Sears Appliance Repair - a joy to work with

data center management metrics combine with out-sourcing to distortcorporate customer response.

In one of those frustrating illustrations of that other Murphy's law our clothes dryer failed last week - two weeks before we hand it over as part of the house sale because we're getting new appliances at our new home.

So it had to be fixed.

We'd bought it from Sears in Edmonton nearly ten years ago and had it trucked to Kitchener - so I expected the usual hassles.

And what a surprise: the 800 number has an IVR, but it's direct and to the point: service in English? press 1, appliance repair? press 2, know your serial number? press 1, you don't? press 2 -and the lady at the call center picked up on the first ring.

Good so far, then she told me where the serial number is - and that identified the machine for them. Then she asked for the phone number where the unit is installed, and found our name and address on her system, scheduled the service call, and thanked me for calling Sears. Total time? about 3 minutes, including running downstairs to copy down the model and serial numbers.

Lands End used to be like this too - but if this is the way things should be why are success stories like this so rare?

Call Bell Canada, for example, and you'll spend 30 to 45 minutes getting progressively angrier with their completely illogical and customer unfriendly IVR/Hold system - and then have to tell the bored, arrogant, and mostly non English speaking, teleco employee at the other end the location and number on the phone you're calling from.

I mean what's hard about this? Why is Sears, not Bell, the exception? And no, it's not a cost issue: I've looked at call center operations for a client and I can tell you quite definitively that customer queries and orders handled quickly and correctly the first time have much lower costs than calls that include long hold periods and end with irritated customers verbally confronting people who don't speak their language -and then issue incorrect work orders that result in repeated call backs and work order changes.

So why? My answer is that data center management metrics combine with out-sourcing to distort corporate customer response. Thus the key measure for the data processing people in charge of the call center is utilization -and that's managed by manipulating the hold period. And outsourcing's role? the key measure there is total calls answered - and that's a number that goes up as customers get more frustrated and more mistakes are made.