They can always do something for you

The universe must hate me, because I’ve had a serious rash (heh) of customer service debacles over the last six months. Two recent ones–one with Apple, another with UPS–reminded me of an important principle of interacting with big organizations. First, a summary of my conversation with Apple:

ME: My iMac has catastrophically failed twice, and been in the shop four times. Send me a new one.
APPLE: Sorry, it needs to fail three times before we replace it.
ME: (Repeats litany of the misbegotten iMac.) I’ve been an Apple customer for a decade. I’ve easily spent $10,000 with your company.
APPLE: Sorry.
ME: So, after all this, there’s nothing you can do for me?
ME: Nothing at all?
APPLE: Oh, hang on, here’s some store credit.

And here’s my conversation with UPS:

ME: You failed to deliver the package on the day you said you would. I stayed home all day. I even called at 4:00pm, and your agent confirmed that it would be delivered by 7:00pm. It wasn’t.
UPS: We work with a third-party delivery company. We can’t determine when they deliver packages.
ME: So I have to stay home all day again?
UPS: Yes.
ME: Really? So, despite doing everything right as the customer, there’s nothing you can do for me?
UPS: Nope.
ME: Nothing at all?
UPS: Oh, hang on, I’ll call dispatch and they can narrow the window for when the package will be delivered.

Customer service and customer retention

Companies usually perceive their customer service department as a cost centre. They want to process as many calls as quickly as possible while minimizing the costs associated with those calls. So, they train their staff to parrot company policies and appear to be inflexible.

However, companies also recognize the importance of customer retention. They know it costs a lot more money to replace a customer than to keep one. So, they usually enable their staff to upgrade customers to higher levels of service, or to occasionally dole out goodies to troublesome customers.

The trick is to have a strong case, articulate it calmly and rationally, and not to hang up until you’ve derived some degree of satisfaction. Your ace in the hole should be, “because I’m so disappointed with your service, I’m going to switch to the competition”. This is particularly effective with mobile providers like Fido and Telus–they have whole departments to handle customers who say this.

Assuming that you’ve been legitimately wronged by a company, they can always do something for you.


  1. Just because they tell you they can do something doesn’t mean it’s true. Don’t trust UPS, in particular. My most recent conversation with them went like this:

    ME: I stayed home all day, talked to an agent at 6:50 who said my package was coming, and now your delivery guy said that they tried and failed to deliver it at 7:03, even though I am right here, and he does not appear to have left a notification. Can’t he just come right back? He must be close by.
    UPS: The dispatch center closes at 7 so we can’t reach them.
    ME: Isn’t that convenient.
    UPS: Well, we’ll try to deliver it again tomorrow.
    ME: I won’t be here. That’s why I waited all day today.
    UPS: You can come and get it at the airport.
    ME: That’s insane. Can’t you redirect the parcel somewhere downtown?
    UPS: Well, we could send it to the UPS Store on Main and you can pick it up in two days.
    ME: Hmmm. That sounds good. Okay.

    (two days later)
    ME: I’m here for my parcel!
    UPS Store: Hi! What parcel? Did you fill out the release form and pay the $5 fee?
    ME: Uhhhh… what? Let me call UPS.
    UPS: Oh yes, we can’t just redirect a parcel without approval.
    ME: Why didn’t anybody tell me this before I redirected it?
    UPS: Uh, we don’t know. Sorry.
    ME: And where is my parcel?
    UPS: Uh, we don’t know. Sorry.
    ME: No, really.
    UPS: Oh, we found it! It’ll be delivered there in late afternoon.
    ME: But I am here now and you said it would be here in two days. So now I have to make a second trip back to this store and fill out a form and pay a fee to get my package, two days after you supposedly tried to deliver it but your driver conveniently couldn’t reach me right at closing time?
    UPS: Uh, sorry.

    Lots of apologies. Customer service was all over the apologizing. But the actual SERVICE never seemed to happen. I finally got my package despite their best efforts to keep it away from me, and the guy at the UPS Store was kind enough to waive the fee, but it’s too late. Every time I’ve used UPS I’ve had problems. See if I ever use them again.

  2. It’s hard getting good customer service in the first place, but it’s even harder when you’re not really the (paying) customer. With shipping companies where the sender is paying, you (as the recipient) don’t exactly have a lot of pull with UPS or Purolator to say that you’re going to take your business elsewhere. It’s not like you chose them in the first place. It sucks, but that’s how it is.

  3. I won’t relate any more UPS tales than I did years ago, but I now refuse to do business with anyone who ships via UPS and doesn’t have alternative delivery options.

    When discussing the possibility of ditching that company’s service, be prepared to follow up, i.e. don’t be bluffing. When Telus treated me as a long-time Internet customer with disdain compared to new buyers, I really did switch to Shaw. (As followup, I still have a Telus mobile phone, but everyone else in my family has moved to a different carrier, in part because of my caustic word of mouth. Telus customer research probably doesn’t even measure that sort of future revenue loss.)

    And when American Express showed no inclination to lower my interest rate after my years as a customer, I really did cancel my card and cut it up.

    Sometimes, that’s how you have to force competition to happen: real consequences for the competitors.

    1. I realize, of course, that this is a problem with Apple products. If you, like me, really do prefer Mac OS and iOS and iPods to the alternatives, what are you going to do? Buy a Dell? (Ugh.) I guess you could just resolve to buy used Macs and such from now on, depriving Apple of extra revenue. But they do sort of have us Mac-heads by the short ones in some respects.

  4. I just leave a note on the front door (conveniently located next to the side door going into the garage) saying “Put it in the garage, lock and close the garage door.” Works every time.

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