In 2003, I wrote the following blog entry:

I’ve recently inherited a house. The air conditioner, a jumbo window model from Carrier, is operable, but the mode selector knob is broken. Although it can still be used with judicious use of a pair of pliers, I wanted to get a replacement knob.

It turns out that Carrier understands a key tenet in customer service: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Even though this air conditioner was made over a decade ago, it won’t be a problem for me to get the knob. In fact, Carrier will send one to me at no charge. They make replacement knobs for all their room air conditioners available for free, just for the asking. Their web site offers instructions for requesting new knobs online.

This is how you make customers happy. A small, inexpensive part that would be hard for service centers to stock, creating a logistics nightmare… is instead centralized and turned into something that makes customers feel “taken care of.” This kind of small gesture is what leads to repeat customers.

Sadly, since the original blog entry was written, Carrier has taken down the web page that allowed you to order replacement knobs for their air conditioners. I suspect that the short-sighted bean-counters won out over those who understand that the little things—like knobs—are what help you retain customers when you offer a premium product during hard economic times.

A commenter, dm, added the following:

You know, I had a very similar experience with Bose … I have a pair of Bose 201 Series II bookshelf speakers circa 1987 or so. About a year and a half ago, I blew out the fuses inside the speakers themselves (uhm, oops. Pearl Jam’s “Ten” warrants Excessively Loud Volumes!) Anyway, the fuses are a custom job — hardwired & encased in glass. So I called up Bose, explained the situation to the customer service rep, and all he could say was “Wow, I’m really sorry that happened. This shouldn’t happen. I’m going to overnight FedEx you a pair of fuses, and a few extra too, just in case. Is that OK?”

I asked “How much are the fuses” and he laughed and said “Oh, no charge at all. We’re just sorry you had this problem with our speakers! If you have any problems at all after replacing the fuses, please, give me a call back and we’ll see what we can do from there. (He gave me his name, which I’ve forgotten by now)”

Now *THAT* is customer service!

I wish more companies would take that lead!

(Not that I can personally recommend Bose. In my opinion, most of their products are overhyped and overpriced.  Have you ever noticed that Bose displays in stores are usually set well apart from the competition’s products?)

Since that blog was published, I can add another example of a company that understands customer service.

A few years ago, I purchased a set of Klipsch Synergy speakers for my home theater. I found that they were a good balance of sound quality and price, and they are readily available at the neighborhood big-box electronics retailer. I was very happy with them…

Until I realized, after just a few months over two years of enjoyment, that the bass seemed awfully weak.  In fact, the Sub-10 subwoofer had stopped functioning almost entirely.  With the volume cranked, I could barely perceive any vibration of the woofer cone with my fingers.  Checking my receipt, I found that the subwoofer’s amplifier had a two-year warranty.  It had expired a few months before I realized the problem existed.

Checking Klipsch’s customer-support forums online, I found that many other Sub-10 owners had experienced a failure of the sub’s built-in amplifier. It seems that there was a run of Sub-10s, shipped to big-box retailers on or near a Black Friday sale, that were turning out to be faulty.

I e-mailed Klipsch support, expecting that I would have to pay to have the unit repaired, and hoping that there would be a local repair depot—shipping a big, heavy subwoofer module back for repair would obviously be costly!

Steve Phillips from Klipsch replied:

Hi Rob,
If you can provide use with a receipt and you are handy with a screw driver, we should be able to help.

I got Steve the information he requested, and he shipped me a new amplifier module at no charge.  They provided instructions for replacing the module—not “easy,” but within the grasp of a do-it-yourselfer. Klipsch didn’t even want the old module back.

The new amplifier has a very different design, making it obvious that Klipsch believes in continuous improvement.  This is reassuring—I’m not so worried that this amp will have the same failure two years down the road.

I had a good opinion of Klipsch based on their product. After this, I have an excellent opinion of them based on their customer service. I know that if I buy or recommend a Klipsch product, they will stand behind it—even if it’s one of their inexpensive mass-market lines, instead of the high-end audiophile stuff.

Policy vs. “Policy”

In the case of Klipsch, we see an enlightened attitude toward customer-service policies.  Many companies would stop at the “Warranty Policy:” “We warrant this speaker for two years from the date of purchase as indicated on the original sales receipt.”  If you had a speaker fail after two years and one month, you’d be out of luck with such a company.

Of course, then you’d need to go buy a new speaker… and it almost certainly wouldn’t be another one from that company!

Too many companies stick to “policy” even when the result is losing a customer, and all their potential future purchases. Companies that hold to “policy” in every circumstance wind up being perceived as heartless, uncaring, and out to rip off the consumer.

Enlightened companies, like Klipsch, have a higher form of policy. They have a policy that customer satisfaction can be more important than the “warranty policy.” 

Klipsch isn’t required by warranty to replace an expensive faulty amplifier at no charge—not even shipping costs!—when it dies after 27 months, but they understand that it just isn’t right to do that to a customer.  Better to implicitly acknowledge that the amplifier was a bit flakey, eat the cost of the replacement, and keep the customer.  Then, when the customer decides they need a bigger, better system, they’ll look first at Klipsch’s bigger, better, more expensive lines… instead of the competition.


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