HP Gets an F for Customer Experience
January 29, 2010

My wife made the mistake of buying an HP laptop. This was less than a year ago. She bought it online direct from HP, and paid handsomely for a 3-year warranty covering any and all issues. The power socket recently malfunctioned, making it impossible to recharge. She contacted HP, asking for instructions on how to arrange for service.

After a week of run-around the issue shows encouraging signs that it will be resolved. Under other circumstances one might think HP was trying to duck responsibility for fixing the unit, but the truth is really much worse. I’ll note that from the start I advised against buying a computer from HP because I know its focus is on corporate accounts. Consumers and small business are going to be the chumps who get customer service that would make the old Aeroflot [Soviet airline] blush.

She repeatedly spent half-hour stretches on hold, then was transferred to other lines and then disconnected. She succeeded in escalating her case on a couple of occasions and was told that someone would contact her in no more than an hour or so with the power to resolve the issue. A day later, e-mails arrived stating that nothing could be done until she provided a long laundry list of information and faxed or scanned purchase documentation. For an item that had been purchased from the company’s own on-line store!

At the heart of the issue is poor integration of their customer record systems (at least that what it looks like at this end). Having looked at enough of these I understand – but cannot have sympathy for – the difficulty of maintaining systems that make things look seamless to customers. (My colleagues have commented on this issue in past blogs on the information applications and contact centers, for example.) Other vendors that sell to both consumers and business, such as Apple and Dell, manage to do a better job.

Here’s an analogy: Investment banks face similar issues involving system fragmentation but work in far more compressed time frames and far larger volumes than what HP’s customer service operations are up against. These banks, which deal with professionals, understand that they must invest the time, effort and money to overcome their IT system challenges or they will not be competitive. In contrast, some large retail banking operations are just sloppy as HP. I pulled an account out of Bank of America when it repeatedly failed to provide me with monthly statements that included all of the assets of the account. Hard to believe? Not when you consider the tangled set of customer systems that have come out of the bank’s long list of mergers over the past decade. But that shouldn’t be (and no longer is) my problem. Combine these systems with poorly trained staff and you have a customer service condition I like to call “spaghetti and meatballs.” That’s what we got from HP.

Grooming, maintenance and integration are the least fun jobs in information technology systems management. I can only assume that in some organizations, they are so used to the mess they deal with every day that they are inured to the issue. Unfortunately, this blinds IT departments to the caustic fallout that comes from not taking this problem seriously enough. Whether it’s external customers or internal users, the poor service has negative consequences on the entire organization. There are plenty of corporations that get this and address the focus of Customer Experience Management that we have benchmarked in our firms research. They make the ongoing investments to address significant complexity and fragmentations issues that are a given for organizations with 5,000 or more employees. There also are plenty more that don’t take the issues seriously enough to make an ongoing concerted effort to address it. They wind up like HP and Bank of America, with cranky customers and mediocre (or worse) reputations. Seems like this is an unreasonable price for these companies to pay for something that takes persistence and good management – not rocket science – to fix.

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Robert Kugel


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