Monday, July 23, 2007

Say what you mean

When I became serious about starting my own company, I sat down and wrote out some of the principles by which I hope to operate. One of those principles is that I want to say what I do and do what I say. Not very profound, but by it I meant that I want no secrets from the people I build relationships with.

All too often companies purposefully hide little details to deceive the customer, hoping to close the sale while the customer is on the phone or in person. "That price is for the European model." "Those accessories cost more."

If someone that I am dealing with misunderstands something that I have said, either in person or on my website, I plan to err on the side of the customer.

I recently bought my computer from the Apple store because in doing so I received a free scanner/copier/printer. "Free." Mail-in rebate. I don't know how many of you have experienced the "mail-in rebate" fiasco, but I wonder if it was worth it considering how frustrating and time-consuming a process it was. It is not a straight forward "mail-in rebate." Upon receiving the HP all-in-one product, I searched through the paperwork included in the box without finding any mention of the rebate. I went to the HP website and typed in the product ID on the rebate page only to have the dreaded "There are no entries matching your search." message appear. Another 30-minutes of searching through the enormous HP website garnered no new information. I considered calling the Apple store but it was late and closed.

I went to the Apple website and after yet another 20 minutes, finally found a rebate matching the one offered to me. I filled out the lengthy forms, having to go pull the Apple computer box out of the closet to get the UPC codes off the side. Finally, I was done. So I thought. The mail-in rebate form then told me to print the form and mail it in, and to scan in the proof-of-purchase to keep for my records while cutting off the original from the side of the box. Print and scan. Ok, I can do that. But I can't. I need to go buy an A-to-B USB cable in order to set up the printer.

A trip to Target and I'm back in business. I install the printer (another half-an-hour job), scan in the proof-of-purchase, print the rebate form, cut the original proof-of-purchase from the box, locate the receipts for the printer and the computer, make copies of them, get an envelope, address it, find a stamp and finally, three hours later, my rebate is ready to mail-in.

These companies know that many people will give up. The mail-in rebate is designed to discourage people. At this very moment, somewhere within a large corporate glass building, there sits a person trying to figure out how to make the mail-in rebate process more difficult.

It's a good lesson on how not treat a customer. I hope I remember it.

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