I’m going to tell you a little story about customer service. It’s long, but it’s worth it – and it seems that though the message has been passed on before, it still bears repeating.
Two years ago, I began a new hobby after years of dreaming. I picked up a bow and learned archery. I loved the sport immediately.
I immersed myself in with the sport. I bought a beautiful Bear recurve bow (or as James calls it, a traditional “Robin Hood” bow), an Impala breakdown recurve (disassembles into three pieces), and my first compound bow (the high-tech hunting bows that use pulleys), a Reflex Timberwolf.
I became a regular at the local range and even set up a target in the backyard for days when I didn’t feel like trekking across the city to practice.
I wanted something special, though. A work of art. While watching the Scorpion King one night, I decided to see if I could buy a replica of the bow used in the movie.
I found a site owner who made fantastic replicas of movie and historical bows, rattled off an email and asked if he had any Scorpion King replicas.
I received an instant response. No, he didn’t have any Scorpion King bows. He had never made one before, but he was interested in the project. He asked if I would be interested in a trade: a custom bow in exchange for a print catalogue of his site.
This sounded great. I saw the potential for future work, so I agreed.
I knew it would take a few weeks to craft the bow, and I was willing to wait. After all, it was going to be a one of a kind and absolutely beautiful.
While the craftsman worked on my bow, I worked on his catalogue. This was no small project. The catalogue had many pages, required images on every page and involved copy from the site that needed a heavy amount of editing.
In terms of hours, the catalogue probably cost more than the bow was worth.
At first, the craftsman answered my emails and kept me updated on the bow’s progress. I kept him updated on the catalogue’s progress.
Then one month went by. Two… three… four…
The catalogue was complete. I was awaiting the client’s approval on proofs. He suddenly revived to ask about how to have the catalogue printed, requesting my help. I answered.
And another month went by…
By the end of the year, I received an update that the bow was in the stage of finishing touches. I was heading to Canada for a visit with James and I asked the craftsman to hold off on shipping until I returned.
Something’s Really Wrong Here
I came home and emailed the craftsman. Months went by. Emails went unanswered and phone calls only gave me busy signals and voicemail boxes that were full.
I managed to reach the craftsman. I wasn’t surprised to hear that the bow was in testing and that he was still working on the final touches.
Then the excuses began. The first excuse was that his van holding bow-making supplies was destroyed. I thought to myself, doesn’t this guy have a shop? Who keeps all their supplies in a van? Okay, whatever. I let it go.
The next excuse was a termite infestation, but not to worry – my bow was fine and I should have it shortly.
Sometimes I’d reach his wife. “Oh, he’s not here. He went to get some toilet paper. I’ll give him the message that you called and have him call you when he gets back.”
He must have traveled to Mongolia by foot to get that toilet paper. That was the last I heard.
Now I’m Pissed
The catalog sat in my archives. I had fulfilled my end of the bargain and was left holding an empty bag.
Now, I’m not one to make waves. Hell, I hate going to the store to return an item. I’d been patient, I’d been understanding, but I’d had enough.
I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. They couldn’t get a hold of the craftsman either. I was told there was nothing they could do except keep his business on file.
I gave up. I would never have closure on this and had to cut my losses. I hadn’t invested any money, but I had put time and effort into the catalog.
Wait, that’s not entirely true. I had ordered some handmade arrows to go with the bow – I had never gotten those, either. My credit card was never charged, though, so I really wasn’t out any money.
Still, it was a crushing disappointment.
Out of the Blue
A month ago, I received an email from the craftsman. Not a personal email, but a newsletter announcement from his site. Can you believe this? He screws me over and has the audacity to send me a newsletter about a sale?
I sent him an email telling him to take me off the list. Just when I had reconciled the matter, he’d torn my disappointment open like a half-healed wound.
Yesterday, a package arrived. I wasn’t expecting anything (except those nifty new Spawn figures). The address was from the craftsman’s shop. The package was too small to be the bow, but…
My anger melted away. I wanted to email the man and thank him. But why should I thank him? He put me through hell. Was this a peace offering? My credit card hadn’t been charged. Did this mean that the bow was on its way?
I could hope, but I don’t want to.
Customer Service is Everything
One contribution to our business success is our customer service. We meet our deadlines, we update our customers often, and we deliver on our promises.
I still don’t know the craftsman’s reasons for reneging on his part of the bargain. I can’t say that I care. I knew many other archers who would have given him business, but he obviously doesn’t want it. He does beautiful work, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to spread his name around among the bow-hunting niche.
Word of mouth is far more effective than any ad campaign a marketing department schemes up. You screw up once and I guarantee that it’ll spread faster than Britany’s latest escapade on the evening news.
Deliver what you promise. Your reputation depends on it. Don’t leave your clients hanging. Don’t blow your deadlines and disappear into the sunset without so much as a courteous good-bye.
And certainly don’t disappear and then come back months later expecting to be welcomed with open arms.