Written by Jason Dojc on November 5, 2014
in Content Strategy

This post started as a “bad customer service rant”. But upon further reflection, now that the problem is resolved, I think this is more of a cautionary tale of how companies can use content to make difficult situations less difficult for their customers. As a result, no brand names or people will be mentioned in this post.

As a general rule of thumb, when you have a complex product that few of your customers truly understand, the manufacturer that provides consumer-friendly and easy to understand content around the totality of buying, installing, and maintaining their product will win over many a new customer. After all, they bothered to take out the mystery in the buying and maintaining experience. But those who do not are bound to have people leaving negative reviews on every website, forum, and alleyway wall they can find (in this case I dealt directly with the manufacturer on private channels. I only go public if private channels don’t work. I did vent on Facebook but only my friends can see my posts.) And so, here is the story of how a converted customer turned into a spurned customer, and the content opportunities along the way that could have helped solve these problems.

The 20 year old electric hot water heater that came with our house started to leak recently, so my wife and I started to look for a new one. After scouring the web and posting the question on Facebook, it came down to two choices – gas tankless or gas tank. There was plenty of content detailing the pros and cons of both, but there was no content about installation difficulties that might arise and regulations one must adhere to.

After deciding to go with a tankless water heater, the contractor we hired came in for a visit and told us that it couldn’t be installed because the configuration of our basement where the old heater stood didn’t allow for proper venting and the gas meter was too close. Venting was not something we found in our internet research. The contractor told us that tankless was impossible in our house without a major reconfiguration, so we should go with a gas tank and use someone else since they don’t get great deals on tanks and it’s not within their expertise.

Missed Content Opportunity #1: Don’t just provide content about the pros and cons of different product models. Have content around installation tips, potential pitfalls to avoid, and auxiliary information that could help resolve customer problems. Anticipate customer pain points and provide your buyers with the information they need to avoid them.

So, we contacted another contractor we had used before and have had a good experience with, and were told that we could easily install a gas tank if we reconfigured the piping (and, contradicting the earlier contractor, they assured us that piping reconfiguration was a minor issue) but since she doesn’t get great prices, we should buy it from another retailer and their installers would come as soon as it was delivered.

The day the tank arrived, our contractor installed our brand new tank and…it didn’t work. Apparently, the problem was a pressure switch. Because this was clearly under warranty (we just bought the thing), a new pressure switch was ordered from the manufacturer and we were forced to use a different installer from the manufacturer’s installer list for a variety of reasons. Days without hot water: 5.

We called the manufacturer’s contractor on Tuesday (as Monday was a holiday) to install the new pressure switch…but they didn’t show up. Days without hot water: 6.

The manufacturer’s installer comes on Wednesday and installs the pressure switch, but the tank still doesn’t work. They call technical support who told them that there must be something wrong with the piping to the power vent. The installer refused to order any new parts until the original contractors modified the piping. My wife, an engineer, read over the manual and rechecked the piping to find out that there was nothing wrong with it. Our contractor called the manufacturer and it’s agreed that there was nothing wrong with the piping. The issue stemmed from either the blower or the control panel and the offer to order a new blower to be delivered and installed on Friday.

On Friday, the blower arrives but the manufacturer’s installer refuses to install it without a work order and proof that the piping was modified. Recall that the manufacturer already agreed that the piping was fine and promised us a new blower installed on Friday. Turns out they never requisitioned a work order. Days without hot water: 8.

Missed Content Opportunity #2: When dealing with multiple stakeholders apart from the customer, have them categorized and listed somewhere. If necessary, have a single customer service portal connecting all the stakeholders and the customer together.

On Saturday, the manufacturer’s installer arrives and puts in a new blower…it still doesn’t work. Now an order goes in for a control panel. That can’t happen until Monday.

On Monday, no one shows up. Because the manufacturer has no social media presence, I scoured my LinkedIn contacts to see if I knew anyone at the manufacturer. Turns out someone high up in the organization worked with me at the same international agency a while back but in different offices. I reached out to her and she agreed to fix my problem. I emailed her my story, which she forwarded to their director of customer service.

Missed Content Opportunity #3: Ensure that you have an actively managed social media presence that can respond to customer inquiries in real time, and provides links to content that could help guide your customer through the buying process.

Days without hot water: 12. Finally, I get a call from the manufacturer’s customer service department. I’m told that “12 days is far too long to be without hot water” and that a new heater will come the next day and will be installed by a different installer. The next day, I get a call from the installer, who says we have to go to the retailer where we bought the tank from and ask for a new one that will be paid for by the manufacturer. The retailer refuses to do this unless we arrive in person with the credit card we used to buy the original hot water tank. This was now becoming more Kafkaesque than Kafka could ever conceive.

Missed Content Opportunity #4: If you’re going to fix a customer problem, make it easy for the customer. Ensure that your retail channel partners are aligned before things go awry. Provide content for your retail channel partners that outline your return and refund policies.

On Friday, the manufacturer’s first installer arrives with their most senior installation manager and a new installer. This time everything goes smoothly. The installer does a thorough check of all the systems and…Voila! Hot water! Total days without hot water: 15.

What is the moral of the story? If the manufacturer had made all of the suggested content available to me, maybe I would have known to ask the right questions at the very beginning. Or, perhaps I could have had access to all of the stakeholders involved in an easy-to-use hub. Or, I could have tweeted a customer service representative instead of mining my personal contacts. Or, the company could have provided content to their sales and retail teams to ensure that they were aligned.

I’m not the first, and certainly not the last, to experience a home renovation nightmare. I hope that companies can learn from stories like these and begin to understand the importance of providing content aimed at solving customer issues at various levels of their customer journey.

Jason Dojc is a Senior Digital Strategist at Ariad Communications.

Help designed by Moveable Feast Collective : GDA 01 from the Noun Project

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