Lessons learned from the flat-panel frontline

[Image courtesy of Paul Townsend at Flickr Creative Commons]

Guess what? I’ve joined the 21st centuy. Yes, that’s right – I’ve got myself a smart TV.

It had got to the point where I was embarrassed to let people into my lounge in case they’d see the CRT monster lurking in the corner. It wasn’t flat panel, it wasn’t HD, and it wasn’t connected to the internet. But it did the job, and I was happy with that. 

But before I get into customer service, let me take a brief detour via try before you buy. For the thing that drove me into the arms of the LED brigade was a whirlwind romance with Netflix. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Because it all started with an iPad.

One that a friend no longer had any use for (he’s a serial upgrader) and which he gave to me. It’s one of the original ones that hit the streets way back in 2010. I’ve never been an Apple fanboy, but this was free, so I took it. 

And was I impressed. As a dyed-in-the-wool Android user, I was bowled over. Slick, fast, clear, and eminently usable. The App Store was a revelation, and I quickly filled all the screens with funky little app icons. 

Including Netflix, which was the slippery slope to flat-panel perdition. Somebody told me there was a 30-day trial you could sign up to, so I did. Like the iPad, it was free, so I jumped in feet first. 

You may well think that

And that’s when I discovered House of Cards. I remember the original series in the UK (yes, I’m that old, despite the boyish features) and loved it. But could Kevin Spacey live up to Ian Richardson’s Francis Urquhart? 

Could he just. Transport the series to the other side of the pond, do a quick name change from Urquhart to Underwood, and 25 years on, the formula is as compelling as ever.

I was hooked. But the prospect of binge-viewing HOC (and 24, and House, and all the other series I’ve missed over the years) on an iPad somehow didn’t seem right. Something was missing. Something 32 inch, with sleek lines and sexy contours. 

Enter Samsung, with their irresistible UE32H6400 TV. Again, I tried before I bought, this time at the Richer Sounds store here in Cambridge, in a perfect example of reverse showrooming (aka ‘webrooming’ – checking it out online, and buying in-store). 

The people at Richer Sounds were just perfect: knowledgeable without being overly technical, helpful without being invasive, accommodating without being sycophantic. They even have a system that registers the product for you, so by the time I brought my slimline beauty back chez moi, a guarantee email was waiting in my In Box. 

But the customer service experience was about to take a turn for the worse. For the TV kept losing its connection to the internet, and when it was connected, Netflix refused to play ball. So I resorted to calling Samsung support on their UK number. 

I couldn’t possibly comment

And they were available, even on Good Friday. Then again, that’s not a holiday everywhere, and the support centre was clearly not in the UK. My guess would be Eastern Europe, but it’ll have to remain a guess. 

As we were trying the usual tactics (factory reset, router reset etc.) I asked the chap who was helping me where he was. 

“I’m not allowed to disclose that information,” he said matter-of-factly.

I thought he was joking, but given the deadpan delivery, I ought to have known better. When I speculated that he wasn’t in the UK, there was silence. Complete silence, followed by another instruction relating to the Samsung Smart Hub. 

He didn’t solve my problem in the end. A convenient system update gave him the chance to end the call, as he assured me that the 800MB file would cure my problems. As one of my problems was the speed of the TV connection to the internet, it took 90 minutes to download. And it fixed nothing. 

In the end, I was the one who solved it, and then thanks to my new best friend, Netflix. Move your TV closer to your router, it suggested. Or failing that, plug it into a WiFi extender. And bingo, House of Cards was on my new TV. Together with the must-see shows from a lost decade.

Sheer. Viewing. Bliss. 

And the lessons I learned from my experience? 

  • Try before you buy is immensely powerful, for services and products.
  • Retail isn’t dead, especially when you want it now.
  • Good service is hard, and bad service is easy. 
  • Everybody in the food chain needs training to be on-message (create a cheet sheet, write a script, make a video, run training, rinse & repeat). 
  • Sometimes, little things can keep a customer very happy (email guarantees, for example). 
  • Other times, they can cause them to fall out of love with you (robotic non-disclosure of current location). 

And one last thing: Kevin Spacey is fabulous. Just fabulous. Must be the name (and no, I don’t mean Spacey).