Mark Evanier’s post today on customer service is typical of most comments on that topic, talking about how service it ain’t. Many folks consider that the universal condition. I’m here today to say different. I have done this before, writing at least twice on another website and in a different version of this column about how big ‘n’ evil Starbucks helped me twice repair an espresso machine I had bought from them as it began to wear down after several years’ of use, once staying on the phone with me for nearly two hours and talking me through the fixes.

Sometimes it works. Indeed, within the past month or so, I have had two excellent experiences with customer service, once with yet another big corporate entity and one with–gasp!–the United States gummint.

The first instance was with Hewlett-Packard. I had an ancient 820 DeskJet printer of theirs which I had pushed and pushed over nearly a decade, raising it from the dead in one instance by purchasing a similar unit on eBay for something like $10 and then cobbling together a single working unit out of the pair.

Then one day in September, a mailing label’s sticky side’s protective label peeled away as it tried to print and wrapped itself around the roller. After an hour or so of trying to fix the mess, I gave up, figuring that for the amount of printing I need to do these days, I could buy a replacement cheaply. True. I went to their website and got me a simple little DeskJet 1000 for something like $35.

When it arrived a few days later, I quickly realized that it required a very specific cable in order to connect to the computer. I had ordered this cable when I bought the computer but forgot I’d done so and stupidly did not go back and check. Instead, I logged on to Amazon and bought a similar cable very cheaply and had it shipped overnight. Two days later, the original cable, much more expensive, also arrive.

I called HP and explained the situation. “No problem,” said the customer service rep, “we’ll credit your account. Hang on a minute.” She came back and said it was all done. I asked if I would be sent a label for returning the item or was the address available online. “Keep it,” she said. “Give it to charity or something.” Now I’m sure that made perfect sense and that is cheaper for them in the long run to write the item off rather and deal with its coming back, but it has been rare in my experience that logic prevails in these matter. That was impressing. The money back in my PayPal account the next morning was even more so.

In the second instance, I was us the U.S. Postal Service website to print out labels and postage (through a third party called Bill Me Later) as I most every week for shipments to customers of Jacey Services. On that day, I was having problems getting things to work right and had to go through the process three times to print out the the three labels I needed (I use the website because shipping from there is cheaper than it is at the PO itself). Only the last time, when the labels printed, did I click the “it’s okay to bill me” link.

That night, I received notice from Bill Me Later than I had been charged for nine, count ‘en nine, labels. The problem had clearly been with the website but solving it was my issue. The next morning, I called the telephone number listed onsite but it rang and rang and rang with no answer. Even  an old liberal like me kinda expects bad experiences with a big gummint entity, so I saw a long hard battle a’coming. I used the email messaging service on the site to send a report of what had happened and hoped for the best.

A few hours later, I received an email asking me for more details. I used their own site to get that information (the site shows if a package has been shipped or delivered) and sent them the nine label orders, only three of which were delivered by their own account. “I’ll take care of it, you are right,” was the email response, “It will take a couple of weeks for the credits to go through.” They were in my account in less than a week.

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