The Consumer Matters is the blog of Leslie Grandy, aka Gearhead Gal.  My passion is creating and delivering compelling products that delight customers through simple and elegant user experience design.

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Entries in quality (4)

Wednesday
Apr072010

Destroying a Brand, One Geek At A Time

The clip-on ties, that nerdy white short sleeved shirt.  These are unmistakable elements of the Geek Squad brand, recently called Best Buy's "killer app" by the Los Angeles Times.  But the brand that holds up Best Buy's repair and installation business, has developed quite a reputation for geeks who feel comfortable wearing pocket protectors, but don't have a clue how to service customers.See also: Do You Have To Be Crappy To Be Big?

I recently brought the branded emissaries of geekdom a 10" Vaio laptop that I had running Windows XP and which increasingly showed the same blue screen error until it was impossible to get it to boot and stay booted for very long. Admittedly, the machine is 5 years old, but it is loaded with hardware goodies like a video cam, DVD drive, SD memory slot and it is as small as a netbook. And it is small and lightweight. When I gave them the laptop, I also had told the rep I had an iPhone video of the error sequence, whch highlighted the message that showed what the error was and when it occurred. They weren't interested. "We'll see whatever the problem is when we run our diagnostics." I now understand that means we only pay attention to the diagnostics. Our process means we don't have to listen to the customer, only what our diagnostics tell us. The receipt for the checked in laptop did not reflect the specifics of my use case, and it did not repeat what the video showed. It was a Cliff Notes version of what the rep entered as their abridged view of the problem they heard me describe - that is, what they agreed to do to fix a symptom.

I received a call from the Geek Squad telling me their diagnostics program showed a new hard drive was required. The machine used a 1.8" drive which Best Buy doesn't stock or order, and which is sold online by another vendor. The rep who called indicated that this would fix the problem and gave me the total estimate for the job, plus the cost of the new drive, which I'd have to order myself. In total, I could have a fully featured working 10" laptop running full Win XP for the cost of a netbook, he assured me.

I could find only one place online that sold the replacement part, and it had a 10 day return policy, so I ordered it online and verified with the Geek who had my laptop that I had found the correct part. I brought it into store two days later and five days later they called to tell me my laptop was fixed and ready for pick up.

At the counter, the Geek Squad rep told me that after working on the computer for five days, he was sure the problem was resolved, and he never suggested - and I didn't request - that we boot the machine up when I signed and paid for it to show us both it was indeed no longer generating the error. And, of course, when I got home and booted it up, the blue screen error appeared before Windows finished loading. The very same error message I had video recorded before bringing it in. In the same place in the setup process as before. Two more times I restarted and got the message and immediately called the store. "It was working when it left here," the manager said. "I don't know what you did since then." I asked him how he was sure it had been working since there was no proof.  I informed him I replicated the sequence as before and had the video on my iPhone from the week before and another I created this time. I asked if his diagnostics replicated my actual use case when the machine was first analyzed or after it was "repaired." The manager continued to repeat that his diagnostics said the hard drive was bad and they replaced it. "But you didn't actually repair what I brought it in for," I told him. "It looks identical to what occured prior to you charging me to replace the hard drive, which I had to separately source and buy." He insisted the hard drive was bad even though it didn't fix my initial problem.

At this point it dawned on me that the scalable, Geek Squad workflow process found a plausible explanation for my problem, and stopped looking. They did not identify whether what they found was an explanation for a symptom of the problem or the root cause of the problem. In fact, by never replicating my actual use case, no one really could be sure if they had fixed my problem. They may have even mitigated the issue, which allowed the OS to load on occasion, and that was enough to move the laptop off their bench.

I brought the laptop back to the Geek Squad counter the next day, open, awake, running on battery, and still displaying the same blue screen crashing message I had when I first brought it in. On the counter, the manager rebooted the laptop, and this time Windows loaded. "See, it's working," he shrugged, completely ignoring the blue screen I had on display. Clearly it was not cured, but one restart and the Geek in Charge wiped his hands of any responsibility for the fact I had walked in with evidence the problem that started the whole affair still persisted.  "We can diagnose it again," he offered. "Isn't that what you were supposed to have done when I originally brought it in?" I asked.

And that was when I realized I know longer trusted the nerdy know-it-all in his geek uniform to service my broken product, let alone my business.

 

 

Sunday
Nov222009

Great Products Can't Mask Lousy Service Design

One of the many consequences of how businesses are coping with the economic downturn is the way they deliver service through retail storefronts. The pressure on bricks and mortar retailers to compete with ecommerce sites on price is obvious from the minute you walk in the door - from the product quality on the shelves to the fewer people around to assist you on the sales floor, the physical world is threatened by the low margin world of the Internet.  Though bricks and mortars stores need to operate more efficiently to keep competitive, they still need to remember the service experience can be a valuable differentiator worth paying for.  Over on Apple-Investor.com, a post entitled Why Don't Retailers Copy the Apple Retail Model suggests the Apple experience in retail is nirvana. "There’s no lines, no frustration, just pure satisfaction'

I have lamented the way product quality has suffered from manufacturing and supply chain cost-cutting measures to grow margin, and cutting out the "middle class" of products. Apple has engineered quality from the manufacturing line into the front lines. Every detail matters. But quality may not be the only victim when a company shifts focus onto increased profitability without providing increased customer value.  With today’s tough business choices, many brands are losing their core equities simply from the lack of innovation on the service experience.  When policy and process become the defining attributes of the service experience, customers generally don’t win.

Would You Like Vinyl Siding With Those Earrings?

A great case in point was a recent experience I had with my husband at our local Sears. Through good times and bad times, Sears has stood for quality tools and appliances. My husband buys Craftsman as much because of the kind of service Sears provides for out-of-warranty repairs as he does because the products are durable and dependable. If anything does happen, he knows the company will stand behind their products. When our pressure washer recently went on the fritz, they fixed it in half the estimated time. We went into the repair center to pick it up, but were amazed at the journey we went on once we walked into the reception area. The lack of design thinking applied to our interactions as customers was readily transparent. This was an experience designed from the inside out. 

Find out how Sears could design a better service experience by reading the full article here.

Tuesday
Nov172009

The Middle Class of Products

What has become of the middle class of products? You know, the dependable ones that weren't luxury brands or disposable discounts? I have been lamenting with my friends lately how the stuff for sale looks like junk and how that appears to be even more frighteningly true as we approach the Christmas shopping season.There seems to be a chasm developing with high end luxury goods on one cliff and cheaply-made value products on the other.  The idea of getting what you pay for is more about what you expect you are paying for. Is it the name on the label or the utility and durability of the product? As a consumer, what matter most to you is what you'll fork over your hard earned dollars for, and if that is quality you might be disappointed.

A middle class American works hard for a day's pay. And as an employee they are likely being asked to do more work with less benefits or resources. Margins are being cut everyhere in the supply chain, and nowhere more than in manufacturing and industrial design. Mass produced items that just hint at artisan craftsmanship pass as luxury goods these days because people yearn for even the appearance of qualty. No place is this more true than in consumer electronics. A pretty face can carry a cheap imitator into a consumer's home easily these days. And like a wolf in sheep's clothing, it can mask as a shiny new cell phone, digital camera or GPS device that could change your life.

But before long the wolf reveals, through the headset jack jiggling or the speaker crackling or dropped signals or the paint chips off the shiny finish. And then you wonder, is the aggravation to buy cheaper products worth the savings? This is where my friends and I ended our rant tonight - agreeing that sometimes it is worth it to pay for the luxury brand just for the peace of mind that quality brings when you know you can depend on it. Pride of craftsmanship, especially pushing against the prevailing tide of economic downsizing, is getting harder and harder to find. Just like the middle class.

Tuesday
Nov102009

Favorite Tweet of the Day

@thinkBIG_blog: "The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten" ~ Benjamin Franklin