We live in a consumer society. We consumers are supposedly the ones who have all the power. I mean, if we don’t buy what someone is making and selling, well, the person making and selling it can’t survive. With that kind of power, you’d think we consumers would be running around saying, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, you can’t make me buy that.” But we’re not, for some reason. Instead, we seem to be rolling over and saying, “Give me your shoddiest product, making it as inconvenient as possible for me to get it, and I’ll take it. In fact, I’ll take two, even if I have to buy them in two different places, or even if they’re on backorder for six months.”
I don’t blame those under the age of 30 who probably never even heard the phrase “The customer is always right.” But shame on the rest of us, really (and I include myself). Every day we find ourselves buying cheap, poorly made goods from surly people who don’t even know the products they’re selling (because we’re in some store that’s a little village unto itself, and the person we’ve encountered in the housewares section is just filling in. She usually works in sporting goods). Or worse, we’re buying it online with no help whatsoever and a company phone number that is buried deep in an online vault somewhere that requires you to find the right weapons, slay a few dragons, earn 22,000 points, and save a princess before you can get to it.
And don’t try to return something that broke two weeks after you bought it. Unless you’ve filled out multiple forms and framed your original receipt in the proper frame, you’re unlikely to get much help. Even if the product you’re returning clearly has the company’s emblem engraved on it, you’re likely to be told, “I’m sorry. Without the framed receipt, the computer doesn’t know you bought it here.” If you do have all the correct documentation, you’re likely to be blamed for the fact it’s broken. You will have to convince the gum-snapping teen at the customer service desk that all you did was turn on the hairdryer, exactly as instructed, and hold it up to your head, when it suddenly made a weird squeak and then went dead. She’ll reluctantly agree that the hairdryer might be faulty, but you won’t get your money back. You’ll get store credit. Usually, that’s okay, because you really did need a hairdryer, and you just want one that works, but if this happens to be the second thing you’ve bought at that store that broke within a few weeks of your buying it, you may just want your money back so you can take it elsewhere.
Speaking of returning things, has anyone else noticed how difficult it is to get a warranty on anything? First of all, you will often be asked if you want to buy an extended warranty. What an evil genius the guy who came up with that “screw the customer” ploy was. “Instead of making the best product we can and selling it with a lifetime guarantee, so our customers will be happy, let’s see, instead, if we can prey on their fears that it might break and make them keep paying, for a while, for something they’ve already bought.” If you refuse that, you can still get your one-year warranty, but you must fill out a form in triplicate. The form will require that you search the product for impossible-to-find serial numbers. You must have all three forms certified by a notary public, and then, within 48 hours, you must send the completed forms, plus two photos of the product, your birth certificate, and a vial of your blood to company headquarters. Of course, what the company knows is that few people can be bothered with all this, so they won’t do it. When their headphones break during the next six months, the customer service rep will say, “Sorry, but you never registered your headphones’ warranty.”
That’s the norm these days, and we put up with it, but I’d like to highlight two fabulous companies who don’t fall into the norm, because as a consumer, I want to let others know who the good guys are, where you can experience hassle-free shopping and returns. The first company is Bose. I’ve been a Bose fan since I was a teenager. I learned back then that, yes, their stereo equipment is expensive, but it was very worth saving money to buy it, because its sound is phenomenal. Bob and I have a set of Bose speakers that aren’t the original ones he bought 30 years ago or so. That’s because about fifteen years after he bought them, one of them began to hiss. He called Bose asking if he could send it back for repairs. Do you know what they did? They asked him to ship them back, at their expense, and they sent him brand new speakers for some nominal fee (can’t remember how much it was — I think it was something like $50 — but it was nothing compared to the cost of replacing those speakers). This was fifteen years after he’d bought the original pair.
Bose is still like that today. They have replaced for us, at half price, a seven-year old pair of headphones that had quit working and a five-year-old pair of earbuds. We’re lucky enough to have a Bose store where I live, and the sales people there are always, always extremely friendly, enthusiastic, and knowledgable. I tend to ask tons of questions, and they are very patient with me. My most recent experience was buying a Christmas gift. Guess what. After getting great help from the salesman, I got to the register, and he said, “Now, just hold on a second while I fill out the one-year warranty for you.” (What? I didn’t have to fill anything out myself?) “If anything goes wrong with it in the next year, just bring it back, and we’ll give you a new one.” I’m sure I swooned. This is what it’s come to. I get great customer service, and I swoon.
That’s a tried-and-true company, but now I’d like to talk about a relatively new company. That company is Fitbit. Bob and I, as I wrote in an earlier blog post, jumped on the Fitbit bandwagon with gusto last year. We use them, wear them everyday, love them. They’ve done what they’re designed to do, which has been to get us moving. We had a few complaints, though. Bob always had trouble charging his, especially with the charger that came with it, so he’d use mine. And the bracelets (we have the Flex) don’t hold up very well for those of us who rarely ever take them off. Recently, his bracelet broke, and his Flex fell out of it at my brother-in-law’s house. He didn’t notice it was missing until we got home, three hours later. My brother-in-law found it, carefully wrapped it up, and mailed it back to us. Bob wore it for a few days, and it was working fine, despite its big adventure with the USPS, but then he tried to charge it. It wouldn’t charge at all anymore.
By this point, he was ready to say that, even though he loved the concept of the Fitbit, he wasn’t very impressed by it, since he’d always had trouble with his, and it hadn’t even lasted a year, but then he ran into someone who has and loves his who said, “Oh, don’t worry. Call them. They’re a great company. They’ve replaced three for me.” So Bob called, and he got a wonderful customer service representative who not only agreed to replace the Flex for Bob but also agreed to send me a new bracelet to replace the one I had that broke. He followed up with an email, as well as a suggestions for how to make sure the new bracelets don’t break. Two days later, Bob had a new Fitbit. Now THAT’S customer service. We loved our Fitbits before, but now we love the company and will remain loyal to them.
So, Bose and Fitbit, you’ve designed some marvelous products, and you’ve earned our loyalty. Please don’t change. I’m doing my best to spread the good news about you.