About a month ago, I had planned for this article to be a scathing, searing condemnation of Hewlett-Packard and a declaration that it was on the same level as Electronic Arts. A lot has happened since then. This is a story about a company’s fall from grace in the eyes of a customer, and how it redeemed itself through good service and sincere efforts to make amends.
I purchased a high end desktop from Hewlett-Packard in December. Mine is a very media-intensive profession, and I’d mostly been relying on a Sony Vaio that did the job, but started sputtering if I ran anything as simple as Photoshop or Minecraft. Based on recommendations and positive feedback – and the fact that a bad customer service experience with Dell has still left me scarred – I bought the HP Envy Phoenix model. Beautiful, sleek, and it ran like a dream initially.
About two months later, any media related activity – including things as simple as uploading photos and watching YouTube videos – started causing freezes and crashes, followed by bad reboots. Within a few weeks, it was impossible to do any work. I theorized that this was a graphics card problem and contacted HP. They promised to send a technician over to make the necessary repairs, and the people I spoke to seemed capable and patient. So far, so good.
I got a call a day before the scheduled repair date that HP would be missing their appointment. I was mildly annoyed, but figured things happened and patiently rescheduled for the following week. The day of the appointment I got a call from HP, saying they had to reschedule again and that they had been “unable” to get in touch with me. I hadn’t received any missed calls, voicemails, or E-mails and was more irritated this time, but we rescheduled again. Saturday between 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM.
By 6:00 PM that Saturday, my blood was boiling. No technician, no phone call, no explanation, no apology. The third missed appointment. By that point, all bets were off and I did what anyone in my situation is justified doing: I whined, screamed, and threw a tantrum.
Take note, businesses: Customers usually aren’t screaming because they have anger issues or they’re out to make your life miserable. They feel powerless. When people in my situation talk and don’t hear responses, their raised voices are fueled by their resulting indignation. Yelling and raging is a way of taking that power back. If you want to avoid the vast majority of irate customers – especially as a bigger company – make sure your customers feel like they’re being heard. We all know nobody likes dealing with complaints, so don’t make your customers feel like they have to resort to shouting.
In my case, I found Hewlett Packard has a very active LinkedIn audience and I quickly started a group discussion angrily outlining my problem. I personally reached out to as many marketing and customer support employees as I could find to express my vocal rage, telling one social media strategist in particular how inexcusable it was that my inquiries on Twitter were going unanswered.
I was mollified by the response. In less than three hours, no less than ten people had messaged me on LinkedIn offering apologies, saying that my experience with Hewlett Packard was unacceptable and that they would all do what they could to help. The HP employees were geographically diverse and included some fairly senior managers, several of whom offered to advocate on my behalf. Did they only take notice because I was steaming? Probably, but they could have ignored me. I’ve seen that happen, and it only enrages people even further. Instead the professional, apologetic responses cooled me off a little.
The instant the workday started on Monday morning I was contacted by Hewlett Packard’s case management team and put in touch with an extremely supportive case manager, whom I will refer to for privacy reasons as Jane. I was still seething a little, but as I recounted my unhappy experiences, this is when things started improving significantly.
Jane listened patiently. She was very surprised and disappointed, especially when I got to the third missed appointment. This was the turning point: She admitted that Hewlett Packard “dropped the ball” and she apologized on behalf of the company. She gave me the option of an altogether brand new desktop, complete with complimentary hardware upgrades and a coupon for my troubles, or the opportunity to advocate for a refund.
After sleeping on it, I had calmed down by the following morning. Jane had sent a followup E-mail and dozens of HP employees on LinkedIn were still reaching out to offer support and apologies. Given the genuine efforts by HP to remedy a situation that had evidently gotten out of hand, I opted for the replacement, and thanks to Jane’s advocacy, shipping was expedited and the replacement arrived a week before the projected delivery date.
I’ve typed this blog post on my replacement desktop, which is working so far. In hindsight I’m glad I gave HP a second chance, even though this shouldn’t have had to happen at all. It’s entirely possible that
I just fell through the cracks, but their representative took responsibility, admitted fault, and offered reasonable compensation for my troubles.
If you’re reading this as a consumer, here’s your takeaway: Don’t stay silent. I will defend HP on the point that they and other companies can’t fix your problem if they don’t know about it. The people you need to be in touch with are easier to find and you as a consumer have much bigger loudspeakers than you did ten years ago. More importantly, don’t be afraid to get angry. If being civil has resulted in stonewalling, incapable support, or missed appointments, throw your hissy fit. You’ve paid for something and the seller has promises and expectations to live up to.