Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Make Customer Service Great Again

Apple has been in the news lately, in a not so good way, because of the revelation of how they artificially slow down older iPhones. The drama forced the company to issue an apology, with a promise of cheaper battery replacements to come next year. This company, once renowned for their exemplary customer service, has fumbled on this instance.

There has been other kerfuffles at Apple, but perhaps this one has angered customers more than ever. If we give Apple the benefit of doubt, that their true intentions of the software slowdown were in the interest of customers, they should at least been clear, transparent, and forthcoming about the matter from the beginning. The software changes were presented in a less-than-clear manner.

I don’t have an iPhone, so this matter doesn’t affect me. But this reminds me about other customer service issues that I’ve had to deal with. To be fair, Apple’s customer service is better than average, but there is certainly room for improvement.

Apple’s service partners in Singapore, A.Lab and QCD, are certainly not great. I’ve had to visit both partners several times over the last couple of years for a variety of problems. Another issue came up on my MacBook Pro recently, and this time I decided to make an appointment at the Apple Orchard Store.

The first thing about Apple Orchard Store is that you can’t get an appointment on the same day, next day, or even the day after. The earliest available appointment is many days away. It wasn’t an issue for me this time because I wasn’t in Singapore, and I could afford to pick a slot when I was back home.

Armed with an appointment, I arrived at the Apple Orchard Store on-time. I still, however, had to wait 20 minutes for someone to serve me.

I know it could be worse. It could be far worse. But after sending my Macs for servicing several times, I noted that the experience fixing up my Macs were almost as bad as visiting a doctor. The queue, the wait, is this just standard and the problem is with me being too impatient?

Funny enough, servicing my car has always been a so much better experience. Book an appointment, head down to the service centre, and I am attended to immediately (or at most a 3 minute wait), pleasantries and other necessary paperwork completed in just a short while after. Then, I could either go off, or, in most cases the service centre is comfortable enough that I could just stay there and wait. There’s free food and drinks, Internet access, comfortable sofas, TV, etc. I could work from there.

My current car is from a Parallel Importer, and even his service centre is nice and comfortable. He’s got karaoke too, not that I avail myself to those services. The Apple Orchard Store isn’t unpleasant or uncomfortable, and neither are the premises of their service partners, but I don’t like to wait. If waiting is unavoidable, could they just do something to keep customers happy?

As I mentioned earlier, I would consider Apple’s customer service to be above average. There would be certainly many other worse companies out there. I dread to have to call banks, telcos, and such, being forced to navigate a senseless maze of IVR menus before being put on hold for a ridiculous amount of time, listening to the endless loops of music and customer service messages. They keep telling us that customer service is important to them. In fact, you will probably hear “your call is important to us, please hold…” while waiting for a customer service representative to take your call. Well, excuse me, if my call is truly important, then I should not have to wait, get someone to answer right now already. No, obviously the customers’ calls are a pain to them.

Then, there are live-chat and chat-bots, which I find are nice and cute, but sometimes they just don’t work well enough. I appreciate live-chat, actually, as it can benefit both parties. But sometimes the nature of your call requires too many back-and-forth, such as when you’re troubleshooting a particularly sticky problem, that a chat quickly degenerates into a senseless mess, especially when each chat response takes 2 or 3 minutes to turnaround.

In fact, one of my worries about switching to Circles.Life is the lack of a phone number to call to complain about problems. Yeah, I’m supposed to use Facebook chat? That’s good for enquiries, but not always the best channel for other issues.

Which company will now step up to make customer service great again? Amazon has been good to me so far. However, I haven’t had difficult issues to work out with them, so it’s hard to say how they would fair under those circumstances. I love it that DHL doesn’t have an IVR. You call, and you speak to a human being. It’s long overdue for companies to really put their customers up front and centre.

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