Old School Mac Evangelist

My friend Michael Guinn has been running a concierge Mac support and repair service in Santa Barbara and just celebrated 8 years of business. As an Apple Certified Consultant, he makes, “Apple Certified House Calls and Repairs.”

Michael Guinn

His newsletters are folksy and remind me of the old TidBITS updates from the early 90’s. Mick is an old school Mac evangelist sharing the joy of making people’s lives better through technology, not using it to one-up themselves and lord over others.

At Mick’s Macs, we don’t see our clients as “customers.”

Although appropriate in other business models, I’ve never liked that word for ours. For me, “customers” denotes a shopping experience, one less personal than the service and support we provide. When people become our client, they’re never a number. Never. It always makes me smile when people call and begin to remind us who they are and when they last worked with us. It’s one of the rare times I interrupt them with something like, “Tom, of COURSE we know who you are! We upgraded your MacBook Pro last year. How are things?” With caller ID, most of the time we answer the phone calls from existing clients like this: “Hi Kathy! How are you? How can we help you today?” Clients seem to really be happily thrown by this.

Congratulations Mick! If you are in Southern California and need your Mac, iPad, or iPhone checked out, Mick’s Macs.

Comcast is the new AOL

Eight years ago Vincent Ferrari tried to cancel his AOL account while a customer service rep, “annoyed the shit” out of him vainly trying to stick to his script.

AOL Cancellation in 2006

In 2014, Ryan Block, formerly of Engaget (purchased in 2005 by AOL btw) hits a similar wall while he’s pummeled by rep from the “customer retention” department.

plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

The Importance of Being Human

The New York Times has a front page story about the All-Japan Phone-Answering Competition. In this day of automated voice mail trees and customer service forms, Japan still stresses the importance of having a human answer the phone  promptly and efficiently.

Reception desk at NTT Docomo
Reception desk at NTT Docomo

What is ironic is that, to the Western ear, the high-pitched tones and honorifics used by the people that answer the phones sound almost saccharine in tone (check out the video). There are strict protocols on how to address the caller that come from a long tradition of customer service in Japan. The customer is not only always right, in Japan, the customer is God.

As an American, it’s tempting to poke fun at the robotic, rule-based behavior of the elevator operators and department store greeters but look at us. The West has automated itself to the point where many hi-tech firms do not even advertise a phone number or, if they do, have re-directs on their voice mail instructing you to shoot off an email into the ether.

Which would you prefer, a person that sounds like a robot or an actual robot?

Sprinkling Pixie Dust at Disney

My good friends over at PechaKucha redesigned their site months ago and I have been remiss in pointing out what a great place it is for inspiration. Think of it as an archive of narrated slideshows – 20 images, self-advancing every 20 seconds – six and half minutes to tell a story. Like Twitter, the limitations of the format bring out the best in people.

Today’s featured presentation tells the story of someone who spent time working with Disney’s “guest services” with some great snippets about Disney’s attention to detail and customer service.



Serving the Customer

In Japan, attending to the needs of the customer is not only a pre-requisite, it is a minimum requirement to participate in the domestic economy. The Japanese consumer is a particularly fickle shopper. The mere whiff of attitude will drive away shoppers and with it, the business. Back when I lived in Tokyo when VCRs were the way we watched movies at home, my local video rental establishment was a place called Tsutaya. My experience with them some 15 years ago is but one illustration of Japanese service that I pull out to explain how customer service works in Japan.

One rainy Sunday, I returned a video to Tsutaya, unwatched. I explained to them that this was so because my VCR was broken. Sensing not only a potential loss of repeat business but also, I am certain, an opportunity to go above and beyond, the guy behind the counter helpfully chirped that he would be happy to take a look at my stricken machine to see if he could repair it.  I came back later that afternoon, dropping off my VCR for a look see. I really was not expecting anything. I am a bit handy myself and after popping the lid could see that a belt needed replacing and knew that the cost of these types of repairs usually outweigh picking up another machine secondhand at the local electronics store.

Much to my delight, later that evening, I had a message from the Tsutaya guy that he had replaced the belt with a new one and I could come by anytime to pick up my refurbished VCR, all at no charge. When I came by, not only did I have a working VCR, they also let me take home the original movie I wanted to watch, free of charge as well.

You see, in Japan the customer is at the center of entire ecosystem. When a single customer walks in the door, that person is not an individual sale, that person is a lifetime relationship of repeat business. That person represents a net haul of customers that include that person’s friends, relatives, and a gaggle of second cousins and classmates. Win this one person over and close them for a repeat visit and you’ve added one more stone to an unassailable pyramid of revenue. The investment of a hour of labor and a spare rubber belt was tiny compared to the business returns from not only myself but others that I know, including those who read this story again, 15 years later.

This faith in the value of word-of-mouth marketing is something that has been passed down to Japanese through the ages. It was there before Facebook Fan Pages, before the Social Media Marketer. This is the mind of the Japanese merchant. Tsutaya has successfully evolved from CD & Video rentals into a major corporation with a fancy new flagship store in Daikanyama and I wish for its continued success.