Filed Under (Business, Stuff) by Sean on March-20-2009

People who know me know that I often rag on Starbucks, mainly about their coffee. They over-roast the beans. They scald the milk horrendously in lattes, macchiatos and cappuccinos. You can have any coffee you like at a store, so long as it’s Pike Place. The one thing they do get right, however, is customer service.

Another thing I’m known for is collecting used coffee cups on my desk (or any surface, for that matter). When I went into the office earlier, I decided to pick up one of my collection of Starbucks tumblers and clean it out to take with me. Upon close inspection, I noticed that one particular model (below) was damaged. This particular model has a design flaw; there is no release valve or any way for expanded air to escape. This plagued me all the time with this model since every time I had hot coffee in it with the lever moved to the closed position, I would get coffee splashed all over me everytime I opened the lever to take a sip. In any case, I had presumably left the lid closed, since I noticed that sufficient pressure had built up inside it to actually break the internal arm which connected the rubber gasket seal with the switch on top. Thus it was impossible to close.

Old Starbucks Tumbler

I walked into my neighborhood starbucks and showed them what happened. It’s important to note this was a tumbler I probably paid about $12 for 2-3 years ago. The employee behind the register did not hesitate and told me to grab any replacement tumbler off the shelf to replace it at no cost. “Really?” “Any tumbler. I like the steel ones with the built in French press, ” he responded. So I picked up my brand new $23 plus tax solo stainless steel press pot (picture below) and went on my merry way. He even filled it up with coffee at no charge.

Fancy new Solo Press Pot

My friends know that I go to Catalina Coffee in Houston if I want a good cup of coffee (or Caffe Medici in Austin, where I frequented while attending South by Southwest). But there is a lot to be said about this level of standing behind a product, no questions asked. This wasn’t the first time, either. Years ago, I purchased my parents a Starbucks Barista Aroma automatic coffee maker for Christmas. After 2+ years of nonstop use, it just stopped working one day. My father took it into his nearest Starbucks, and even though it was well out of warranty, received the same treatment as me. This was a $200 coffee maker to boot. It is good to know that even a multi-billion dollar corporation empowers its employees to give you mom-and-pop shop level service every now and again.

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Filed Under (Business, Life) by Sean on February-22-2008

I can certainly identify with this Business Week story about Sprint’s business troubles, largely stemming from customer service woes. I was a customer of Sprint’s for 3 years, relatively happy with the service. The trouble came when I decided to switch service plans to reduce my minutes since I was taking time off work and no longer needed the huge pool of minutes I previously required. Using the Sprint website, I modified my plan. I had my online banking configured to pay Sprint automatically the same amount every month. After confirming the service plan change, I modified my online payments to reflect the new amount. I got a service disconnect notice about 3 months later (I never really paid much attention to the online bills and opted out of receiving paper bills) with a bill attached for nearly $300! Upon calling customer service (this is in 2004), I learned that my service plan in fact never was changed. Of course they had no record of the change I made and it was my dumb luck I didn’t write down the confirmation number the website had given me (nor saved the website – I always do this now). The customer representative said she would be happy to change my plan once I paid the amount due. Explaining my story resulted in nothing more than, “well I’m very sorry.” I had her escalate me to the manager on duty. Again I explained my story and said I would even prepay or renew my contract (I was month to month since my initial contract had expired) if they would simply give me the benefit of the doubt. I thought I had some leverage since I had been spending a decent chunk of change with them and even kept the phone active when I was living in Europe in 2001! Nada. Zip.

Needless to say I was quite exasperated by this point and simply wasn’t going to tolerate it any longer. I told her something to the effect that they could shove my account and balance where the sun didn’t shine and they would never get another penny from me, ever. After going through 3 other providers, including Cingular (another customer service nightmare), I landed with T-Mobile and have never looked back. The mobile phone service providers really need to use T-Mobile as a case study on how to run a customer service organization.

I still haven’t paid Sprint and never will.