True to form, my recent purchase of a new gadget, a Turbo Tent, didn't go according to the book. Truth be told I really didn't follow the book. This whole experience did leave me with some interesting perspectives on customer service, brand loyalty and technical decision making. Let me explain..
I got into camping again recently thanks to some friends. Realising we were under-gunned in the camping department in terms of gear I proudly purchased a year ago a basic tent. Marked as a family tent and enough to fit 6 people it did actually fit the bill. However in the heat of the northern NSW coast and in comparison to our Taj Mahal neighbours the tent looked decidedly amateur. The tent would have blown away in the wind or would have sunk in rain, but due to the heat it survived, but we didn't - it turns out yet another piece of camping gear you need is a Tarp (shade). So, to get back on the camping map I decided to mark last years camping adventure as a beginners mistake and promptly resold the tent on ebay.
A year on I revisit the tent I had later researched - a Turbo Tent. Essentially the core of the tent is propped up in minutes with none of the unnecessary hassle of juggling ill-fitting poles. In Australia this tent is distributed and badged by Black Wolf. They have a good reputation, from what I can glean, but come with a hefty price tag. I tried some camping accessories and they were good quality, so I was holding out to buy or find one on ebay. This is where Customer Service came in - Black Wolf despite some phone numbers could not help me locate or find an alternative to now retired Fly extension I wanted. The fly was necessary to protect from the harsh heat. So after much research, as a family Christmas present, I realised that the same product was available from the USA distributed by Black Pine. The only difference I could see was a slight colour change but several options were still sold that were no longer available in the Black Wolf brand.
For the same money as a local Black Wolf tent I was able to purchase the Black Pine tent equivalent, its extension and shipping from the USA. I ordered from the HutShop and Amazon for the two parts and my kind friend Tracey, in Las Vegas sent them on to me. I was bewildered why the shipping weight was heavier than specified on purchase, but as I was thousands of miles away I decided it was a moot point.
After Christmas the tent arrived and I quickly went about setting it up. I was impressed with the Turbo Tent technology. Sure enough, it was up in minutes. But. wait... what are these side flappy bits at the side and.. hang on.. the colour is different. Short wait. Refer to instructions. Wrong tent. Despite the box, instructions, invoice, bag and packaging saying the deluxe tent, I had a Frankenstein mix of the Deluxe tent and the Twin Tent.
As background to my original purchase, I ended up paying more because the original companies I ordered with, despite listing the tent and accessory in stock, did not in fact have it to hand. HutShop was reasonably priced, and for the accessory I plumbed for Amazon because I knew they honoured the delivery date and their stock levels were accurate. HutShop were very gracious in making sure the item was shipped pre-Christmas and true to their sites claims Amazon delivered bang on time.
Its largely because of this decision, of plumbing for the personable companies, that when things went wrong that the problem was corrected. Amazingly HutShop and BlackPine sorted my issue and the family were with a new tent and camping by the next weekend. Thank you!
During the in between period of having no tent to speak of, I approached Black Wolf, HutShop and Black Pine. Black Wolf were no help at all - responding in sorry but we can't help. When asked if the manufacturer could help they promptly replied with they cannot provide any assistance. Black Pine, despite no reply, looked like they were assisting HutShop on a response. The manufacturer, the Sportsman company, were extremely helpful and offered to assist on supplying the spare parts.
Anyway, now two weeks on, I have started to feel a little less than impressed with Black Wolf. Those products I owned I thought were good, started in my mind to have flaws and I felt uneasy about using them. As premium goods I sold them on ebay and purchased some Vango products instead as they have a 30-40 year record of providing recommended camping gear.
I found myself drawing parallels with my work. How do I service our customers? Am I here to help? Do I get my facts straight? Do I deliver what people ask of me? Am I personable and do I re-enforce the value or represent the value of Microsoft? Please let me know either way - feedback most welcome.
Where I started did actually stand me in good stead. I ordered the right product, I bought (thank you HutShop and Nikki) from the right people and I can now make recommendations based off personal experience.
I liked this story and the lessons for resellers and manufacturers. On the tent front, we went through 2 of the standard 3 room, bungee pole tents before getting our Oztent which also goes up in the time others are taking to figure out which pole slots where. If only we had time to get out more often..
Wow some expensive tent purchasing, considering the time and effort taken by yourself and others. Hope the final utility stacks up.
BTW I use a service called Shipito (http://www.shipito.com) that act as a forwarding service for products purchased in the US. Useful for purchasing from US online stores that have free delivery to US addresses.
Thanks James... great tip. I used ipsparcel.. but could have done with this advice!
Must catchup soon!
http://www.Acecanopy.com has better prices on party thets then Hut to my knowledge