If you don't think customer service is one of your company's most important customer acquisition and retention assets, read this tale carefully!
"We believe that the eye and touch of a craftsperson adds soul and beauty that enhances the overall design. It's what makes a Necky a Necky." That's what Johnson Outdoors, parent of the Necky brand, says on its website -- click here to read -- when explaining how each Necky kayak is hand-shaped.
And, it is that level of craftsmanship that a Rutabaga customer thought he was buying when he took delivery of his 14-foot Manitou composite boat in early June. But all it takes is one very bad customer experience to shatter that image of quality for a retailer, and likely now every person this customer comes in contact with.
According to John Stackpole, web-based customer manager for Rutabaga and in charge of all warranty and repair for the retailer, the customer had called the store asking it to price-match with a competitor.
"This customer, a really excellent one for Rutabaga, ended up buying from us at the full $2,400 price tag because of our level of customer service and the support he knows we offer," Stackpole told SNEWS®.
The customer had been saving for this boat and was very eager to get it on the water, so he took delivery, paddled it around for a few days, then began to look more closely at his prize, opening up the front hatch to peer inside. And it was then, he became horrified, Stackpole told us.
"He called us all upset and emailed us photos of the inside of the bow (photo to the right). The inside of the boat looks as though the fiberglass was laid in with lots of air bubbles, so it is tearing and ragged and, it appears, the boat is being held together by the gel coat. So, I immediately contacted my Old Town rep by email, who then responded that she did not deal with Necky, but also forwarded the email on to the Necky customer service rep and cc'd me. Two weeks went by and I heard nothing, and our customer is calling us regularly wondering what is up," said Stackpole.
"Tired of not hearing, I called the Necky customer service manager, who then confirmed with me on the phone that 'oh, yes, I remember that email' to which I responded, 'That's great, but what do we do for this customer?' So, she forwarded me to someone else, who turned out to be the person in charge of inspecting the boats coming in from the factory from China," said Stackpole.
Not sure what the inspector was going to do, or how he factored into helping the customer service issue around a damaged boat get resolved, Stackpole laid out the tale yet again to the inspector.
"He proceeded to tell me that as a retailer, it was our job to inspect every boat when we take delivery by unwrapping it and going over every inch, and then if we did not like the quality of the boat, and I quote, 'You need to contact the factory in China that made the boat because it is not our problem," said Stackpole. "I was stunned."
Stackpole composed himself and asked to speak to someone, anyone, who could resolve the damaged boat issue for Rutabaga's customer -- exchange the boat, repair the boat, or pay for Rutabaga to repair the boat -- and he was then put in touch with the watersports accessory manager because the inspector said he did not know who his boss was anymore with all the company changes.
As of this SNEWS story going live, the customer has been waiting for an answer from Johnson Outdoor Watercraft for over three weeks, Stackpole told us. Stackpole added that he has been in touch now with four people at Johnson, and no one appears to want or is able to take responsibility for making a decision.
"We do not order boats from Johnson with 'some assembly required,'" Stackpole told us. "And in my five years at Rutabaga, I have NEVER been told to contact a factory in China to resolve a quality control issue that is the responsibility of the company."
As for that web page statement, "We believe that the eye and touch of a craftsperson adds soul and beauty that enhances the overall design. It's what makes a Necky a Necky," it's beginning to ring a bit hollow to the team at Rutabaga, and to this customer who thought he was buying his dream kayak.
SNEWS® View: Stunning is all we can say. And a perfect example of how important it is -- no, critical it is -- to ensure ALL your employees are empowered and expected to solve customer service issues, especially quality control ones such as this. We know there have been many changes at Johnson Outdoors over the last few months, moving a paddlesports factory, changes in personnel, etc., but there is clearly a serious communication breakdown internally that needs to be resolved quickly. What is really surprising to us is that Scott Forristall and Sara Knies, both savvy and very talented paddlesport veterans at Johnson Outdoors who have recently been pressed into new leadership positions, are not cracking the whip a bit. Perhaps too many changes all at once? Either way, we do expect that this customer will eventually be satisfied, but he should NEVER have had to wait this long in the first place. For the record, a SNEWS® team member owns a Necky boat, and is in love with its lines and performance. It is a thing of beauty. We can only imagine our disappointment had we been the ones on the receiving end of a damaged boat from China. Necky is, or was, too good of a brand to see anything like that slip. Let's hope the company starts paddling in a positive direction quickly.