IBM. It’s About the Service, Stoopid

I’m no great fan of big companies. They’re rarely innovative, their products are lousy, and unless you know how to get around them, they don’t like talking to customers. But some get it. Or at least, they used to.

When I came out to Indonesia a second time, in 1998, I did two things. I got an IBM ThinkPad, and I signed up for IBM.net, a dial-up service. I did this because I knew that IBM had first-rate customer support out here (across Asia, actually). I didn’t care I had to pay a little more for both; I knew that if anything went wrong with my computer, there would be some cool, good-humored, sartorially challenged techie guy to help me out. And if I couldn’t get my modem to connect, someone would walk me through it, helped by some simple but effective dialer software.)

Well, first off, IBM.net is now AT&TGlobal, and has been since late 1998. AT&T have been pretty good at maintaining standards, actually, although I noticed on a recent trip that they still don’t have any local number in Thailand or Cambodia, and when I tried to dial a number in the Philippines, I got some weird error message that the help desk couldn’t decipher either. Or I couldn’t decipher the help desk’s explanation; I have a sneaky suspicion you don’t get local support anymore. In fact, I still don’t understand the message:

 NOTE: Due to Network Restrictions, if you are not a user who is registered for the service in this country, please contact this country´s helpdesk for access authorization. The helpdesk number for this Country can be found by visiting our Contact Us page.

What does that mean? Network Restrictions? Huh? Bleurrgh. (In fact, come to think of it, for a ‘Global’ service, AT&TGlobal’s not that global: couldn’t find numbers for 11 out of 20 Asian countries. Is this a sign of WiFi’s dominance, or just that places like Laos and Brunei don’t matter?).

Anyway, now with Lenovo owning ThinkPad, are we going to see declining service there? David Weinberger recently explained Why I’m taking my Thinkpad, not my Powerbook, with me on the road only to add at the end:

But wait! The Mac has a late surge! IBM received my broken ThinkPad on Nov. 17 but has to wait until Nov 30 to get in a newhard drive. So I’m taking my Mac with me to Europe after all. That is totally sucky service from IBM. It used to be actually good. Is this an isolated incident or are they headed the way of Dell?

Well, I must here put in a good word for the IBM guys here in Jakarta. One guy called Halim in particular is always there way after everyone else has gone home, smiling past a sea of monitors and disemboweled ThinkPads. I have to take one in again to him tomorrow which seems to have suddenly lost all its networking skills. I know the feeling.

Anyway, my point (there’s always a point) is that IBM understood — past tense, but judgement suspended — that you keep the customer happy by keeping the customer happy. It doesn’t necessarily mean a perfect product, but it does mean making them feel that if something goes wrong, their panic attacks will be taken seriously. It’s customer service plain and simple and in this big networked world it’s still possible, because I remember IBM doing it. Once.

28. November 2005 by jeremy
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