11 Aug Curious customer service: When a help desk does it right
Printers are the mules of the 21st century. They carry incredible burdens of intellectual capital if page counts are any indication, and they have the same bulky, intractable personalities attributed in story and lore to their four-legged forbearers. Last week I ran into the second characteristic while trying to pay the bills for my consulting firm. Midway through the run of checks, I got the dreaded paper jam. Knowing that in addition to all the silicon chips inside, most printers carry at least one chip on their shoulder, I tried to act casual and nonchalant as I cleared the non-existent paper jam. No dice. The printer must have heard me muttering about it under my breath.
After taking out every possible tray and turning every possible roller and several trips through the printer control menus, we’d reached a stand off. No visible paper jam, but an insistent flashing message on the control panel. Rebooting didn’t seem like too drastic a step so I powered it down and back up. Still no change. Over many years of carrying laptops, I’ve come to believe that sometimes they just need timeouts – periods of time when they’re deprived of all power, A/C or battery. Reminds them who’s in charge – kind of. If it works for laptops, why not a printer? Powered it down. Let the cooling fan run down. Unplugged it and went and did a couple other business chores. Came back, plugged it in, powered it up and after much warming up and the usual dithering and clanking of “calibration,” I was rewarded with the “Ready” message. Jam averted and problem solved.
Well, not quite. The printer was ready. It was just ignoring requests to print. The network card lights said it had connectivity, but the printer was pretending the network card didn’t exist, as was the router at the other end of the cable. Went through the various dances of reseating the card, trying a different cable, rebooting printer and router, printing configuration pages and error logs and even thought about animal sacrifice. Anything to avoid talking to the manufacturer’s help desk, with all that inevitable frustration. Not that I had any experience with this manufacturer’s help desk, but having worked on and managed several help desks, I know how difficult it is to do remote diagnostics.
After combing their self-help pages, the various on-line manuals and such, I’d reached a dead end. Rather than invest yet more time sitting on hold for the ubiquitous “next available representative,” I decided to send them an e-mail recounting what I’d done and the general lack of response the printer. And that’s when things changed.
That afternoon, I got a reply saying they thought the culprit had to be their network card, but that they couldn’t suggest any other diagnostics or fixes. They apologized that it was no longer under warranty, and I started reaching for my checkbook. But in the next sentence they said they were curious about what was going on with the card and had extended my warranty and would be shipping me a replacement. Furthermore, since they weren’t actually making that model, they were shipping me their current, upgraded version. By overnight courier. All at no cost. The next morning, I popped the new card into the printer, powered it up and my printer-mule was as cooperative as if I’d turned it out into a field of sweet clover.
This company did help desk right. They paid attention to what I told them about the problem. When they didn’t have an answer, they admitted it and didn’t make me jump through a lot of hoops to try and hide the fact. And they were curious about their own product. I’ve always said I like working on help desks because you have as many opportunities to learn something new as there are calls in the day. When these folks were stumped, they asked for the wayward card back so they could figure out what was up, even though the model was no longer being made. Just maybe they’ll find something that will improve their current product line. I hope so. They deserve that kind of payoff. Oh, yeah. The company? Hewlett-Packard. Thanks, guys.
Byron Glick is a principal at Prairie Star Consulting, LLC, a planning and program development consulting firm in Madison, Wisconsin. He can be contacted via the e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or via telephone at
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