Extended warranty claim game: Where's the Easy Button?

Last week, just 14 months after I purchased an HP OfficeJet Pro 8600 multifunction printer, the machine's LCD control panel faded to black. The problem with relying on an LCD touch screen for all of your controls is that if the panel fades away you lose all of your controls. I could still send print jobs to the machine, but I couldn't see the status, and I could not copy or scan without firing up my computer.

Fortunately, I had purchased a two-year replacement plan from Staples. Having used Staples' excellent rebate service online, I expected the process to be as expedient as pressing the office supply retailer's famous Easy Button. Unfortunately, the process wasn't as seamless as I had hoped. Here's what went wonky:

  • I had to create a third Staples account online to make a claim. If you want to shop at Staples online, use its easy rebate service, and use its replacement plan service, you'll need to create three distinct user accounts, each with its own user name, password and profile. I am sure that there are internal business reasons why things were done this way, but it doesn't make for a delightful customer experience. Staples could improve that by putting a common front end on all of these isolated islands of interactions with the Staples brand and eliminate the need for the user to repetitively enter profile information three times.
  • To get the replacement printer I had to print something first. Staples issued a gift card so that I could just buy a replacement unit from my local Staples -- great idea. But the electronic card, sent to my email address, wasn't valid for online purchases, and had to be printed so that my local Staples store could scan it. A sales person at Staples said the company was using electronic gift cards in an effort to be more green -- it doesn't need to issue plastic cards. The clerk said she could not scan the image of the email coupon from my laptop screen, which I had with me, but could do so from a smartphone, which I did not have at the ready. So I ended up saving an image of the email gift card to a USB drive, gave it to the service desk and they wasted a page of printer paper so I could walk it over to a register to make the purchase.

There was other weirdness too. After I called in to make a claim I was told that a new or refurbished unit would be shipped to me within 10 days. But a few days later I received a voice mail from someone saying that they had an offer for me regarding my claim. Before I called back to hear about the offer of a gift card I logged into the protection plan Web site. The claim had already been closed, leaving me with no visibility into the status or what had transpired. And since I still had no printer, the claim still wasn't resolved so far as I was concerned.

Then I faced the challenge of registering my new protection plan. The store clerk told me to go right home and register the product online immediately, but the process didn't go through. So I called Staples customer service, which informed me that I'd have to wait up to 10 days to register the plan for my new printer. It takes that long, she said, for the transaction to be uploaded into the system.

On the plus side, I got through to customer service right away, the person was very nice and she even did the registration for me over the phone, which saved me from having that receipt hanging around my desk for 10 days while I waited for Staples to be ready for me to register my product. So now I have a new OfficeJet Pro, and I'd certainly buy from Staples again. I'm a happy camper. That said...

Automating things is all fine and good, but the business processes have to mesh and should be designed to make it all work for the customer. In this case, a few changes in Staples' processes could make a big difference in the customer experience.

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