There are a few premium brands I buy, which have determined themselves to be “premium”. It has nothing to do with advertising or marketing, user testimonials or price. They are premium because of performance, under the real-world test of my ownership. One of them is the IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad notebook.
In the final year of my 3 year “limited warranty” from IBM/Lenovo, the insulation on a wire in the power cord connecting the wall outlet to my AC adapter brick separated. While I don’t mind the exposed copper wires, the strain relief function of the insulation has failed, so it is simply a matter of time before those wires break, voltage levels drop, and problems ensue. So I called IBM service. I got processed in about 5 minutes, and got a new cord shipped to me next-day-delivery, for free.
I estimate the power cord cost IBM about $0.50 including shipping in bulk from China (when I was a systems integrator I bought hundreds of similar power cords for $0.50 each down at the Brooklyn piers). Processing me for the warranty replacement (with shipping and tracking) probably brought that total cost up to $40 (I am including the capitalized costs of the entire inventory, claim support system, call center, etc). That’s a $40 transaction for the cord replacement: a $0.50 part.
Let’s look at how other “major companies” might handle a similar transaction. I’ll use examples from my own experiences, without naming actual companies since I am not going to verify facts adequately to defend against claims of inaccuracy. I have never processed this exact transaction with any of them. Let’s just say Verizon is one company where I have experienced relatively terrible customer service, BestBuy is another, and Dell is another (although it has been some times since I have dealt with some of those). So here’s how it *might* have gone:
- Make it inconvenient: You need to replace something as small as a power cord? It’s less than $15 at a retail computer store, so make the replacement process inconvenient enough that the end user will decides it’s not worth pursuing through warranty service. How to make it inconvenient? Long hold times on the phone is a start. For many people who buy expensive laptop computers, $15 is not worth 30 minutes on the phone. For the rest, assign a second, forward number for small parts like power cords, and set that number to even longer hold times. If the customer stays long enough to get forwarded, they may still go away when they have to hold yet again. Play the numbers game, based on bean-counter math. Kind of like the way Best Buy handles “rebates”.
- Disallow the claim: Power cords can break because they user wraps them tightly around the AC power brick, so why not tell the user that the part is not covered under the “limited warranty” because it is wear and tear? After all, 2.5 years of use and the insulation separates at a stress point… sounds reasonable, no? Most people would accept it. And why not offer a new one at say $8 plus shipping, via a special coupon code for the online shop? At least that way you don’t lose much money on the service call, and the customer gets a deal compared to the alternative full-retail replacement.
- Hold the customer accountable for the process : Since the warranty is for “depot service”, technically the user has to get an authorization number, send in the bad part, and wait for a determination of the warranty status. That could take two business days. If granted a replacement part, the customer has to wait for the return shipping of that part. Another 3 business days. This could easily take a week or so, which would deter many people from processing the warranty claim. Or, maybe offer an “expedited replacement” for $20, which covers the direct costs of replacement? Again, since it’s only $15 in the local stores, they can either buy a new one themselves or, if they are afraid of picking out the right one, pay the $20 fee and get it settled?
But that’s not how it went with IBM/Lenovo. How did it go? They knew my machine, because of the online auto-detect active-X control (which produced the serial number and model). They knew me because I purchased it online. They immediately noted it was an easy replacement with no need for following the formal “depot service” return rules; they’ll just send me a new part. They put in for a next-day delivery (afternoon service), and told me to expect the part in 1-2 days. Done.
Now was it worth the estimated $40 cost? Absolutely. As we come up on 3 years of ownership, this 1GB/160GB/PentiumM laptop still works great, but I am ready to replace it with something faster/smaller/with better audio and DVD writer. I have already been shopping, but haven’t found anything obviously superior overall. The one unknown that stands out for me as I compare features, portability, and performance is reliability. I don’t want to replace a perfectly good, reliable system with something flashier or more modern, if it won’t be as reliable. Based on this warranty experience (something as trivial as a frayed power cord), I’m going with a new IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad. I’m likely to extend the warranty on this one and move it to a second use in my business, and get a lighter/faster/newer one for daily use. All because of the respectful service I received from IBM/Lenovo.
This is not my first experience with Thinkpad depot service on this t42p. It’s not my first laptop (I’ve purchased dozens and personally used about a dozen of those myself, including Dell, Gateway, Toshiba, Panasonic, Acer, IBM, and some others). It’s not my first Thinkpad, and my first Thinkpad was of terrible quality (Thinkpad 300 series, back in the day of cracking cases and poor video connections). In the here and now, in the context of a consumer shopping evaluation of current notebook computer options, this little power cord thing made all the difference.
Take care of your customers at every turn, as best you can. It pays.