The Highs and Lows of Customer Service

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had two memorable retail encounters. One was so positive that it made me a little teary-eyed—while the other one left me fuming. And because the beauty of being an editor is that I get to vent my frustrations in public forums like this blog, I’ll do so in an attempt to distill something essential about customer service.

Let’s start with the good one. As some of you know, Shinola, a new watch brand that assembles its timepieces in Detroit, recently named its first ladies’ model The Gomelsky. You can read the back story here. It’s been a wild ride, to say the least, but the kicker came on a Sunday in September, when I learned that Shinola had taken a full page ad in that day’s New York Times Style section—during fashion week, no less—to tout The Gomelsky with these words: “Some call it beautiful, others just ask why we called it The Gomelsky.” (The fine print of the ad is another story, and another blog post.)

As you can imagine, I got a pretty big kick out of seeing my humble little last name in big ol’ print and immediately asked my sister to buy up copies of the paper so I could get the page framed. When I got home to L.A., I took the paper to my neighborhood Aaron Brothers, where I was helped by a friendly employee named simply Fedelman. We went over all my framing options and I chose a simple dark wood frame, which I paid for upfront.

A couple weeks later, I received a call saying my custom-framing job was ready. I was pretty excited to see it, so I drove there on a Monday night and found Fedelman once again behind the counter. He unwrapped the package to reveal…a framed Ralph Lauren ad. Whoever did the framing job not only chose the wrong ad, they’d thrown away the part of the paper with the Shinola ad in it. I was bummed—and really annoyed. My main concern was that it would take me weeks to track down a copy of the paper from that Sunday in September.

“I’m so sorry,” Fedelman said. “This is so embarrassing.”

Without prompting, he immediately issued me a full refund for the $119 framing job. He then told me he’d try to track down a back issue of the paper so they could get it right the second time. I left the store feeling less annoyed, but still somewhat dismayed. Not 15 minutes had passed before I got a voicemail from Fedelman, saying he’d found the section of the New York Times site where you could reorder back issues, and that he’d chosen an expedited option to get the paper sent to him as soon as possible. He promised I’d hear from them as soon as the framing job was complete.

When I heard the message, I took to Twitter to commend his awesome customer service:

“Thanks to Fedelman at @aaronbrothers in Hollywood, who transformed a botched frame job into an opportunity to impress w/his customer service”

When I went back to Aaron Brothers to pick up the ad in all its framed glory, I was pleased to find Fedelman once again behind the counter. He was apologetic and gracious. And I was reminded of that old truism: It’s not how you screw up that matters, it’s how you handle the apology that counts.


Aaron Brothers’ expert framing job, Round Two.

Now for the not-so-good experience: For my birthday at the end of June, I asked my mom to buy me some nice luggage. I know that’s kind of boring, but I was tired of getting all my suitcases at Marshall’s and felt I deserved a nice new set that wouldn’t look like crap after its first overseas spin. My mom gave me a chunk of cash instead and, after researching luggage brands, I took it down to a multi-brand luggage retailer in Santa Monica, Calif., where I let myself be talked into buying two suitcases from an Italian brand I’d never heard of called Bric’s.

They looked stylish and I was assured they were of top quality, so I plunked down $1,300 for the set, which is way more than I’ve ever spent on luggage. I was heading to Venice soon for the film festival and the About J show, and I really wanted to look the part of a jet-setting traveler.

Alas, by the time I got home from that trip, the logo had fallen off the big suitcase and it looked like, well, crap. It worked fine—but after just one trip, I was pretty disappointed to see that my expensive luggage was already showing signs of wear. I knew that Bric’s had a guarantee if the case needed to be fixed, so I dragged it back to the retailer. The sales guy, tried to blame the missing logo on the airlines, and then told me that Bric’s would fix the case for free but that I would have to pay $70 to ship it to them.

I wasn’t about to fork over more money for this case, and the store refused to exchange it, so they said they would contact Bric’s and ask the company to send me a logo that I could then take to my nearest shoe repair shop and ask to have stitched to the case. Thanks? This wasn’t ideal, but it was better than paying $70. I left my name, address, and phone number with the sales guy, and just heard back from him this morning; but I was at the store nearly two weeks ago. I also emailed Bric’s last week through its website to inquire about having the logo sent to me…and haven’t heard a thing.

The moral of this story: Things go wrong all the time. That’s understandable. But in this age of instant gratification, retailers need to address customer complaints right away. People want their issues to be acknowledged. They want to know that they’ve been heard. A timely and sincere apology goes a long way. And by the same token, a customer complaint—even a minor one like my suitcase issue—that goes unaddressed festers, and, thanks to Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, takes on a not-so-flattering life of its own.

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