Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Customer Service: You Are Doing it Wrong

In my line of work, I spend most of my days at the end of a wrench. The rest of the time, I end up on the phone with Warranty and Customer Service departments on behalf of my customers. Sometimes I make great progress, other times not so much.

Brands like SRAM (Avid, Rock Shox, Zipp...), Scott, and QBP have excellent customer service. I have had nothing but the best experiences with each of them. Always quick to make it right, whatever it is.

Some CS departments however, are total bullshit.

It is always disappointing to have a bad experience. It usually means a customer is not getting what they need which can lead to frustration and leave a bad taste in their mouth. Then, they take it out on me. That usually leads to me having a bad day. ...and if I have a bad day, YOU have a bad day.
Even worse is when you call a company you really like and it goes poorly. Be it your expectations or their attitude toward customer service, for whatever reason it goes terribly and you hang up the phone feeling dejected. 

As anyone who has broken anything made by Thomson can attest to, getting your needs met can be a pain in the ass especially when it means they have to honor their lifetime warranty:

...when "Lifetime" refers to the life of the product.

Recently, I had one of these experiences with Simple Green and I must say, I was pretty stunned by the whole thing. 

In full disclosure:
It is worth mentioning that I have used and often recommend Simple Green's Foaming Aerosol Degreaser. It is a great product for getting in to hard to reach places on a bike without taking off parts. Hell, I still use it!

Claiming it is "safe for all surfaces" it really would seem like the best choice for cleaning your bicycle. ...That is, if it were actually safe for all surfaces.

This whole mess began as any other does; which is to say that the customer came in claiming he was "just riding along" or in this case was "just cleaning it." He was using a product that I highly recommended, a product that he specifically inquired as to whether or not it was safe on use on carbon. My answer was based two-fold on my personal use of the product for the last 5 years, and the company's claims of "safe for all surfaces" written clearly on the can.
This, in the end was the only reason I got involved in this mess to begin with as I gave the man my word, and it backfired. Big time.

For the uninitiated, Zipp wheels are supposed to be black in appearance, like the one pictured in the background, and not white like the ones pictured in the foreground.

Now, on the face of it, this seemed absurd. I mean, there are times in this line of work that you want to look a customer dead in the eye and call them a liar. This was one of those times. To me, there was no f'ing way that Simple Green did this and the majority of those that I have spoken with agree with that assertion. However, the science (which for the record, I do not claim to even begin to understand) would suggest that in this particular case, it could be argued that there was at least a possibility that it could be at fault. On the other hand, there was an equal possibility that it might not

Let me explain...

Before I called Sunshine Makers Inc and made an ass of myself, I emailed some buddies over at Zipp. I figured if there were a problem with this stuff Zipp would have seen it before. The fact is, they had seen it before,
they also saw the same MSDS sheet that I did.

To save re-telling this story, I will let an email that was written to a third party (who is an authority on carbon wheels in general) do it for me.

(click it to go to full-screen)

So that is where the fun started. I randomly called the research and development department by mistake where I talked to a very nice young lady who was not really in a position to do anything about it. So it was the point at which I was passed off to Customer Service that I lost all contact with them. I repeatedly, and politely emailed them with no response. This went on for about 2 months.. roughly. (since I changed work places, I now do not have access to the dates of those emails to verify this claim) Until one day, I don't know, maybe they'd "had enough" or whatever; the fricken Vice President of (something or other department) over at Simple Green calls me himself.

"Listen here clown...!!!"

Here's how that went down; The man was trying to be cordial but was super defensive instead. It was almost like you could tell that he had made this call before. Anyway, he dropped some serious science stuff on me (again: way over my head) but it basically amounted to the fact that Simple Green is not "Citrus Based." Now, I could pretend I knew what the FUCK he was talking about but after this was all over, he sent me a document that they created for just such an occasion:

Conspicuously dated the same week this conversation took place, it would appear that they had this problem on a consistent basis and decided to address it, taking an "official stance" on it.

 Of course I was like "... Well, duh!"

To which he responded:

To his credit, he was kind of like an Onion and once you started to peel away layers, you got down to the real dude. It's the same effect as getting hammered with a friend, as the layers come off, he opens up like book. He says: "we see this all of the time in very hot places like Arizona, some guy sprays it on and then he gets a phone call, or goes in the house to grab a beer, etc... and the sun bakes it in."* 

Wait... what? That means it can potentiality harm surfaces then, right?
It was about here in the conversation that I remembered a time when I was working in a bike shop in Texas, and a situation occurred that I didn't even think about until this point.
A co-worker had left his Dura Ace 7800 derailleurs in our Simple Green cleaning solution.
When another co worker need to use the same cleaner, he removed the parts and left them out to dry. It turned them pink. Not like PINK, but a light pink hue covered the normally very shiny, high-polish finish. So I asked him about that and he explained it away thusly:

"It's like when a machine shop calls and says 'we cleaned up all of our machines and now this morning they are all rusty!' " or "the guy at the bike shop calls and says he cleaned his chain; 'It's the cleanest it has ever been,' then lays it on his bench... when he gets to work in the morning, it's rustier then a campus bike chain."*

"What those things have in common" he says, "is that they are using a DE-GREASE-ER, they are washing away the oils and lubricants that normaly protect the metals and then failing to re-lubricate things" *

So... it can be caustic then? Right? You just said...

"What I said is that this stuff happens when you do not use the product correctly, that is to say that if you let it dry."*

Now I'm no Rocket Surgeon but that sounds like an admission to me.

*Being a conversation held over the phone, this is the closest to the actual transcript as I can recall here.

Essentially, it's like the food industry using Red #40 which knowingly makes some people sick yet continues to use it but basically says "... well yeah, if you eat it" 

At this point, I was certain that I had enough information to go on as far as getting my customer squared away and after almost three months of bullshit, I was ready to put this thing to bed.
Yet, I still needed to take my findings to Zipp because I still had a pair of white wheels that needed to be fixed. During my talk with them, I remembered an additional incident that had happened during the time I was being given the "silent treatment" and brought that up as a topic for discussion. 

You see, I was not the only one who was using this foaming degreaser in the shop. In fact, it was commonplace for my lovely assistant, Greg to use the product on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, Greg missed the part where all of this was going down and continued with business as usual. Needless to say, I had walked in to work one day and almost from across the room, I saw white streaks on a SRAM wheel. A brand-new, ridden one time, and now clearly discolored, SRAM wheel. When he came back the next day, I asked him what he used to clean the wheel and, well...
I think you know where this is going.

When I started to describe the wheel to the guys at Zipp, they immediately named the exact model of wheel without ever having laid eyes upon it; not because they had seen this before, but because they knew exactly how that wheel was finished and given the recent chain of events, could have picked it out of a line up because, as it happens, it is one of the only wheels in their line up with an anodized finish and no clear coat. 

Needless to say, Zipp was more than happy to take care of this situation to keep the customer happy, whereas Simple Green basically said, "Your customer can piss up a rope.*"

That, my friends is the difference between good service and bad service. It is one thing to defend your position but how you defend it can be the difference between keeping a return customer, and being the subject if some asshole's internet blog.
To be fair, Simple Green can be used safely if you follow the directions

(This is very important.)

Again, I have been using it for years and, aside from these two situations which were beyond my control, have never seen any problems with the stuff. Plus, it is at this point that it should be noted that this is not an attempt to get you to stop using the product as I myself plan to continue on as normal. That said, you should be made aware of what they have not yet been willing to say out loud and given this new information, the following steps should be taken to avoid the possibility of damage;

Use mild soap and water when cleaning wheels. ANY wheels. This will accomplish two things; it will effectively clean build up from the wheel and will not leave a residue on the braking surface.
Should you choose to continue to use Simple Green foaming degreaser you should avoid using it on Zipp or SRAM products as some of their products do not use a clear coat. While their literature does not officially state this, that may soon change. Regardless, that is their recommendation.
It goes without saying; If you are going to use degreaser (of ANY type) on a wheel, it should ALWAYS be cleaned from the braking surface using water or rubbing alcohol to avoid contaminating the brake pads. 

Most of this information is not new yet it still seems like this must be said:

Whether it was the use of the product or the misuse...
In the end, it is worth remembering that if they blame you for using a product incorrectly because you were, then they would be right to do so because you are too stupid to follow directions. That does not mean however, that they can treat you like shit for three months and then be on the defensive and act as though you are trying to extort them when they do finally get off their asses and contact you.

 That is how you end up on some dipshit's blog for all the world to see. 

That is how you do customer service wrong.