Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Thought Provoking Case of The Consumer Electronics Company

This case focuses highlighting, in sharp relief, how strategy and analytics, as tools to lay the groundwork for all that follows, can help in execution. For the tool savvy, I expect lightbulbs for strategy and analytics to flash every time we trigger a tripwire within the case.

The real skill here is in identifying all the tripwires you can trigger in a structured manner. i.e. Analytics backed solutions you can generate, and then rank them by impact.

Your inputs are welcome- have fun!

The usual case/ problem solving approach is top down:
Strategy-> Marketing-> Sales-> After Sales-> Customer Support
Here’s a case that will help you think recursively through this process!
The approach to this post is: Case -> (followed by) Key 1: Points to Discuss-> Key 2: Structure.

Note: This case is a Work in Progress. The keys will be published separately.

Case 1
The Thought Provoking Case of The Consumer Electronics Company

You have a $450 CyberSleek AB1 camera from The Consumer Electronics Company- their first CyberSleek, released in 2002. It has served you well over the years. You moved recently and lost the little USB cord that connects the camera to your laptop.

You search for the cord at the website in vain, and finally call The Consumer Electronics Company's support number to request a USB cord for your camera. Over a 45+ minute call, the customer support person creates your profile on the The Consumer Electronics Company website, keeps you on hold while searching for the correct USB cord, and finally gets you free shipping for the $20 cord as per the promotion run at that point of time.

Unfortunately, when you receive the package, you find that you were shipped the wrong make of the USB cord.

Thinking that customer support may not have the right tools to help you, you look to give the website another try. You go back to the site, struggle for over and hour and finally find your cord this time by eliminating, as an option, the one you were mistakenly sent. You order the new cord and have to pay shipping charges this time around for a total of $30 in charges.

You call back to claim a refund because customer service shipped the wrong cord to you, and are asked to ship the first cord back, at your own expense, to claim a refund. You have already been charged for the new cord you bought from the website. Requesting customer support to check these details does not help your case.

Shipping the first cord back, where you pay the $20 charges for the customer service mistake, does not make sense to you. You have spent enough time on this task already. The cord is useless with you anyway. Finally you relent. You request that atleast the shipping charges be borne by The Consumer Electronics Company. If you thought that should be easy- the customer support person will now have to contact another department to ensure you don't pay shipping charges.

You receive a standardized email about this conversation with customer support which miscategorizes the request and are requested to call another number.

When you call the next number, you have to explain the situation from scratch. You are now beginning to get frustrated. You want to talk to a supervisor regarding the quality of support you have received. You are put on hold and the call drops.

You call back the next day, and explain the process from scratch. You are finally advised that The Consumer Electronics Company will pay the charges for shipping back the incorrect cord sent to you. You demand to speak with someone who can take some action to alleviate the misery of going through this process. You believe you should also be refunded the shipping charges for the cord you bought yourself, because, it was, after all, customer support’s fault that you lost out on the promotion.

You are transferred to customer relations, where you explain the situation from scratch. Again. You mention that any customer who goes through this process will talk, even blog about it, and create a lot of negative publicity for the firm. Customer relations responds that they can do nothing more that pay the shipping charges for receiving the incorrect cord.

You are transferred back to customer support, where someone commiserates. You mention that you want action not commiseration. The whole process so far does not make sense from your point of view. Customer support agrees.

You go to FedEx and ship the cord incorrectly sent to you. Shipping is free. You receive the new cord for $30. $20 is credited to your account in a few days.

You are left wondering that you are a consumer of a $450 product and The Consumer Electronics Company put you through a lot of hassle for a $20 accessory.

The process seems un-American and un-East Asian to you. What are the things you would like this company do, in its own interest?


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