A dead iPod leads to a small business tip of the day …

My iPod died. It was about a month ago and I’ve been doing without for the first time in many months. 11 months, it turns out. The reason I know it’s been 11 months is that this weekend I finally got around to taking my ipod to the Apple store at the local mall where I purchased it. I’ve been not quite as spry the past seven weeks since my hip replacement surgery and I hadn’t yet ventured out to the mall.

Here’s the thing. The friendly young man at the Apple Genius Bar (that’s what they call the customer service desk) happily replaced my dead ipod with a refurbished unit he had in the back room. “Even though your iPod is no longer under warranty, I am happy to do that for you.” he said.

Wow – that’s great! What terrific customer service, I thought. Now there’s a company that knows how to retain customers – giving me a free refurbished ipod even though mine was no longer under warranty.

“So.”, I asked, “Just out of curiosity, how long are your warranties?”

“One year.”

“Oh, and when did I purchase mine?”

“Exactly one year ago today! So your warranty expired yesterday.”

After getting over the freaky coincidence that I was in this very store exactly a year ago, and being happy that I was getting a fresh looking iPod for free to replace my dead one, I quickly signed all the paperwork so that I could get out of the Apple store with a working iPod in my hot little hands. I didn’t want the genius to change his mind and decide that since the warranty on my iPod had actually officially expired as of midnite the night before, that he would take back his offer to swap a working one for free.

But later, as I ran my fingers over my fresh iPod and allowed myself to dreamily get excited about listening to my daily routine of podcasts after a month hiatus, I started thinking more clearly about the situation. I had told the genius that my iPod had died a month ago and that it had been difficult to find the time to get into the store. (I even had my cane with me as proof that my hip joint is now titanium. I could have passed the security wand test if necessary – there’s more metal in my hip than in most small handguns) And even if it had died the night before at 11pm and I came into the store that very next day, in my case the warranty still would have been “officially” in effect when the thing died.

So, what kind of special customer service was I really getting? After all, if he had denied recognizing my warranty less than 24 hours after it had expired, how would I then have felt about Apple and their customer service? I can tell you. I would have been EXTREMELY upset and vowed never again to purchase another Apple product.

Wow! How fragile this whole customer service thing is! Now, I’ve been told that I have extraordinary expectations when it comes to customer service. Maybe you wouldn’t be upset by such a scenario. I suppose what I should do is just be happy that I have an iPod that works and that it didn’t cost me a dime. There are plenty more important things to worry about.

But I can’t help but think about how critical customer service is for small businesses. If this had been a small business startup and not Apple Computer, then a single customer experience becomes even more important. Being a small business means that you have both challenges and opportunities in the manner in which you treat customers.

So here’s my small business tip for the day … Just ask yourself what you would expect as a customer. If you’re at all like me, you’ll go that extra mile and break your own rules to make certain that you retain a customer.

Now it’s time to stick those buds in my ears and get listening!

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