Customer Service — It’s Where the Money Is

featured-tiners-tkeIn September, I wrote about the struggle I sometimes feel when thinking about whether to develop a strong relationship with a vendor/manufacturer or to play the field. I decided to revisit that topic after some recent experiences, and some recent news.

One of the major reasons I questioned whether we would stay with a certain manufacturer had to do with the fact that many of our major AV companies are family owned and run. There is always a fear in my mind of what happens when the strong, powerful (but older) person running that company retires, or is no longer able to run the company.  Creston Electronic’s George Feldstein this week took some of the guesswork out of what will happen with Crestron.

Feldstein named Randy Klein as the president and chief executive officer, along with Dan Feldstein as the vice chairman and chief operating officer. For me, this puts Crestron on a clear, stable path for the future. While many of us have looked at George Feldstein as the Steve Jobs of the AV industry (seriously, I was pumped to get to shake his hand at a Crestron, InfoComm party), he actually did some things better than Jobs. In particular, he made his company about products and people, not about George Feldstein. This was a great move by Mr. Feldstein and one that is sure to allow customers to continue to trust in the future of this company. While this is a great business move, it is also an excellent example of customer service. Are there others out there who will soon follow suit and let the world know what the plans are for the company when they decide to retire?

An experience that occurred recently has also inspired me to keep my integrator relationships strong. In January of this year, Bates College opened up a brand new digital media studio. This is a state-of-the-art video and audio editing space, complete with a fantastic broadcast studio. A feature of this space is the editing lab, with one LED television mounted on each wall. We planned a big grand opening party at the beginning of the semester to celebrate the space, and the generosity of the donor who helped make it possible. We had ordered four Sharp monitors and were installing them a few days before Christmas. When we fired them all up, we realized that one of them was not working. As we tried to figure out what was wrong with it, another monitor died on us. We soon realized that the backlight on both monitors was dead. A 50 percent failure rate did not impress us, particularly with five work days left before the grand opening.

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We called the vendor, Headlight AV (who we buy EVERYTHING from) and explained the situation. Our terrific sale rep, Dave Keely, was all over it, until he ran into a brick wall. Sharp told us we had two choices. Box the monitors back up and ship them back for repair, or bring them to a service facility a hour or so away. From there they would be tested and repaired. No guarantee on timing, particularly during the holidays. So, I played my cards, fair or not. I told Dave that with the amount of money we spend with Headlight, we needed him to fix the problem, and have us four working monitors by the open house. This meant that Headlight would get stuck with the monitors, and have to get them repaired on their own, and then sell them, presumably for a significant discount. In other words, they were going to have to take a loss to keep me happy. Their response was, “No problem.” A few days later, Headlight drove the new Samsung monitors down to us, boxed up the Sharp monitors and took them away. The open house was a fantastic success and lab looked great with the four monitors.

It is clear here that Headlight could have told me that they just could not stand that loss. They could have forced me to try and get the monitors repaired, according to Sharp’s rules. However, they did not. They realized that by taking a small loss (because of a dumb return policy) they would cement their relationship with me, and they did. In fact, I hope this article even gives them a little extra publicity! On the other hand is Sharp, the TV manufacturer. I am still completely amazed at the response. They send me items that are DOA, and then expect me to go out of my way to get them repaired! What!? If companies wonder why Best Buy, and other big box stores continue to thrive, this may be a reason why. If I brought that TV back to Best Buy, you can sure as heck believe they would have replaced it, not told me to send it back for repair. If you are buying from manufacturers that are giving better service to the big box than you, perhaps you need to re-evaluate your relationships and start selling different brands,

What are your thoughts? Was Sharp fair in saying I needed to send the monitors back? Was I fair in asking Headlight to take a loss to keep me happy? If you are a re-seller, would you have taken the loss? I look forward to hearing from you.