10 March 2009

Customer service and loyalty

I often wonder why people are loyal to a brand or product.
What is it that makes them support a brand large or small?
Why would anybody praise a product?

I do understand a sponsored individual that has been paid to endorse or use a particular brand but why would an individual that has parted his/her hard earned cash to actually purchase a product than go about advertising for the company for free?
I am probably just as guilty as a lot of folk out there.
I label my products, I let people know what I use and often defend the brand if somebody seems to be rubbishing it publicly.

So why am I driven to do so?
Maybe because I am insecure and I want to convince myself that my choice was the right one and I want others to know that I have not done a mistake?
Maybe because I want to boast that I can afford those items and make myself feel superior in owning them?
Or is it something more profound that is deep in our complex human behavior?...

I took stock of the brands that I believe in and that I have been endorsing.
There are several but certainly not all.
I have a lot of gear. Really, a lot.
Accumulated throughout the years of backpacking, mountain biking and now sea kayaking I have used a lot of products.
I have also tested products and consulted to outdoor gear manufacturers in the past but those are not the companies that necessarily I am loyal to.
So why am I fond of some products and not others?
I guess it does come down to the actual use and the satisfaction of when a product performs well.
Sure, we all like to let our peers know that we have found something that is good.

But it is not always that, it is not always the products that work for us.
It's often for products that did not work out the way we expected.
What? are you nuts?
Let me explain.
After decades of using products it is just a matter of time to come across products that don't work or just fail.
Sometimes is a single unit that had a manufacturing glitch, sometimes is a design flaw for a product that was not tested well enough and released onto the market prematurely.

The fundamental thing is: what was the experience of the after sale customer service?
Yes, that's it.

I am usually a loyal endorser of a brand when the company producing the faulty item has come good when things went wrong.
Things go wrong, stuff brakes and things jam and fail.
Often is user error, sometimes is accident but occasionally there really is a fault in the product.

Brian Towell
User error: smashed by huge wave. Werner replaced paddle at cost.

And while some would just say: "this is rubbish, I will never buy it again..." , I believe in warranties.
I usually buy high end products and with it's high price tag I expect a solid warranty.
So when my bike gear, backpack or kayak related item fails (not by accident) I contact the retailer that I purchased it from.
The results are mixed: some retailers are very reasonable and when presented with a genuine warranty claim they will honor it.
Some other retailers are not so good and try to shoe you off to the manufacturer or importer directly.
They just don't want the hassle; after all there is nothing in for them.
But that's where they are wrong.

I personally resent doing business with retailers that will not help you in case of a faulty product that they have sold you.
Admittedly dealing directly with the manufacturer could be faster and better, but that's for me to decide.
So, when I had a positive experience with customer service (and it has not always been about stuff that broke, often is just advice/clarifications) I will undoubtedly praise their products.
Somehow if feels like that a personal relationship has been established with the manufacturer and knowing that they were there for you when I needed them has earned them my trust.

There are currently several retailers and manufacturers that I deal with that understand this subtle psychological factor.
Build a trust with your customer.
And while some operators are fly-by-night affairs others are in for the long run.
A word of advice to the outdoor industry:
look after your customer when he has a problem and you will build a long lasting commercial relationship that most certainly will go beyond that initial sale you have generated.
After all most of us have mates and we tend to tell each other our bad or good experiences.
More so in the outdoors: it's a small world...

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