, is if I was the original owner. One week later at absolutely $0 cost to me, the parts show up at my house. Wow. I was floored, but this time in a good way. Kohler cares about its customers and stands 100% behind its products. There was no argument, no “because of the complex nature, physicality, and underlying infrastructure of the plumbing in your house, it may not be possible to provide a drip-free faucet to everyone” scripted excuse. Just a very pleasant voice on the other end of the phone line that genuinely cared for me the customer.

How much are your existing customers worth?

When I need to buy a faucet in the future, I think it’s safe to say that I will by a Kohler faucet. And I won’t be too concerned about the price. Now, who do you think I’ll recommend as an internet service provider …

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what a bad cup of coffee can teach you about good customer service.

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Pascal Depuhl

Miami product photographer, video producer, cinematographer and chief mindchanger at Photography by Depuhl I love to share the knowledge I've gained over the past two decades. Catching light in motion.