Today's Brainzooming blog guest post comes via @FlyingSpatula, a former Brainzooming guest blogger. He direct messaged me over the weekend to let me know about a blog post his uncle, Sheldon Rozansky, founder of Les Specialistes HCS Montreal, wrote about how big box brands can be indifferent to and even downright contemptuous of customers. While this sucks for customers, he uses shortcomings at big box brands to create a competitive advantage when price competition isn't an option. Here's his take on crappy customer service at big box brands and how smaller competitors can fight back for themselves and their customers:

Big Box Brands and Crappy Customer Service by Sheldon Rozansky

One of my clients, Mike, purchased a laptop from a Big Box Brand Chain Store. They also sold him the extended warranty for which he shelled out over $200.  I am not a big fan of the extended warranty, but I wasn’t with him when he purchased the laptop or the extended warranty, so I couldn’t advise against it.

Six months later Mike called me because the new laptop had stopped working.  I visited him and after looking at the laptop for about 5 minutes, told him the hard drive was dead.  He asked if there was anything I could do to recover the data. I told him, “No.”  It was a hard drive failure, and it needed to be replaced.  He mentioned the extended warranty and how Big Box Brand Chain Store’s “HELP SQUAD” would fix everything.  I told him the manufacturer’s warranty would replace the hard drive anyway in the first year, but since he paid for the warranty, he might as well get it checked.

He asked, “How much do I owe you Sheldon?”

“Nothing. I didn’t fix anything. All I did as tell you the bad news.”

He thanked me, and away I went.

A week passed, and he told me about bringing the laptop to the Big Box Brand Chain Store.  “Yeah, Sheldon, they said they are going to charge me if they are able to recover the data. It’s about $260, but if they can’t recover the data, they are only going to charge me $59.”

I replied, “I have the same software they use to recover data. If I were able to do it, I would have. It is a physical issue with the drive. They can easily tell whether they can recover the data by testing the drive - which they should do to see if the drive is the issue for the warranty.  The only way you are getting your data back is through a data recovery specialist, and they charge much more than $260.  If these guys are using specialty equipment to recover your data then $260 is a bargain; otherwise they are just ripping you off.”

A few weeks more passed and Mike called. The Big Box Brand Chain Store couldn’t recover his data (surprise, surprise), but the hard drive had been replaced. “It will only cost $59.”

I asked, “Why is it costing you anything?????? You bought a stupid extended warranty. Please call me when you get there.”

Hand Him the Phone

I always loved the old advertising line, “You have a friend in the diamond business,” because I have always felt, “I am your friend in the computer business.”  When my customers – my friends - are about to get screwed by the Big Box Brand Chain Store, I fight for them. I do this because it is the right and honest thing, not because I get paid for it.

Mike called from the store to say he was being charged $59.  I told him to pass the phone to the computer guy.  He later told me the guy had no idea why the phone was passed to him.

“I have a question for you,” I told the Big Box Brand Chain Store guy. “Why is Mike being charged $59 for work covered by his extended warranty? Oh, and by the way, I should tell you that I am a computer technician.”

“He’s being charged because of the time we spent recovering data. We worked on the hard drive for 2 days with special software,” he replied.

“Don’t lie to me. I know how recovery works. You didn’t recover any data. In fact if you had examined the hard drive you would have seen it was DEAD and needed to be replaced under the manufacturer’s warranty. You would have had to look at the hard drive anyway to send it to the manufacturer. If it took you 2 days to find out it was dead, you guys are the most incompetent people I have ever seen.”

“Umm, yes sir you’re right. We were able to see the drive was dead, and it was covered by the manufacturer’s warranty”

“So why did you lie to me?”

“I didn’t lie to you.”

“You told me you were working on it for 48 hours, and you are charging my friend for all those unnecessary hours.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Then why are you charging him $59?”

“No, I am not. He was mistaken. Since we didn’t recover anything and he has an extended warranty, we weren’t going to charge him anything.”

The phone was passed back to Mike, and I told him, “The guy says he wasn’t going to charge you for any of this.”

“He’s lying,” Mike said.

“Well, you’re getting back all your money for this non-job,” I replied.

Mike didn’t have to pay. He later told me, “These guys weren’t going to give back a dime if they didn’t speak to you.”

Competing Against Crappy Customer Service at Big Box Brands

What bothers me most about this is the dishonesty. Mike was sold an extended warranty. That is a contract between customer and vendor that if the product becomes defective, the vendor will honor the agreement to maintain the product. It shows the vendor is willing to stand behind its products.

I run my computer business by giving clients the best personalized service possible. Knowledge, skill set, and honesty are my advantage. I am honored when someone has faith and trust in the business I have built to understand I ALWAYS try to do the right thing. I have accepted that the Big Box Brand Chain Store can beat me to submission on price, but never on service.

The Big Box Brand Chain Store should realize an extended warranty is a sign the customer honors your beliefs, and you will do the right thing.  It is not an agreement that “the client was an idiot the first time when we sold him this useless extended warranty and now we know we can charge him for ANYTHING!!!!!” - Sheldon Rozansky