Recently, I’ve had a bad run of luck with things breaking around me. In this age of complex products, online shopping and the resulting “shipping of everything,” products are bound to show up damaged or (as the British say) “go horribly pear-shaped” from time to time, but the last several weeks have been particularly bad.
Earlier this week I wrote about the broken transfer case in my car. What I did not mention in that story was that when the replacement part first arrived, it had clearly been damaged in shipping. When I called the company from which I purchased it, they expressed their apologies for the problem and promised to send out a replacement. However, when I explained that I had already taken my car apart and needed to it back on the road ASAP, they offered to send the new part overnight at their own expense.
Not only did they do what they said they would, they included a free t-shirt in the box, along with a note apologizing again for my trouble.
In the 1987 movie Summer School, Mark Harmon plays a not-yet-tenured gym teacher named Freddy Shoop, who is strong-armed into teaching summer school to a rag-tag bunch of ne’er-do-wells who recently failed English class.
The movie is a fairly predictable Carl Reiner teen-comedy, but in the end the teacher learns as much from the students as they do from him, yes shocking, I know.
In one scene, Mr. Shoop is desperately trying to relate the course material to the chaotic lives of the students. Using the process of a business letter, he manages to finally connect with these kids.
As the second scene shows, the students see real, tangible results from their efforts, thereby cementing the idea that knowing how to write a letter is a valuable skill. It is a bit of a thin reference I will grant you, but effective just the same.
A few months ago, I was walking to the extra fridge in our basement when I heard an aberrant humming from across the room. Upon further investigation, I determined that the amplifier on the surround sound subwoofer had gone bad.
I tinkered with it a little, but it became clear rather quickly that the unit was toast. I called up the company from which I had purchased it years before, but alas it was long out of warranty. They offered to try and fix it if I paid the postage to send it in. I agreed.
Unfortunately upon receipt, they also determined that it was beyond repair.
So, I ordered a replacement that was both an exact match in size and specs, but also an improved design. The unit was on backorder, but a few weeks later it arrived.
I unboxed it and installed it right where its predecessor had met its unfortunate end. I plugged it in, but instead of thumping bass, it made a noise akin to an asthmatic eating dry corn flakes, and then promptly shut itself off.
I checked all the connections and settings, but alas I kept getting the same undesirable results. I called the company and spoke with a technician who could not have been more apologetic, admitting that sometimes things are simply “bad out of the box.” They sent out a replacement immediately.
A couple of months ago, my daughter Charlotte noticed that the cookie cakes she likes from Wegmans, had shifted in shape from round to rectangle. This upset her. She expressed the rationale behind her discontent by stating, “if it is a cookie cake then it should be shaped like a cookie. If I wanted a rectangle, I’d have asked for a cake cookie.”
I can’t say if she is right or wrong, but she is steadfast in her feelings on the subject. The other night, she felt the need to lash out and share her frustrations with the Twitterverse. Her tweet looked like this:
A few hours later, the Wegmans social media team responded with this:
Now, I’m not sure why they have people responding to tweets about cookie cakes at two in the morning, but Charlotte felt good that they were listening and at least responded. Although they answered the question, they failed to directly address her concern, but they did respond, and that’s something. In general people just want to know, at the very least, they are being heard.
Earlier this year I purchased a new product called a ChargeKey from a start-up company called Nomad. The concept behind the product is both simple and brilliant. It is basically a flexible, key-sized charge cable for my iPhone.
Why would you need this? Well, back in June I found myself in the emergency room one evening with my son Lewis after he broke his arm. (You can read all about it in a story called Keep Track Of Your Seeds.) We arrived at the hospital around 7:00pm, however since emergency rooms are perhaps the slowest moving things on the face of the earth, hours went by as my phone descended into “red battery” territory.
I found myself balancing the need to communicate medical progress to my wife with the need to keep the phone alive. As I did this, I remembered that I had the ChargeKey on my keychain.
I popped it off my keychain, and plugged it into the USB port on the PC that was mounted on the wall right next to the bed where my son with the fractured elbow lay. Minutes later I was out of the red zone and well into a battery happy place.
Since that evening, I have used the Charge Key a few times, but the point of the product isn’t daily use… just the opposite actually. The beauty of the Charge Key is that it dutifully rides along with your keys until you need it, infrequently as that might be.
It’s basically a phone charging insurance policy that you can count on always being there… until the day it wasn’t.
You know that feeling that something is different, but you can’t quite put your finger on it? One day I picked up my keys and after placing them in my pocket, I had that feeling. A moment later I stepped on something and there it was, on the floor, my ChargeKey.
The very feature that makes the product special, the ability for it to be at the ready on my keychain had broken.
The company, Nomad, had been regularly sending me emails encouraging me to tell my friends about the ChargeKey. I found one of those messages and hit reply. I sent them a picture of my broken ChargeKey and politely explained my disappointment.
Within an hour I received a reply explaining that they were aware of the design flaw, they had made changes and as soon as the new product was ready they would be sending me a replacement. Yesterday it arrived.
Back in 1987, the only thing Mr. Shoop could teach his students to do was write a business letter. In 2014 we have many more options. Companies shudder at the thought of being bad-mouthed on social media. If you think they’re not listening, try this… next time you have something to say about a company (good or bad) get on twitter and mention the company by using their twitter handle (@companyname). You’ll be shocked how quickly they want to engage you to discuss your situation.
You work hard for your money and when you exchange that money for products, you deserve to get your side of the bargain. Most companies want you to be happy, even if it costs them a t-shirt and overnight shipping on a 50 lb. transfer case.
So, speak up. They can’t make you happy if you don’t let them know that you’re not. If you do, you’ll find that most companies don’t suck. However, if you find one that does, please tweet about it so the rest of us can steer clear.
For your purchasing pleasure, here are the companies mentioned above that do not suck:
Transfer Case – Cobra Transmission
Subwoofer Amplifier – Parts Express
Cookie Cake – Wegmans
Keychain Phone Charger – Nomad
Copyright © 2014 - Stephen S. Nazarian - All rights reserved. (Most Companies Don't Suck)