The True Meaning of Christmas: Customer Service

Steve Jobs finds inspiration in gadgets. Warren Buffet's passion is for investing. For Tiger Woods, it's women -- I mean golf. You know what inspires me around the holidays? Great customer service.

Let's face it: not all businesses can have a monopoly like Microsoft, or the best gadgets, hands down, like Apple. Most companies have to work for repeat business, and big or small, customer service can either be part of your value proposition or your downfall.

It truly amazes me how, in this highly competitive global market, companies think they can just pay lip service to such a critical aspect of the buying decision. But it doesn't work that way. Customer service is either a corporate imperative or it isn't, plain and simple.

Here are a couple of noteworthy examples, the good and the bad, from my experiences this holiday season:
The Good
Dell. I've owned Dell PCs for years and years. And although I'm slowly transitioning my household to Apple, it isn't because of Dell's reported customer service issues. On the contrary, I've always found their support to be exemplary.

Case in point, I was having trouble reloading all the drivers on an old Dell notebook I planned to give to a friend, so I used Dell's real-time online support and, in the middle of the dialog, we lost the connection. In moments, my phone rang. It was the Dell support person calling from India.

From my service tag, he was able to pull up the PC's entire configuration and service record. A half hour later, my problem was solved. It really made me wonder how a huge company like Dell can pull off that kind of service for a customer with an old machine that isn't even under warranty.

BedHead. My wife loves pajamas from an L.A. retailer named BedHead. The day after placing an order online, I got a call telling me they were out of my wife's size on one item, but they could offer me a number of similar styles at the sale price of the item my wife had chosen. And these PJs aren't cheap - we're talking $50 off per item! So I bought an extra pair.

I wasn't at all surprised to learn that BedHead was founded by a former waitress.

The Bad
Blue Shield. I have health insurance for my small business through Blue Shield of California. Every year they make me jump through all kinds of hoops to renew the policy. This year, while jumping through those hoops, they actually cancelled the policy without telling me. I didn't even know there was a gap in coverage until I got a letter in the mail after they had indeed decided to renew.

You know, if Congress would take its collective head out of its collective butt and open the door for competition across state lines, do you think I'd stick with this healthcare provider? Would you?

Sirius XM. I recently bought a car with Sirius XM satellite radio, my second. When the free six months were up and I called to subscribe, I had to wait 20 minutes just to speak with an agent. Then it took another 15 minutes while I was repeatedly put on hold. Finally, when the transaction was done, the agent wouldn't stop talking, trying to sell me more stuff, until I finally had to hang up. And I've had similar experiences with Sirius in the past.

You know, it's distinctly possible for Sirius XM to end up going down in history as the first and only failed monopoly. I wouldn't be a bit surprised.

Granted, these are just one person's experiences, but the point is valid, nevertheless. Got Customer Service?