November 2, 2009

Why I love public transportation and hate HP

Public transportation. Source: George L. Smythe

David SparkWe all complain about public transportation. It’s slow. It’s crowded. It’s delayed. It’s boring. Public transportation can be miserable, but for me it’s not anymore. It’s not because San Francisco MUNI and BART got any cleaner or faster, but because they provided me with some information. They told me when the next bus is coming.

Using the NextMUNI or the service, I can find information about when to expect the next bus. While it may be very costly or impossible to make trains and buses move faster, by letting me know where they are and then calculating an estimated wait time, it provides me with information to plan accordingly. I could take another bus line or grab a coffee and wait somewhere a little more comfortable than a bus stop. I actually enjoy taking public transportation because it gives me a chance to listen and watch podcasts on my iPod.

Restaurants do this as well when you put in a reservation. If they say 10 minutes before you’re seated, you’ll wait. If they say an hour, you’ll move on to another restaurant. By providing that little bit of information, restaurants are delivering great customer service. They’re empowering the customer with information to make an informed decision. They’re not leaving them in the dark.

If you can’t deliver service quickly, you have to let them know when you’re going to deliver it

I recently had a technical issue with my HP computer. I contacted HP, paid $59 for tier 2 level service, and then proceeded to wait a total of TWO HOURS for a technician. I was never informed as to when I would be connected to a technician. I simply listened to the same recording repeat itself over and over for TWO HOURS.

During that time I called in on a second line trying to connect with someone on the routing system to give me some information. Nobody knew. I desperately asked them to connect me with a manager. They said they would, but didn’t. Everyone just connected me to the same line that I sat on for two hours. The battery on my phone was draining. I didn’t know if I’d have enough for my tech call once it finally connected. I went to the website and tried to connect with someone in online chat, but their chat system was completely broken.

Over that two hours I had built up an anger toward HP that I don’t think I’ve ever built up toward a brand in my life. If there was a way to stick my hand through the phone and punch someone, I would have. I was that angry.

I’ve been on phone systems before that inform you of your wait time the second they put you in queue. It’s very valuable. It allows me to make a decision as to what I’d like to do. I can stay on the line or hang up. Without timing information, you’re placing the customer in the dark. It’s like not knowing when the next bus is coming.

When I was finally connected the tech support person, he solved my issue. The service was great. But the two-hour wait irrevocably tarnished the great service.

Overbooking and canceling appointments

I’ve had similar experiences with Sears refrigerator repair, which consistently canceled appointments because they were overbooking their technicians. Three times I booked appointments that were canceled at the last minute. I waited for someone to show up who never showed up. Once the technician did show up, he was professional and did excellent work.

Sears doesn’t seem to consider the booking of technicians as part of their customer service as evidenced by their follow-up survey email, which didn’t ask a single question regarding the timeliness of the technician. They did ask me questions about his appearance, though.

Put transponders on your service

If San Francisco can make me love public transportation simply by putting transponders on their vehicles, how hard is it for you to place some type of beacon on your customer service system to just inform customers as to when they’ll receive service?David Spark, a partner in, helps businesses grow by developing thought leadership through storytelling and covering live events. Contact David by email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

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3 thoughts on “Why I love public transportation and hate HP

  1. Hi David, sorry you had trouble finding me on the forum. I understand that you have spoken with my colleague, Jeff, and he has your contact information. He and I are going to talk tomorrow so I will get a full debrief. He or I will be in touch!