The best earbud ever and outstanding customer service, too

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By Francis Moran

I have written a few posts (Take One and Take Two) about the generally lousy job too many companies do at taking care of their customers once they’ve made the sale. It’s a phenomenon that frustrates the customer in me and utterly bewilders the marketer in me.

The customer frustration bit is obvious, and I doubt there’s a fellow citizen who has not railed against robot voices that answer the phone and can’t help, so-called customer-service agents who eventually come on the phone and can’t help, or web-based “Contact us” forms that never generate a reply or that generate a meaningless reply that can’t help.

The marketer in me is bewildered by a strategy, so widely deployed it has come to be accepted as the norm, that has companies treat their only source of revenue as something icky that has been scraped off the bottom of their shoes and must be disposed of as swiftly and cheaply as possible. A large forest of trees has been pulped to print all the studies that prove that superior customer service is clearly the most potent differentiator in an era when your technology advantage can be leap-frogged, your cost advantage can be evaporated by an offshore competitor and brand loyalty means increasingly less and less.

So I am one cynical and unhappy old crank, both personally and professionally, when it comes to any expectation that any customer-service experience is going to be a happy one.

Which makes it all the more enjoyable to report on one that went phenomenally well.

While in Las Vegas a few months back, I bought a Jawbone ear bud for my iPhone. I’m an early adopter, remember, so having a Bluetooth wireless earbud is nothing new for me. I bought an early product from Jabra many years ago that created an unholy echo on the Treo I used at that time. I replaced it with a Treo-branded device that squashed the echo but had a lot of trouble holding its pairing with the phone. I had heard a lot about the Jawbone, and I held off until I was able to visit an Apple store to buy it because I wanted to make sure it would work properly.

Man, was I delighted. It is easily one of the best pieces of new technology I have ever used. It is gorgeous in design, brilliant in feature and utterly reliable. What a standout.

Except I broke it.

Okay, I broke one of the little ear loops that come with it. (They give you four, two of different sizes for each ear. They also give four little snap-on buds so you’re sure to find one that fits comfortably in your ear. This recognition that one size does not fit all is just one very-well-thought-out element that makes this thing such a standout.)

So I went on Jawbone’s website to see what could be done to replace the broken loop. I fired off one of those “Contact us” emails and assumed I’d never hear anything back.

Well, turns out their customer service is every bit as brilliant as their technology. Ben, from the Jawbone Support Team, emailed me back. My first surprise was that he had actually read and understood my full email. He knew I had recently bought the device but couldn’t prove it since Apple, in a breakdown in its customer-service department, had failed to email me the receipt for my purchase as the Apple store clerk had promised. No problem. Turns out there’s a small date code etched on the Jawbone. I sent that to Ben, and he said he’d need a delivery address. I gave him one, and he promised I’d get a replacement loop in five to seven business days.

Now, this is where my cynicism went into overdrive. Up to that point, I had not mentioned that I live in Canada. So I wasn’t too surprised when a couple of weeks went by with no sign of a package from Jawbone.

Until a little box showed up the other day, containing a complete set of four loops. It was later than promised, but with good reason. I had provided my home address, but my office postal code. That was my mistake. Then, someone in the Jawbone shipping department compounded my mistake by replacing my home town of Ottawa with Toronto. So a thoroughly buggered address, and yet it still made it to me.

So there are two customer-service heroes in this story. The first is Jawbone, which has salted an already superior customer experience. Very wll done, Ben, and the rest of the Jawbone Support Team. And the second is Canada Post, which persisted in its task and eventually found me. For the record, that second one doesn’t really surprise me; Canada Post is consistently exceptional at what we pay it to do, usually delivering letters here in Ottawa the morning after I post them.

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