A rant and a rave about customer service: my recent experience with two companies

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Customer Service: U.S. versus Spain

I recently had two very different experiences with customer service that I wanted to share since I think most of us can relate. First, let me say that I’m from the U.S. and I’ve been living in Spain, Barcelona to be exact, for the last 11 years. The U.S. in general has great customer service. This is always one of first things that crosses my mind when I go back to visit. Of course, we’ve all been stuck on the phone with some poor, powerless customer service person who can not or will not make us happy, but overall service is really good. This may be  due to the high level of competition among companies, effective incentive programs and an obsessive focus on customer satisfaction, the tipping culture, or some combination of all of these. But suffice it to say that Americans have a high level of expectation when it comes to service, and I’ll admit that I’ve been infected with this disease.

When I came to Barcelona, however, this changed. Of course, you meet good people everywhere so this is a generality, but customer service in Spain is very bad. There’s no tipping culture here. We don’t manage by objectives. Taxi drivers usually don’t speak English, won’t take credit cards, and refuse to understand a destination even if it’s written down. The person behind the counter in the café will finish their task of unwrapping sodas and putting them on the shelf for 5 minutes before attending to the customer standing in front of them. What I’ve found is that small business owners tend to take good care of their customers, but their employees earning minimum wage often could care less. The examples that people give for good customer service here (Corté Inglés?) don’t even come close to the average in the U.S. Now, I love Barcelona, and before I start getting hate mail as an out-of-touch guiri who doesn’t get the culture differences, let me just say that I don’t say this just to complain. Startups should see this as an opportunity to stand out. And when I say this is the situation in general, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t exceptions. Which leads me to my two recent experiences, the rant and the rave. By the way, the rant isn’t about a Spanish company, it’s just that my recent experience with customer service here is the context.

ASUS – from recommendable to rantable

In September I bought an ASUS Transformer Infinity tablet/keyboard combo. I’m kind of a gadget freak, but it’s hard to find the perfect device since it feels like everything has it’s pluses and minuses. But when a friend of mine recently asked what I thought of my tablet, I told him, to his and my surprise, that I loved it. It’s a great little device that’s awesome for entertainment but also useful for getting work done. So for the first six months I was really happy with my purchase. I was even telling everyone who would listen how innovative ASUS was, and how I was fast becoming a big fan of the brand.

And then it broke. Somehow the connector between the tablet and the keyboard had become damaged, so that when I plugged the tablet into the keyboard, it would shut off. And when I say somehow, I mean that it didn’t fall, wasn’t smashed by my 5-year-old, or anything else that might be considered misuse.
Here’s what the damage looked like:

ASUS damage

ASUS damage 2

Looks bad, right? No, I didn’t think so either. You can probably imagine how this story will go, but I’ll give you a few details. The repair process actually started out ok. It was under warranty, so ASUS arranged to pick up the tablet from my flat. I had to pack it, but they managed shipping. DHL came and took it away to be fixed in the Czech Republic. After 2 weeks (!!) I get an email that says that it is not covered under warranty followed by a boilerplate list of 11 reasons why this might be the case, and a repair budget for 147 euros. No phone number, no explanation, no nothing! So I reply to the email saying that this can’t be since I used the tablet normally, it never fell, etc. I included links to 5 different forum discussions complaining about the exact same problem. Why didn’t I see these before? Because most people on Amazon had no problem, which is why you don’t tend to pay attention to the 10% who did. In my email I asked what options were available to me because this was completely unacceptable. I told them I was a fan of ASUS, and was thinking of buying an all-in-one computer, but that this experience is making me think twice.

No answer for 2 days. I send another message. 2 days later they respond saying that they are only authorized to either fix it for the 147 euros, or they’d return it as is “with no charge to me”. Thanks! So I call ASUS customer service, and they say they’ll look into it. Another week goes by before they send me an email saying that they agree with the repair center, and I can fix it or have it sent back broken. What a choice! So I sent them the 147 euros, and another 2 weeks later they send it back to me.  The best part comes today, when I receive an SMS and an email saying that the tablet is fixed and they’re shipping it back to me. The only problem is that I already received it a week ago! Horrible, horrible experience with a global company that one would think would have this stuff figured out. Now I know better, and I will never, ever buy another ASUS product.

 Wine is Social – from cancelled to raveable

Wineissocial. El arte de amar el vino

My second story is about a Spanish company, Wine is Social. One of my other big hobbies is Spanish wine. Spain has the largest number of wineries in the world according to OIV (International Organization of Wine and Vine). The problem with so much choice is finding the right wine at the right price. So when I heard of a company that had a new way to help people discover wine, I was intrigued. Wine is Social has a simple test that helps you create a profile for the types of wines you normally drink, and then for 20 euros each month they send you 2 wines recommended by their experts for your specific profile. Simple and easy, and the site has a nice design. So we signed up. The only problem was that in the first 2 months we didn’t love the wines. In the first month we were sent two wines, a Cabernet Franc which we liked, and a young Cabernet cuvee from Penedés that we couldn’t finish (and that doesn’t happen a lot!) In the second month we received a red and a white from Hungary, which was an interesting change. This time the red was just ok, but the white was spectacular. Mád is made from a grape called Furmint, and it made a big impression on a group of friends at a party. So we felt like we were 1 for 2 in each of the first two months, not a great percentage.

I sent an email to Wine is Social to cancel the membership, and the next day I received a phone call from Miryam asking me why I was cancelling. I explained the story, and Miryam apologized for the fact that we weren’t happy with our initial experience. She asked what types of wines I usually like. Then she offered to have the sommelier call me so we could adjust our profile to the right wines. That sounded great, and I said why not? They called me again, and we talked about how I could adjust the profile, and the fact that they’re working on making the wine recommendations even more accurate in the future. They thanked me for my feedback and for supporting their young company. Now, it’s not that I think that from now on we’ll love every wine we get. What I really appreciated is seeing a company that’s passionate about what they do, really wants to help their customers discover new wines, and really cares about what they think. That was a pleasant surprise, and here’s hoping this could become the norm and not the exception.

Here’s looking forward to the next trend of e-commerce in Spain: customer delight!

Paul Fox, Associate Professor and Director of the La Salle Barcelona Master en Digital Entrepreneurship.




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