Thursday, September 16, 2010

Up Yours, Customer!

I debated writing this post. First, it's a rant. Second, if I'm not careful I might not ever be able to buy anything in this country again. I finally decided it must be written, because I can't stand it any longer.

What the hell has happened to customer service? Anyone who sells anything, do you realize that the people who buy stuff from you are your "customers?" Do you realize that there are a limited number of said customers? Do you realize that your customers have an almost infinite number of sources to buy the exact same products that you sell and a lot of times can find them cheaper? Do you realize that your customers have voices and they talk to their friends and acquaintances, Facebook friends and Twitter followers around the world and have blogs? If you realize all these things, then why are you and/or your employees such complete douchebags to your customers? One incidence of bad customer service can quite literally circle the globe in hours. So where is all this stemming from. It's from a series of bad customer service experiences over the last few months. And now I've just had it.

Months ago I had purchased a new bike from an online retailer. This retailer indicated my bike would be ready by a certain date. As the date drew closer I contacted them to see what the status of my bike was (hey, I was excited.) Well, they informed me, the manufacturer was having a hard time getting the particular frame in my size so there would be a delay. Why did I have to call you, retailer? When you knew there was going to be a delay you should have contacted me immediately. I am spending thousands of dollars with you and more then likely it wouldn't be the last thousand dollars I'd spend if you took care of me. I check in again as the new date grew near because I now don't trust the retailer (and I was still excited.) Again, there will be a delay of a few more days. Really!? I have a race out of state to which I will have to ship my bike. I need it ASAP. Again, why didn't you contact me right away when you knew there would be further delay? Was I foolish to buy my bike from an out-of-state online retailer? Some might think so, but I do it all the time with Amazon and other online retailers and it never seems to be an issue.

I get my bike. Now, I need to have it fit. I contact a local bike shop with a reputation for well qualified fitters. I make an appointment and show up on the day and time. I wheel my bike in - a brand they don't carry - past 4 employees not helping anyone. I lean my bike against the wall near the fitting area and wait for at least ten minutes. Someone finally comes over to ask if I need any help. Dude! I am standing here near the fitting area with a bike you don't carry and my shoes and shorts in my hand. "I have an appointment for a fitting," "Oh, let me see if I can find someone." Really!? I made a god-damned appointment! Your fitter should be waiting here for me - not vice versa.

My fit goes along fine. I get to watch myself on a video monitor from the front and side. The fitter makes all sorts of adjustments and seems to eyeball everything. No measurements, no double checking just to be sure. I have to admit that the fit was good. I understand too that after you do enough fits, you would know what looks right, but it would seem to me to be a good thing just to take a couple of measurements to make the customer feel confident.
That isn't the major issue, now I'm just picking nits, because the fact I was ignored bugged me so much. After the fitting the guy puts my bike on the rack up front and double checks the brakes, makes some adjustments, tweaks the derailleurs a touch and sends me on my way. Once again, it's true I'm not spending a ton of money in your store right now and that I didn't buy my bike from you, but I did come to you to be fit when I could go to lots of other places. With a good experience I would more than likely be coming back to spend lots of money - now I begrudgingly spend money in your store because you are the only local dealer of items that I need.

I take my newly fit bike for a 40 mile ride the next day, but I am having some brake rubbing and other little niggling issues, so I take it to the small local bike shop about a mile from my house. I figured I'd give these guys a chance and how much can go wrong with a quick brake adjustment. I leave it over night and tell them that it's a new bike, give it the once over. I get a call later in evening saying everything is fine, but that the "once over" will be a little more expensive because as they were trying to adjust the brakes they realized the wheels were so out of true they had to take care of them first. They were just going to charge me for a drivetrain clean and not the wheel truing but they just didn't want me to be surprised. (The cost difference from what I requested and what they were going to charge me for was, like, $10 or $15. Hardly a deal breaker.) So now I'm totally bugged! The "Best Bike Store" in town didn't catch this issue and I gave them the same info and spent more money with them (not that the amount spent should make ANY difference.) My very small local bike shop did a way better job than "the best."

So months of training on my bike and my big race is right around the corner. I take my bike to another big bike shop primarily because they are the authorized dealer of my bike. They do a good job of checking me in, asking what I need done, do a quick pull of the brakes and shift through the derailleurs and double check my chain with the chain gauge. As I suspected, and forgot to tell them, I need a new chain. So we're starting off pretty good. I explain my situation with my race coming up and ask about quick turnaround and they put me in the queue with everyone else. Now, I'm not faulting them for this. It's not their responsibility to adjust the expectations of their other customers for my lack of planning. It never hurts to ask and I can take no for an answer.

The next day I get a call. There is a crack in my frame. It really shouldn't be ridden. I won't rehash the details of finding a new bike - that story's been told ad nauseum. They immediately made some calls to the bike manufacturer to investigate what could be done when I got back from the race. I received a call from the bike shop asking questions about whether I had shipped my bike anywhere and I knew where they were going. Did I pack it with a "spreader bar" (my words) in the rear triangle? I considered lying, but I had to be honest - "nope." Ah, well since you didn't do that, the manufacturer won't warranty the frame. "It was in a hard case." "They still won't warranty it because the damage probably happened in travel."

I contacted the local rep for this company with my story - freely admitting my rookie mistake and asking if there was anything they could do to help me get a new frame. Over a week later, I still haven't gotten a response. I contacted the bike shop to see if they could offer any suggestions. "We're having a big sale. Can I have our warranty guy get back to you after the sale?" Luckily, I'm not in a hurry, but really!? You're sale doesn't mean shit to me and apparently I don't mean shit to you. I take it upon myself to contact the manufacturer on their "customer service" line. I explain my situation and they tell me they offer a crash replacement plan for that particular frame - 25% off retail - $2,100. At that price I could buy a new frame from somewhere else. Why wouldn't you give me a deal that couldn't be beat to keep me on your product?

As you know, I decided to shop around for a frame from a different manufacturer. I like my bike a lot, but I certainly haven't built any loyalty for this company. And believe me, I am a VERY loyal consumer if you fulfill your end of the bargain.

Soon after I solicited suggestions on Facebook and Twitter I got a message from a Facebook friend in Canada whom I've never met. He had some questions for me. I called him and he explained his experience with bikes and broken frames and manufacturers and warranties. Apparently this guy has dished out more abuse on more bikes than you can imagine. He asked me to send a picture of where the crack was.

This guy was surprised that they thought the crack was due to shipping. In his experience, shipping damage of the kind they were indicating, usually appears on the outside of the seat stay, not on the inside. (Makes sense - basic physics of tension and compression.) He also asked if they were SURE it wasn't just a crack in the clear coat or paint. Is anyone sure it is a crack in the actual carbon fiber? It didn't look like a gaping crack to him, but he was only looking at a low quality picture. He was really surprised at the crash replacement policy. He has had several crash replacement claims (apparently he and his wife have a hard time remembering they have a roof rack) but never with this company. In his experiences the variety of manufactures provide a crash replacements at damn near cost. The only better deal is the employee discount. His final suggestion was to look into getting it repaired. He had worked several times with a place in California that specializes in repairing carbon fiber, including bikes. They have worked miracles for him and he figured that the damage he was seeing would be a pretty easy, straight forward fix for these guys.

This conversation was really the impetus for this post/rant. The fact that I was given few to no options, a less than loyalty inducing crash replacement "deal" and just short-shrift all around really incensed me. Triathlon is a growing sport. The demographics have shown that the participants in this sport earn high salaries and, frankly, spend a shit-load of money. Every. Fucking. Year! Not just once and done.

Although I now have some options to pursue outside of buying a new frame I am still seriously considering buying a new frame just to get away from the douchebag manufacturer. The question that always has to be asked, is the time and hassle worth the money? I don't know. If I decide to get a new frame I'll do a little more research on the company and it's policies. But that pisses me off as well. Why should I have to do that?

The whole experience with the various bike shops - their arrogance, indifference, unwillingness to help, lack of employee autonomy to satisfy a customer - along with the treatment by the manufacturer - "that's our policy" - makes me want to start my own triathlon shop. A shop where the customer service experience is second to none. Whether you bought your bike in the shop or not. Whether you are a novice triathlete or a pro. Whether you bought a new tube or a $20,000 custom rig. Whether you're asking "stupid" questions or have have "highly technical" inquiries. Someplace willing to go the extra mile, with manufacturers that care about their customers. Why does that have to be such a dream? Maybe it needs to become a reality.


Court said...

couldn't agree more...

Josh said...

I'm surprised by a lot of your completely valid points. A 58cm is a rare size? Since when? I used to work in a shop back in the 80's that was a dealer for the manuf you're talking about and their crash replacement deal back then was stellar ($100 - sort of ground breaking at the time and a big selling point). Of course the frames were aluminum back then, but still. Very sorry to hear about your experience and I completely agree with everything you said.

kerrie said...

totally agree! i know a rather hefty *somebody* who has had cracks on different carbon frames and they have always been warranteed. carbon is not meant to just "crack". the whole 'happened while shipping' thing is total bullshit. a total copout and super poor customer support and service. i hope you can get something figured out. in the meantime, if you would like a good deal on a kestrel :), let me know!!

Lisa T said...

That online retailer where you bought your bike? I bought mine there in person. When they went to fit me on it I couldn't get it to shift. The salesperson made me feel like an idiot for not being able to shift. Then the mechanic took a look at it and it turned out they had cabled it wrong and it really didn't shift- AT ALL. Those guys are dicks. There you go. That's my rant. Good points in yours- I'll remember them when I help customers in the shop!