How Lenovo turned a battery recall into a great user experience

Disclosure: Neither OpenRoad nor myself has any affiliation with Lenovo nor their battery recall program (other than owning a few of their laptops). Lenovo is was unaware of this blog post and has made no contribution to its contents.

A recall is surely one of the most difficult and potentially costly situations that a company can find itself in. There is almost no good that can come out of such a predicament from a brand, customer service, or customer experience perspective. Many of the following will apply:

  • The damage of admitting that there is a problem with your product and associated bad press
  • The coordination and costs involved in getting the word out to the customer
  • Creating a temporary recall program that must be built from scratch and results in nothing but cost
  • Costs associated with reissuing and shipping the problem part
  • Inconvenience to the customer while he/she waits for repair and or shipping
  • Risk that it will be a deal breaker the next time the customer needs to make a purchase in your category
  • If your recall is safety or food related (need I drag up the Maple Leaf tainted meat recall?), the liability associated with damage done by your product

So with a recall being so unpleasant for all involved, what is the best you can hope for? A recent battery recall for my Lenovo laptop produced a two-fold outcome:

  1. The cheapest possible, low-touch, efficient process, and
  2. The happiest possible customer

At these two things, for me at least, Lenovo did extraordinarily well.

The trouble started when I closed my laptop the last day of work in December, putting it into standby mode. Standby reduces battery usage to a trickle but still consumes power nonetheless. I then forgot about my laptop over the holiday and didn’t touch it until the night before I was to return to work in January.

I noticed that the battery light on the laptop was flashing red and plugged it in thinking it just needed a charge. The next morning it was still flashing. It again failed to charge up while in my docking station at the office the next day.

The power manager tool stated that the battery was in “poor condition” and showed that the battery still didn’t contain a drop of electricity despite charging for two full days. I was hesitant to try the battery reset feature, since the warning dialogue said it could take several hours to perform. I had work to do and put off dealing with the battery by working off the adaptor for the rest of the week. I eventually traded batteries with a colleague and saw the same symptoms on his laptop. I finally tried the reset function which didn’t do anything at all. The battery was clearly toast.

The question was now, “is this battery covered by warranty?” Unlikely, but worth a shot. My first instinct was to find a phone number to call Lenovo Support. As the dreadful thought of being on hold for half an hour consumed me, I thought I’d see what Google produced on the matter. Here’s what I found:

google results for

The answer to my question: “Is my battery covered by warranty?” was definitely within the first five links in Google:

  • Link one suggested some kind of replacement program
  • Link three suggested some kind of standard warranty terms
  • Link five indicated that others in my situation had their quest end in frustration

I started with that first link: “ThinkPad battery will not charge…”

It is tough to say whether my excellent user experience began as a result of some competent search engine optimization by Lenovo, if they were just well linked, or I was plain lucky. I’m not sure it matters. All I know is that things were handled very well from this point on.

Here are five things that Lenovo did well to execute the battery recall with low touch and high impact:

1. They generated an excellent scent trail to pull me into the content

lenovo battery warranty page

The landing page was an excellent example of UIE’s Jared Spool’s principle of designing for the “scent of information”. Spool states that web pages succeed when they provide the user an increasing sense of confidence that they are getting closer to their goal. By ensuring that the “trigger” words the user seeks appear on the page, the user feels increased confidence that she is getting closer to their goal -- not unlike following a scent to its source.

The Lenovo support page reeked of scent:

  • The title quotes some of the error messages that affected batteries produce
  • The exact laptop models affected are clearly listed
  • The exact part numbers are listed for those that may have Googled their battery number
  • Screen captures show the user exactly what the error messages look like on the laptop

Each of these factors builds confidence that the next step, using the downloadable verification tool, is worth the user’s time (or not) and will give a definitive answer on whether they are in for a free battery or about to be $150 out of pocket.

2. They managed their content throughout the entire recall lifecycle

Lenovo clearly understands that content has a lifecycle: a beginning, middle, and end. On many websites, once content is published, it is quickly forgotten regardless of its accuracy or relevance. Lenovo clearly takes responsibility for its content and feels its duty to keep its content up-to-date.

  • Note the red text at the top. The program is over, unless you’ve got an X-60 model. (Fortunately, that was me)
  • Again in the table further down the page, all model numbers have been updated with red strike-throughs except the X-60 numbers

3. They made confirmation of eligibility dead simple and avoided a horrific phone call

Probably the highlight of the user experience was their little verification tool. The site prompts you to download and run a little application which I assume does whatever deep exploration of the battery’s chip needs to happen to determine if it is one of the recalled ones.

Lenovo even took the time to give the application a logical name and icon, increasing user confidence that she has the right application on download, but also later, when it comes time to delete from the desktop. It takes a few seconds to give an application file a sensible name, but even the best vendors don’t take the time to make it descriptive and informative.

The application doesn’t require installation, it runs directly from the desktop and determines in a few seconds whether the battery is eligible for replacement and redirects the user to a web page to provide details.

Imagine what the support call to determine this information would be like over the phone. Imagine talking even someone tech savvy through a bunch of crazy DOS commands or asking them to read back the 15th digit of some 36 digit string or whatever the heck would be required without this little application. Even imagine the amount of time it would take for a customer to follow a great big long page of instructions to get this information. Imagine how error-prone the process would have otherwise been without the application.

The example above shows what ineligible users are shown. In my case, I was directed to a page with a form to fill in so that my replacement battery could be sent. It took a few moments to complete and I was done with the issue. What a great surprise after looking into the issue online on a lark.

4. Professionally managed the transaction

The replacement process was managed very professionally. They apologized for the inconvenience that the broken battery caused. You would expect a recall campaign to feel slapped together, but this one felt as if I had made an e-commerce transaction like any other.

5. Minimized my inconvenience

I submitted the form on a Thursday afternoon and I had the replacement battery the following Tuesday morning by courier. ‘Nuff said.

Needless to say I left this experience happy:

  • I didn’t need to talk to anyone on the phone
  • I didn’t need to put any effort into figuring out whether I was eligible
  • I had my battery replaced within what amounted to two business days

I imagine Lenovo left the transaction happy as well:

  • They had one less phone call to their support line
  • They found the root cause of the problem and resolved it with minimal human intervention

Good for them and good for me.

However, I wouldn’t be a devotee of continuous improvement if I didn’t look for ways to improve further.

What more could they have done?

What more could they have done to really super please me?

This may seem extreme, but since Lenovo had my postal code from having to ship the new battery, it would be awesome if at the end of the process (or with the battery replacement battery) if they had suggested the nearest location to recycle the old battery.

How could they have helped themselves out better?

While it appears that Lenovo are using Omniture Site Catalyst for web analytics in their support pages, it does not appear that the battery verification tool result pages are tagged. No tags of course mean that it is more difficult to gather analytics data for these pages.

Lenovo may be able to use this information to determine:

  • If anyone is failing to complete the submission form for the new battery
  • If for example an unexpectedly large number of ineligible batteries were being submitted, perhaps there is a problem with the tool or a need to expand the recall

My suggestions aside, Lenovo took the time to carefully plan the battery recall. Good user experience does not happen by accident.

I don’t know Lenovo’s views on continuous improvement, but I do wonder if the execution on the recall was so well done as a response to the complaint in link #5 on Google. Regardless, I appreciated that they put in the effort to minimize the pain for both of us.