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Customer Service: The Next, New Thing, Again

The Final Sayye by Gary Kayye By Gary Kayye, CTS

Customer Service was a huge subject during the original PC technology debut of the late 1980s with people like Tom Peters and Regis McKenna leading the way with everything from video tutorials to forming service consulting firms. Everyone from Apple Computer to FedEx jumped on the service bandwagon and developed service schemes that made them stand out from the crowd.

Remember when shipping via FedEx was the only way to be sure a package got to its intended destination, overnight? How about Apple's famed 1-800 support line where you were guaranteed to get a human to answer the phone -- and one that could answer your technical or sales support question without even transferring you.

Heck, even Microsoft used to offer free customer service and in the unlikely event they had to put you on hold, they actually had an on-hold DJ (yep, a DJ -- like a radio DJ) that not only played songs (now known as "tunes' by Apple fans) while you were on hold, but also told you the average wait time in each hold group.

Then came the technological windfall. Everyone who made everything grew astronomically and support couldn't keep up. Most manufacturers couldn't hire people fast enough.

Then, the recession -- companies couldn't afford to keep hiring new people.

And service suffered. We not only started getting charged a fee for service from technology manufacturers, but we also were forced to hold - a long time. Now, a lot of customer service for mainstream companies is "outsourced" and I am forced to hold my breath sometimes that I will even be able to communicate with the poor, under-trained soul on the other end of the phone call.

What ever happened to the days when customer service was a differentiator -- a positive marketing aspect of a manufacturer's image?

Well, hang-on as you're about to see a change. In recent months, a few major manufacturers out there have contracted my consulting firm to help them transform their images (and structure) into service heroes. And they're not alone. Other consulting firms specializing in building customer service kings are reporting big client growth, and awareness as increasing. As projector manufacturers see that every one of their competitors has access to the identical technology and products they used to have, exclusively, service will return. It's got to! 

Think about it. If you're in the market to buy a new PC or even a new TV, how do you decide? Heck, the hardware technology is virtually identical and there aren't even any differences in the software as Microsoft makes them all (unless, of course, you select the Mac path). So, how do you decide whom to buy? HP, Dell, IBM, Gateway -- they all have the same stuff at virtually the same prices. So, do you go for the one with the $50 rebate, the free surge protector or the complementary color printer? I guess it depends on what you need at that moment in time. But, I know who I'll pick as I've owned each one of those brands and I know which one has the best support -- or, at least used to have the best support.

I'm not alone. You will see a major re-focus on consumer support and customer assistance among manufacturers and our market will see it too. If you're a conference center manager evaluating projectors from Epson, Sony, InFocus, HP and Dell, price won't be the determining factor as they all make the grade there. It's going to be service. When I have a problem or even a question, whom can I call and who will support me with knowledgeable advice? And, with over 40 branded projector manufacturers, it's going to be THE factor, soon.

Sure, I shop based on price a lot too. I don't live in a vacuum. Price guarantees are fine and dandy for a while, but I was floored the other day when I went into Home Depot to look for a lag-bolt only to be told (and I quote), "you need to go to a hardware store for that." What the heck is Home Depot, then? Apparently it's a home improvement store -- not a hardware store. And, they're right when they advertise it's the Do-It-Yourself Headquarters as you definitely have to do it yourself - I looked and looked for 10-15 minutes to even find someone in an orange apron to help me.

As far as projector service goes, we all know the customer should be calling the dealer they bought it from, right? But let's be realistic here. A heck of a lot of projectors are purchased direct via the Internet, CDW, Staples, etc. and not everyone wants to try and ask the PC-dude at Staples for projector alignment help. They have a hard enough time keeping inkjet printer ink in stock - much less projector lamps.

Speaking of lamps, I recently ordered a replacement lamp for my ultra-portable and not only did it take two months to get, it was the wrong lamp. During that two-month span, there was no follow-up to tell me when it was coming, no order confirmation and certainly no human contact - I guess I got what I deserved as I ordered it directly from the manufacturer's web site.


Gary Kayye, CTS is Chief Visionary at Kayye Consulting, Inc., a Chapel Hill, NC-based marketing consulting firm that serves the ProAV and Home Theater markets. In addition to strategic marketing consulting, Kayye Consulting, Inc. is also a training development company. Gary can be reached via e-mail at gkayye@kayye.com or through his Web site at www.kayye.com.

Reprinted with permission from Sound & Communications magazine. http://www.soundandcommunications.com


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Gary Kayye, CTS is Chief Visionary at Kayye Consulting, Inc., a Chapel Hill, NC-based marketing consulting firm that serves the ProAV and Home Theater markets. In addition to strategic marketing consulting, Kayye Consulting, Inc. is also a training development company. Gary can be reached via e-mail at gkayye@kayye.com or through his Web site at www.kayye.com.
Related Keywords:Gary Kayye, Customer Service, next new thing, projector manufacturers, PC technology, service schemes

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