Joel Mackeys HP Warranty ScamJoel Mackey just had a bad encounter with Hewlett Packard support.

Unfortunately for HP, Joel – at the time I posted this article – has a Twitter account with 96,720 followers. And he’s not afraid to use it. In fact, he posted his chat log from his support call to HP along with his personal notes. The result is that the chat log has been tweeted 17 times including his characterization of the warranty as “theft and scandal” and HP as “the shit service company you are.”

The log is a tutorial in customer service that serves neither the customer nor the company. It gives us an inside look into the support processes of one large company. I’ve included excerpts from Joel’s chat log (in quote blocks) below. You can find the rest of the log on Joel’s blog

You’ll see belowhow these interactions go off the rails. And I’ll suggest some concrete ways that compassion skills can make the interactions more effective for the Joel and the company offering customer service. I’ve also invited Joel to comment on my analysis to add insight.

Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:07 PM] — Automatically generated message:
Your support request has been submitted and is in queue. Please wait momentarily while the system connects you with the next available support specialist.

[Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:12 PM] — Automatically generated message:
You are now chatting with support specialist Regina S.

[Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:12 PM] — Joel Mackey says:
Hi Regina

[Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:12 PM] — Regina S says:
Welcome to HP Total Care. My name is Regina. Please give me a few moments while I review your problem description details.

NOTE: For security reasons, PLEASE DO NOT send credit card information via chat

[Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:13 PM] — Regina S says:
Hi Joel, how are you doing today?

[Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:13 PM] — Joel Mackey says:
Not to bad. :)

[Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:14 PM] — Joel Mackey says:
I’m submitting a Support Request because I just got a notification of our warranty and it makes no sense whatsoever. We have had this computer for 1 week, bought brand new from Costco.

[Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:14 PM] — Regina S says:
Let me try my best to ensure we resolve this issue together so that you feel better.

The first misstep comes early in the chat. Joel says he’s doing “not to [sic] bad” and adds a smiley icon. Regina of HP responds by telling him she’d like to help him feel better. That disconnect sends a signal, subtle or not, that Regina either isn’t listening or is responding in-authentically as from a script.

The interaction immediately goes from bad to worse.

[Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:14 PM] — Joel Mackey says:
The warranty states it started on 7/16/2010 and ends 8/9/2012.

[Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:14 PM] — Joel Mackey says:
I’d be very short of calling this a scam.

[Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:14 PM] — Regina S says:
Do not worry, let me check the warranty status as per our record

[Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:15 PM] — Regina S says:
Please confirm if the serial number is MXX0270BFG

Non sequiturs are always a red flag in communications. It will become clear presently why Joel believes the start and end dates for the warranty constitute a scam. But it shouldn’t be clear to the customer service rep at this point. And scam is rather strong language. Both of those elements should alert Regina that something is off.  She could serve both Joel and HP by recognizing the problem and trying to gauge the severity. That would sound something like this – “It sounds as though this is a pretty serious issue for you, is that the case?”

Instead, either by inattentiveness, poor process, or fear of confrontation, Regina gets stuck in her service script. So she follows with some weak reassurance “Do not worry” and a question about the serial number of the equipment under warranty.

If the previous discussion was unfortunate, what follows is positively Orwellian. Strong language like Joel’s

“That’s fucking crazy… I’ll bury you on Twitter…make you look like the scam you are”

is often a sign that the speaker feels or anticipates a threat or an outrage. The language is often intended to be repellent, literally - to repel the listener and change their course of action.

I don’t know what prompted Joel’s response. But the conversation can go bad two different ways right now. First, Regina can ignore Joel’s strong language and follow her script. Or second, she can parrot Joel’s language with outdated “reflective listening” – I hear you’re upset, I apologize for any discomfort or inconvenience you might be experiencing…

The problem with both of these tactics is that neither really acknowledges what’s going on with Joel. Unfortunately, Regina uses a little of both failing strategies.

I’ve edited out much of the following exchange but you still get the tenor and direction.

[Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:25 PM] — Regina S says:
Joel, as per the record the start date of warranty is 07/16/2010 and end date is 08/10/2012

[Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:25 PM] — Regina S says:
So, I request you to send the proof of purchase to our POP team

[Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:26 PM] — Joel Mackey says:
That’s fucking crazy. Scammy service.

[Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:26 PM] — Regina S says:
I request you to fax or e-mail the proof of purchase (pop)/receipt. Please fax or e-mail the pop to the following options…

[Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:26 PM] — Joel Mackey says:
I’ll bury you on Twitter and make you look like the scam you are.

[Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:26 PM] — Regina S says:

We will update your registration information within 48 business hours from the time the fax or e-mail is received and then process the order for parts/service.

[Sunday, January 23, 2011 12:27 PM] — Regina S says:
Sorry for the inconvenience caused

You can see why Joel would ultimately question whether he was “chatting” with a real person or an automated script. There seems to be two different conversations interleaved: Joel expressing extreme dissatisfaction and Regina reciting protocol. If Joel perceived a threat, this may be the root. As human beings we have certain basic needs – to be heard, to be acknowledged, to have agency in our lives, in other words a sense that the world responds to our actions. You can see how the service script starves the customer of the sense of being heard and having agency.

Ok, what do you do if you’re HP?

You have a front line service rep on a chat with an upset customer who is making strong statements about what he will do to you publicly. Very often companies don’t want their reps to acknowledge statements like Joel’s because the companies confuse acknowledgement with support or acquiescence (If I say I understand, it means I agree with you or at least that I think what you’ve said is alright).

The answer is to get curious, sincerely curious.

You’re on a chat line with someone using strong language that indicates they may feel threatened or outraged.  You look into what that customer needs. What do you need that leaves you upset? Do you need more ease with the ordering and warranty process? Are you looking for a sense of balance and fairness – you’ve just made a purchase, you want to be assured that you’ll get all the benefits you’re due. Are you looking for justice – are you concerned that a whole class or consumers get treated fairly?

This is the most challenging skill to teach someone who deals with the public or customers – how to sincerely and authentically explore what the customer needs without using victim language (teach them to ask “are you concerned with getting a fair deal” and not “are you afraid we’re ripping you off”) and without committing the customer or your company prematurely to any particular course of action (teach them to ask “are you looking for justice for people like you” and not “do you really expect HP to refund 1/4 of the warranty cost to everyone of a group of our customers”).

You can teach customer service reps to react with compassion. And it can be very powerful. It often feels risky to the company at first blush. Because you need to be explicit. You need to acknowledge what your script tries to ignore or pass over – the root of the customer’s upset.

Instead of plowing through a script – send us your pop slip, here’s the fax number, sorry for the inconvenience – ignoring the customer’s real issues, your service reps have real conversations -  this sounds like an important issue for you, is that right? are you put off because you want the process after a purchase to be easier for you, or are you concerned about whether you’re getting fair treatment?

Companies are afraid to do this because 1) they are afraid that it commits them to appeasing every customer no matter their demands. And that sounds very expensive. And 2) they are afraid it will be time consuming. But I’m not suggesting ‘t that companies appease every customer, only that they strive to sincerely understand what the customers needs and acknowledge it. And my experience is that the process often takes much less time than giving unresponsive responses to customers who get increasingly upset because they feel unheard.

Tim’s Takeaway:

This is the false economy of customer service – the idea that I can just make the customer listen to me if I don’t stop. That it’s cheaper to handle their repeated complaints than to really listen to and handle the first one that comes up. There’s no end of evidence that compassion is the inexpensive option. That it builds value with customers.

And this is one more instance of anecdotal evidence that failing to show compassion is an expensive strategy in our increasingly linked world.

Filed under: Conflict and Dispute ResolutionCustomer Service

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