Holding corporate feet to the fire

I have decided that I am done with the endless cycle of blind consumerism. We buy, buy, buy, and then buy new again when our products are broken, tired, or defective. How many people actually hold the manufacturers of their products accountable for the shortcomings? How many of you are scared of the customer support nightmare, and instead opt for the painless process of purchasing something new?

Customer support is structured to breed this reactive response: no way I’m going to go stand in line, sit on hold with some support agent in India, or go through the rigmarole of 14 automated email responses which, in the end, still might not amount to anything. If you get the responses I’ve received, you’ll be directed to the fine print in your contract or told that there’s nothing that [fill in the blank company] can do for you.

If we are so dedicated to buying companies products and services, shouldn’t they be dedicated to us? As a marketing professional (all you art directors and creative executives are exactly that, my friends) we know that the best marketing you can do is to provide solid products and services, and replace or refund when your product is defective or your service was ineffective.

Case in point #1: I purchased the Motorola Q, for use on the Sprint Network, back in February ’07. There is really only one problem I have with the phone (though there is a pretty long list of OS problems, which have been detailed in previous posts); but what the list lacks in length, it makes up for in weight. First off, my phone can’t hold a charge for even half of a day. I have purchased multiple batteries (including the extended battery) and had them replaced, to boot. There is nothing as frustrating as charging the phone all night, and then having it turn off at 5pm as I’m driving to pick up my son from school. I am shocked that they even offered this phone knowing that it had such a glaring defect. Honestly, if this phone is meant to be the stylish, business solution for those seeking the newest and greatest PDA, how could they overlook the fact that you have to travel everywhere with your charger? It is baffling to me.

And Sprint’s response thus far has been that it isn’t their problem. It’s my problem, because I trusted them and the products that they sell through their store. They aren’t forcing me to buy anything, so the responsibility of my satisfaction is on my shoulders.

I have decided that enough is enough, and am going to escalate this matter with both Sprint and Motorola until I get a satisfactory response and resolution. I was sold a defective product, and there should be reparations. I will keep you posted.

There are companies out there that understand this sort of proactive customer retention. Both Patagonia and REI, two companies I love and admire, will allow you to return nearly anything you’ve purchased at either store for the entire life of your product. I’ve returned things after 6 months, 9 months, and once a little over a year later because of product defect. Some companies would argue that I had already used the product to a point beyond return, but when you’re talking about products that you’re expecting to use for 10 years, 18 months of use falls far short of that point for me (and apparently for REI and Patagonia as well).

Case in point #2: I was headed to SXSW earlier this month only to receive a frantic call from my wife that she had been in a bad car accident. I ran up to the ticket counter to switch my flight, ask for my baggage to be returned to LAX, and to leave a note for the guy I was traveling with. Ten days later, an American airline (hint, hint) had given me every possible runaround possible, and still no bag. They were rude to me on the phone multiple times, told me that I should call this number and that, and really offered me no comfort or idea that they might be able to find my bag.

Conversely, one of my co-workers was quick to tell me a story in the midst of this mess of his “damaged bag” experience with JetBlue a couple of months ago. His stroller was very slightly damaged, and one of his bags had a couple of significant scuffs on the bag. After raising the issue at the JetBlue baggage counter in the airport, they immediately responded by handing him checks to replace his luggage and stroller. JetBlue will always get his return business because he feels that his belongings are safe with them. I wish I could say the same for this other airline.

I am a consumer. Given my career and predisposition to the consumption of media – books, magazines, music, film – I think that I’ll always buy a certain amount of those items. I’ve always been a gearhead as well, and love buying new bags, gadgets and doodads. Whether it’s a new heart-rate monitor for running or a carbon filter for camping, I like things in which I will find great use. At times, I am an impulse buyer, though becoming a dad, marriage and saving for a house and/or rainy days certainly have made me much more close-pocketed.

Now, I refuse to be the guy who gives up just because it might be a bit of a hassle to get purchase justice. I know I’ve said it before, “my time is worth more than the 1/2 hour I’m going to spend on the phone trying to get this sorted out.” But is that really true? Is my free time intrinsically worth a dollar amount? More and more, I’m starting to realize that my free time is not to be quantified monetarily. Products should not be purchased and discarded at the first sign of failure or defect.

It’s time to start holding some feet to the fire. I have a starting place, but I’m going to sit down and go through my entire life and all of my possessions to see where I’ve just learned to deal with the problems I have, and start addressing them. I am going to perfect the complaint letter (which I’ll make available here soon, after a few more iterations), pull out the trusty #10 envelopes, and start sending away.

Please send me your stories. I’d really like to see the experiences that you’ve all had, both those that were successfully handled and those without resolution.

There are 4 comments
  1. […] field (this is a big issue that has been meant for analogism blog a good while now, and reading this fired up post by my friend Greg Huntoon, I simply have to get it out), we’ve got some interesting changes […]

  2. Amen! You’ll have my story shortly, and I’ll be featuring my own story on analogism later this month.

  3. Ralph

    If you ever plan on buying a Jeep Liberty (or any Chrysler product for that matter) make sure you get the one WITHOUT THE SUNROOF! They will not stand behind their product… And I’m not the only case. The drains in the sunroof got clogged and when it rained it drained straight down the window pillar into the dash destroying the electrical and the carpet kit. We dealt with the lot manager, head service guy and Chrysler corp. They stated they’re not responsible for mother nature. There’s no note or warning in the owners manual about when or how to clean it out. We didn’t even have an idea there were drains. I blame it on either a defect or poor product design. Unfortunately they begged to differ and basically said “do what you have to do, we’re not covering it”. Did I mention the vehicle was barely gonna be 2 years old with less than 14,000 miles! Practically brand new. Lucky for us our auto insurance covered it with our $500 deductible. Same thing happened to our friend with her Jeep Patriot. They covered it for them (because hers leaked 1 month after she bought it). Anyhow, that’s our story on big corps not backing their product.

  4. […] field (this is a big issue that has been meant for analogism blog a good while now, and reading this fired up post by my friend Greg Huntoon, I simply have to get it out), we’ve got some interesting changes […]

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