Mar 3, 2011

Warranties and customer service


This probably applies across the board, but this being a cycling blog, I’m just going to talk about the issue as it pertains to cycling. 

If you’ve ridden enough miles, turned enough pedals and gone through enough rough patches, you’ve probably broken a bunch of stuff. And when stuff breaks, especially bike stuff, which isn’t very cheap, it’s always good to know that the company that manufactured it will stand behind its product.

So in this blog, I’d like to reminisce about the positive customer service/warranty experiences I had over the years and give a proper shout out to the manufacturers responsible for them. 

I’ll start with Shimano. When I was building my cyclocross bike last fall, I bought a pair of used Shimano 105 shifters on Ebay on the cheap and they arrived in near mint condition. The right shifter worked perfectly, but there was an issue with the left. The shifter was not catching and the front derailleur would not shift from the small chainring to the big one. Had I known back then that in all of my races I would never have to shift out of the small ring, maybe I would have left it alone. However, I called up Shimano, explained the situation to them (though I think I may have accidentally omitted the part where I wasn’t the original purchaser) and asked what could be done. The very friendly customer service rep told me to ship the product to them and they would ship me a new lever. In less than 7 days, I had a new shifter delivered to my house, with a shifter cable and all. Needless to say, I was very impressed with the level of service and expedience. Shimano gets 4 out of 5 stars. It would have gotten 5 stars if they paid for the shipping of the old lever to them.

My first ever Garmin was the Edge 305, which for the first year of its existence worked perfectly fine, but then developed the chronic problem of turning off when the bike would hit bumps in the road. I don't now how many of you have ridden in our around Chicago, but for some reason, each spring when the snow melts, some patches of asphalt melt with it - that makes for a pretty bumpy ride. 

I’ve known that many 305s had that problem, but felt lucky that mine was the apparent exception. Until, that is, it also started shutting off. The other thing I heard about Garmin is that they would charge $50 for a replacement unit. Well, I was having none of that $50 nonsense. So after some frustrating rides with my 305, I called up Garmin customer support and before the customer service rep could even mention $50, I just said “this is the problem I have, I know you know that it’s chronic in 305 units, I want a new one and I’m not paying you $50 for it.”

The next thing I know, I’m being given reference numbers and shipping information, and pretty much being given the same treatment as describe above with Shimano. Likewise, in 7 days I had a replacement unit to ride with. I should add, however, that the replacement unit was a refurbished one and after some time began to experience the same problem. So, I did what any self-respecting lawyer-cyclist would do. I called up the customer service, and again, before the rep could say a word, I said, “here’s the problem I’m having again; I know it’s chronic; we’ve tried this before with a refurb, and this time I want a brand new unit.” Two weeks later, I had a brand new unit, which I later sold without using, and to my knowledge, it’s still working (sold it to a friend). Garmin gets 3.5 starts out of 5. They lose a star for having me pay for shipping twice and for sending me a refurb the first time. Oh, and two weeks was a bit much to wait the second time around. But overall it was a very positive experience in that I didn't really have to fight tooth and nail for anything.

If you’ve been reading this blog with any consistency, you probably know of my bittersweet relationship with Fi’zi:k. I love their saddles, I adore their customer service, but for some reason, their products just keep breaking under the power of my gluteus maximus. I’ve broken three Antares saddles in a year – all in exactly the same way. The first two times, the only two questions asked of me by the customer service representative were: (1) what color would you like; and (2) where do we send the new one? Three to four days later I would have a brand new Antares shipped straight from Italy.

After my last saddle break (at Snelling), I followed the same procedures as before, but now Fi’zi:k got a bit curious. I honestly don’t blame them. If I was a company and some guy filed three identical quality claims in a year, I’d want to know what the hell is going on as well. They asked me to send them pictures of my bike setup and to ship the broken saddle back so they can inspect it. I sent them the pictures and will actually be sending them back the last two broken saddles for inspection.

This time, however, I’ve had enough of it with Antares and I asked them to send me the new Antares VS that recently came out and is supposedly a higher-end model. Hopefully, it can withstand a bit  more punishment, and I won’t have to deal with the issues of broken shells. I’m happy to report, that without objection, Fi’zi:k agreed to send me the VS version. They have also asked me to be in their test program. I don’t yet know what that entails, but I’m assuming they’ll be sending me stuff to break test and report back. Should be an interesting experience, and some extra material to blog about. 

Overall, Fi’zi:k gets 4.75 stars out of 5. They would have gotten all of 5 starts if instead of giving me their UPS account number and having me deal with UPS, they would have just created a label on their end and emailed it to me. It’s a small detail, but now I have to drag my behind to the main UPS office and go through the paperwork it will take to create a “bill the receiver” label and ship the stuff back to Italy. (Yes, I'm aware it can be done online, but I don't have a UPS account and it will take longer to set one up and get an account number.)

Maybe I’m just silly for continuing to use Fi’zi:k saddles, but their customer service is so excellent and they take such good care of their customers, that I just instinctively want to keep giving them second chances. Hopefully this one will be the last one.

Most recent experience I had was with Wheelbuilder.com. In effort to make my Zipp 404 rear wheel more aero (don’t laugh!), I ordered a set of spoke covers, which for $89 are a much cheaper and palatable alternative to a $1,000 disc wheel. The first set of spoke covers arrived last Friday in a rather mangled box, and when I removed them from the box, I discovered that both covers were actually dented. Great job FedEx!

I immediately contacted Wheelbuilder via their website and explained the situation, offering to ship the covers back at their expense. First thing Monday morning, I received an email saying there was no need to ship anything back and that all I had to do was take pictures of the covers and the box. The same day, they sent out a new set of covers my way, which I received yesterday, just in time for tomorrow’s time trial at Merco. These guys earned all of their 5 stars. Prompt response, no hassle with shipping, super fast shipping of new product – there isn’t a single thing they could have done better.

It’s this kind of service, from all of the companies I listed above, that will have me coming back for their product time and time again. I would rather buy a slightly less superior product from great people than a top of the line item from companies who don’t care about their customers. That is not to say that any of the products above are necessarily sub-par, though the jury is still out on the Fi’zi:k saddles.

Now, if you want to see some contrast, let me tell you a story.

A number of years ago, I and a bunch of my friends decided to buy a present for a friend's birthday. We decided to get her a pair of skis. After voluminous email exchanges, research, pricing, advice, etc., I found a great pair of Overstock [note, no link] for quite a bargain. Because of the number of us who were chipping in for this, having them ship overnight would only cost a couple dollars extra, so I opted to have them shipped that way. Here's what ensued.

I placed the order on Wednesday and it is now the Monday of the following week and no skis. I call up Overstock - ring, ring:

Customer Service: How may I help you?
Vitaly: I ordered a pair of skis from you on Wed. and had them ship overnight and they are still not here. Please refund my overnight shipping fees.
CS: Under our policy, even items shipped overnight can have 1-3 business days of handling.
V: Fair enough, give me a tracking number for the skis.
CS: I don't have one.
V: Then they clearly haven't yet shipped and there is no way they will make it here today, so refund my shipping charges!
CS: Our computers update every 2 hours, please call back and perhaps I can give you the tracking number then.
V: Sure.

All this time I was nice and polite, and maybe only a tiny bit forceful.  Two hours later - ring, ring:

CS: How may I help you?
V: [Explain the situation] Can you give me a tracking number for the package or in the alternative refund my shipping charges?
CS: Well, I don't see what's going on in the system, but let me email the warehouse and I should hear back within 48 hours. 
[This is where I lose it]
V: How about you pick up the damn phone and call the warehouse, maybe you can have an answer in 30 seconds? [Then it all went silent and I figured that the poor woman from Utah is probably not used to hearing the word "damn" over the phone]
CS: Well there is no number to call there.
V: So if there is a fire, they don't have a phone to dial 911.
CS: I'm sure they do.
V: Then call it. Actually, just transfer me to your supervisor. 

I recall the supervisor wasn't available, but I did end up having the shipping charges reversed and a 10 percent off the price of the skis. And then, the head manager sent me an email saying that he was sorry for the inconvenience and he sent me a $15 voucher to Overstock. My reply was as follows: "Please apply that amount to the current purchase because if you think I will ever in my life shop at Overstock again, you are more delusional than you are incompetent!" They gave me another 10 percent off. 

I ultimately got my way, but the amount of effort and nerves it took, I'm not sure it was worth it. Overstock gets 0 out of 5 stars. 


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