What a Camera Can Teach You About Customer Service

brokencamera.jpgI bought a Kodak EasyShare digital camera for my teen this Christmas. She was thrilled. She popped in a memory card, took a picture… and the camera shut off.

My daughter took the memory card out, put it in our other camera, and took a few shots. It worked fine. We tried the new Kodak again – no luck. It shut off, only this time with the zoom sticking out about four inches. We also couldn’t get the camera to turn back on unless we removed the batteries and put them back in.

Enter Dad.

Dad will research and solve the problem! He’s crack at that stuff. But Kodak has a conspiracy. The camera didn’t come with instructions. The website technical information is useless, basic, or hidden. Multiple hours of searching and many attempts to get the camera to work resulted in a big, fat zero.

Dad is smart. Dad will email Kodak directly! Surely they can help and win over a customer.

“Have you replaced your batteries?” Ahem. We had, in fact, replaced batteries four times, because Dad discovered the camera is an energy hog. (So have many other consumers, based on the multitude of poor reviews found during research.)

“Your memory card is corrupt,” says Kodak next. No, in fact, the memory card is not corrupted. It works just fine on our other camera (which is a Kodak EasyShare, too).

“Can’t we just take it back, Dad?” It’s now January 5, and my girl is disappointed to have a gift she can’t use. She’s been patient for two weeks.

Lesson Number One: Know When to Give Up

So off we go to WalMart. WalMart takes everything back. They’re good guys. We love them. (Actually, we can’t stand them, but WalMart is the only store going in this one-horse town. They’re making a lovely profit off our backs with their cheap-ass quality crap.)

“We can’t do anything,” the clerk at the photo lab informs me. “Your receipt is 11 days old. Our new store policy is 10 days.”

Blink. “Since when is your store policy 10 days? Didn’t it used to be 30 days?”

Lesson Number Two: Never change policies without advising clients IN ADVANCE.

“It’s a new policy.” Duh. “So we can’t take it back.”

Them’s fightin’ words. “Well, I’m not happy with my purchase. I want to exchange it. It doesn’t work. It was a Christmas present, and my daughter,” she perks a little before assuming dramatic expressions of great woe, “wants to use her camera.”

The clerk takes the camera, dumps the batteries out and puts in new ones. Then she turns it on and snaps a picture. “Works fine for me.”

Lesson Number Three: Never make your client feel like an incompetent idiot.

“Well, it doesn’t work fine for me.” I explained the problems with the zoo, the power going off, and how the camera sucks back batteries like a Quebec hockey player swills beer.

“Your receipt hasn’t been marked as a Christmas present purchase,” the clerk sniffs. “Our clerks all know to mark “Christmas present” on the receipts when they know about it.”

Lesson Number Four: Don’t blame someone else to save yourself.

I explained that the clerk who served me when I bought the camera had known it was a gift. I’d mentioned it to him. He hadn’t written anything on my receipt.

“If the employee didn’t do what he should have, why does this become my problem,” I asked. “Is this my fault? How am I supposed to know that he should’ve written something on my receipt? No one told me.”

Lesson Number Five: Don’t have hidden policies.

Bonus lesson: If someone in the company didn’t do his job, it’s the company’s responsibility to fix it – not the client’s.

“We can’t take it back,” the clerk persisted. She’s getting snotty, too. “Call Kodak and see if the company will exchange the camera. We don’t build them. We just sell them.”

Not acceptable. WalMart is a huge company able to absorb the cost of a defective camera and with the network connections to return it to the manufacturer. I am one guy with two kids to feed and rent to pay.

But I’d play along. I asked what the clerk suggested I do while waiting for Kodak to resolve my problems. She recommended I purchase a second camera from the store.

I was stunned. “You’re telling me that I should trust you guys twice and put myself out about $700 in the hopes of getting half of that back?”

Lesson Number Six: Never ask an unsatisfied client for more money.

I protested. I protested at great length and rather loudly. I told the clerk exactly what I thought of the store’s policies and treatment of customers. The lineup of people behind me grew, and I saw a few consumers nod in agreement with me.

The clerk, eyeing the crowd, grudgingly agreed to take back the defective camera. She called the manager to advise him of the exchange, turning her back slightly as she muttered comments about the “guy who won’t go away.”

Lesson Number Seven: Never talk smack about your customer when he’s standing within earshot.

I had to raise an eyebrow at one bit of conversation I overheard. “No, he’s right,” the clerk admitted. “It doesn’t work.”

Last Lesson: Learn to Admit When You’re Wrong

This whole situation could’ve been handled by a more positive attitude, some empathy and the clerk working with me towards a solution. I would most likely have been willing to compromise and been friendlier with the clerk.

The customer is always right. That statement doesn’t mean the customer’s desired resolution to a problem is possible – but dammit, try. Find a solution. Be nice about it, too. If a client isn’t happy, he isn’t happy. Making him even unhappier and angry is just bad business.

I ditched the camera, thanked the clerk for her assistance… and bought a Fuji from another store.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. I used to work in sales (back in 98-99, company out of Dorval) and my mentor there always used to say, “the customer is always right, even when he’s wrong! This is about sales, not who’s wrong or right!”

    This kind of stuff drives me nuts, and it seems like all of the big stores are going this way (I won’t purchase things from Future Shop or Best Buy because of this, either – and stop pushing a damned extended warranty on my 6 times before I leave the store).

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..reboot (redux).

  2. James,

    The best thing about having a blog is getting to steam so the world can hear you, eh? I’ve ranted once or twice myself (What Can You Do That Brown Doesn’t Do?) and it’s a very cool thing.

    It won’t solve the problems of the Big Boys but it should give the little guys who are reading you points to consider, and there are way more little guys than Big Boys. These days, sincere customer service is almost a competitive edge, and improving the human interactive Experience (people dealing with people) is so much easier for smaller companies!

    Loved the post, agreed with you (almost) completely. The customer is not always right; the customer pays your salary, and must always leave happy.

    Regards,

    Kelly

    P.S. Canon A630 from amazon. My town has more than one horse and I still like amazon better.

    Kelly’s last blog post..Retirees say Wii, Wii

  3. I thought you’d gone bonkers when I read the bit about you loving Wallmart.

    What terrible customer service. If they’d handled it better they could have kept you as a customer. Good for you blogging about them. That’s what I love about the Internet – it allows customers to have just as much clout as big businesses.

    CatherineL’s last blog post..Authenticity in Business and Other Lies

  4. @ Brett – The customer *is* always right… in his mind. It’s the provider’s job to find a possible solution that satisfies the customer – even if it’s not what the customer hoped for. As long as he’s happy (or less grumbling), then that’s the right answer.

    @ Kelly – Ha, I never thought about that. I didn’t mean to make the blog a platform to piss on WalMart, but as you said, the end goal is teaching small businesses and lone individuals how to do BETTER than WalMart so they can survive and kick some butt!

    @ Catherine – I love WalMart because it fully satisfies my ADD penchants in that I have continual, high-level stimulation and can wander about where I will. I *never* step in that store unless I have over an hour (or more) to spare, and I *always* bring someone because I can’t stay focused to remember what I came there to buy. Another store I love is any grocery store, for the same reasons. I absolutely *hate* the frozen pizza section, though, because the last time I hit that aisle, I got brain-frozen standing there like an idiot for over 20 minutes. Too much choice, too overwhelming equals I can’t think.

    But all that good stuff aside, WalMart SUCKS at customer service. Absolutely, terribly SUCKS. (So does the quality of their goods.)

  5. Dave Navarro - Million Dollar Leverage says:

    Bonus Lesson: Don’t leave until they cave :-)

    Dave Navarro – Million Dollar Leverage’s last blog post..By: Men with Pens Web Content Writers and Freelance Writing Services

  6. Dave Navarro - Million Dollar Leverage says:

    I do have one other thing to say in defense/criticism of Wal-Mart – it ain’t the same everywhere.

    There are 2 Wally Worlds here 10 minutes from each other. One is clean, well stocked, the people are friendly and every time I return something it goes smooth as silk, no questions asked. Cashiers are fast and either friendly or neutral.

    The other is a sty, literally has a greasy feel and takes forever to get out of. I feel like I have to take a shower after being there. Needless to say, I don’t go there unless there is no other choice.

    What’s the difference? Read “First, Break All The Rules” – a great book on how individual, store level managers make all the difference between identical stores …

    I’m not defending Wal-Mart as a whole, just giving an example about how individual people make or break customer service. While as a corporation they may be as predatory and callous as an other behemoth, At the store level, a manager can create a totally different experience.

    Dave Navarro – Million Dollar Leverage’s last blog post..By: Men with Pens Web Content Writers and Freelance Writing Services

  7. All it takes is people – and understanding that you’re working with people. Well said, Dave.

  8. @ James – that is totally correct.

    The first time I was alone in the Ontario satellite office on that sales job, I got a call from a public official up at Collingwood. I realized this about 3 minutes into the call, after I had heard just about every swear word known to humanity.

    Once I got the guy calmed down, I discovered what his problem was (it was a mutual responsibility between Collingwood’s engineering department, and our company). I drove the 2-1/2 hours up to the town, met with this gentleman and his boss, and agreed upon a solution.

    A solution which, by the way, resulted in several thousands of dollars in additional equipment sales for my company.

    I wish I had been on commission that day… :)

    Yeah, I got yelled at for a while and took it on the chin for my company, but the VP Sales took me out for dinner as a thank you!

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..reboot (redux).

  9. Yes, I second that, well said Dave.

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..reboot (redux).

  10. Dave Navarro - Million Dollar Leverage says:

    “All it takes is people – and understanding that you’re working with people.”

    And how to make people cave. That too. :-p

    “My patience is stronger than your policies”
    – Me, to a snarky customer service rep.

    Dave Navarro – Million Dollar Leverage’s last blog post..By: Men with Pens Web Content Writers and Freelance Writing Services

  11. @ Dave – Oh hohohoho… that’s so rich. I’m so stealing that.

  12. Dave Navarro - Million Dollar Leverage says:

    here’s another one of my favorites to use to an (innocent) customer service rep who I get to after going through hell:

    “Listen, I’m in a really screwed up situation and I’m really, really mad right now. But I’m not mad at you. I know that you probably get yelled at a lot for things that aren’t your fault and that you have no control over. I’ve been behind the desk just like you and I know you didn’t make this problem, and you probably can’t make it go away, I understand that.

    … Please transfer me to someone I *can* yell at.”

    Dave Navarro – Million Dollar Leverage’s last blog post..By: Men with Pens Web Content Writers and Freelance Writing Services

  13. That’s brilliant. Put the little guy on your side :)

    I have to say that I *always* apologize to clerks and whoever when I’ve been angry and not very nice. It often isn’t their fault that they’re stuck dealing with company policies and a lack of power to create change. Many times, I’ve seen clerks *want* to help but their hands are tied. It isn’t their fault.

  14. Dave,

    Boy did I need you today at the mechanic’s. I failed utterly on your bonus lesson, probably because I empathize too much (I have been on both sides of the desk). I felt their pain, but I don’t think I went enough rounds in the ring for them to feel mine.

    James,

    Not that your blog is solely for that purpose, just that when you know the purpose of the blog you can twist these moments of pain into lessons for your readers…

    … this was a web business tip for writers, freelancers, and online entrepreneurs, right?

    ; )

    Regards,

    Kelly

    Kelly’s last blog post..Retirees say Wii, Wii

  15. The day there isn’t something valuable in a post I write is the day that I’ll offer up my blog for destruction.*

    * management reserves the right to change policies, promises missions and philosophies at a moment’s notice without prior warning.

  16. Touché.

    Kelly’s last blog post..Retirees say Wii, Wii

  17. Nice write-up, James. I’m sure everyday millions of (well, maybe 100s of thousands, okay, three) customers have similar experiences.

    One thing great about this thing we call the web is that by writing posts like yours, a lot of people can become informed about it.

    That’s why sites like resellerratings.com are great for researching stores (especially camera stores).

    As such, I do highly recommend Onecall.com — it’s always how they deal with problems (defective goods, wrong items shipped, etc.) that shows me how much they care about their customers.

    Anyway, oftentimes, when everything is okay (right item, everything works), we as customers don’t care. But when something is wrong, that’s when we find out what kind of company we’re dealing with.

    Nez’s last blog post..Love Quotes

  18. Nice write-up, James. I’m sure everyday millions of (well, maybe 100s of thousands, okay, three) customers have similar experiences.

    One thing great about this thing we call the web is that by writing posts like yours, a lot of people can become informed about it.

    That’s why sites like resellerratings.com are great for researching stores (especially camera stores).

    As such, I do highly recommend Onecall.com — it’s always how they deal with problems (defective goods, wrong items shipped, etc.) that shows me how much they care about their customers.

    Anyway, oftentimes, when everything is okay (right item, everything works), we as customers don’t care. But when something is wrong, that’s when we find out what kind of company we’re dealing with.

  19. Aggh, I am crazed with frustration on your behalf! You should print out your post and send it to the store manager! Highlight the part about buying a camera at another store. :)

    Shame on Kodak too. Just unacceptable.

    Sonia Simone’s last blog post..The Ten Commandments of New Social Media

  20. @ Simone – I would, but then I’d have to translate my post. I am *positive* that almost no one in our local WalMart speaks English, despite the fact that the country has *two* official languages…

    @ Nez – You see, my problem is that… well, Dad knows everything. Dad is born with the instinctive knowledge of what is quality and what isn’t and of COURSE a Kodak camera should be quality because Bill Cosby HIMSELF promoted it. And Kodak moments. Come on. Who doesn’t have those? I had one myself just a few minutes ago. Sort of. Well, it involved yelling at my toddler to get OUT of the damned snow when she has no snowpants on… but then she gave me a rock-hard piece of dirty ice from the side of the road and said that was my present because I’m her bestest Daddy ever… so…

    Yeah. Kodak moment.

  21. Good call on the Fuji camera – I’ve had nothing but good experiences with mine.

    I like the way you did this post, with the little lessons interspersed in your story, and it’s all so very true. A customer shouldn’t be treated like a criminal for wanting to return a broken product.

    RLD: Taekwondo Happiness’s last blog post..Invincibility

  22. Ahhhh, yes…shopping with James. In one word? Exhausting.

    We’re going through a problem with Sprint at the moment here at the house. I switched to Vonage several months ago but Pete keeps getting billed by Sprint for the cell phones we canceled and they’ve refused to stop. I felt so bad for the customer service rep the other night, some of the stuff Pete was saying had me wincing.

    I usually do what Dave does, I tell the little guy I know it’s not their fault, I’m not mad at them, but I want results. Pete ended that conversation with “The next time you hear from me, it’ll be through my lawyer.”

  23. well thats a pertty interesting fact you found!

    narendra.s.v’s last blog post..By: Tinh

  24. In defense of WalMart, unfortunately they often have the best prices, and for seniors or individuals living on low or fixed incomes, a savings of a few dollars will often mean those customers can not only get their medication, but will be able to eat and pay their rent.

    Granted the employees at WalMart are probably making minimum wage, may be poorly trained, and hate their job, but often all they can do is to first follow the company policy. Although the customer is “always right”, too many dishonest customers have taken advantage of that philosophy and used the system to their advantage, making it bad for those of us who are honest.

    I often feel sorry for those employees who have to deal with irate customers as it’s not their fault. They are doing the best they can with what they have to work with.

    We have a small business and I know the “buck stops here”, so we always strive for customer satisfaction. After many years of producing quality work, all of our business is now based on referrals. In the end, it pays off.

  25. @ Barbara – Living in a very small town in a low-economy area, I understand perfectly what you’re saying. Many couples (not individuals) live on an income of $10,000 a year around here. WalMart does have its place in the community and has let many people improve their lives. I hear you – I really do.

    Also, WalMart does provide many people who would not otherwise have had jobs with jobs – poor training and shitty customer service aside. There are many who consider themselves very lucky to have those jobs – and I may one day be in their ranks, so I certainly won’t sniff too much about the company.

    It’s really no one’s fault the world is the way it is… but we can all strive to put smiles on our faces, no matter where we work or what we have to face.

  26. Loved this post James. Your story is an every day occurrence, which is a glorious opportunity for those of us that can deliver decent service.

    One statement I cannot agree with is “The customer is always right.” Customers can be ridiculously wrong. However, the customer is ALWAYS the customer. That means they’re treated with dignity and respect even when they may not deserve it.

    One secret to great service? Train the customers. Set the boundaries for play instead of letting them run roughshod over everybody. That’s how you build a tribe, a velvet-rope society of insider’s who play by the rules and enjoy insider status.

    Joe 😀

  27. Gary in NYC says:

    Nothing has changed, now in November 2012. Walmart customer service still generally sucks, unless you’re lucky enough to live in a small town and the Walmart has happy employees. In any big metropolitan area, the staff is generally not helpful and could care less about the customers. I once even witnessed one employee taking joy out of making a customer miserable with useless answers.

    Also… never try to call a Walmart store for anything. First, you’ll find the phone ringing, and ringing, and ringing… then when someone answers they will forward you to someone else, which results in many more rings. “Is [blank] item in stock?” “No. Call back tomorrow.” “Can’t you tell me when it will be coming in?” “No, we get shipments in every day, so it could be any day. Call back.”

    You might as well add more minutes to your cell phone contract if you plan on calling Walmart, because you’ll be on the phone for a very long time and likely get nowhere. Oh, mind you, if you’ve gotten through to the main store and get forwarded to another department, those rings aren’t free… the minutes keep ticking off your cellular plan.

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