A Product Reviewer’s Integrity

I do not remember when or what was the first product I was asked to review for this blog, but it certainly goes back more than a decade.  From the very beginning, I decided that I needed to balance my integrity with a life of positivity.  As such, I have told every company, large and small, that if they are sending me a product to review, I will do the following:

  1. I will try their product, and see that it performs as it is supposed to perform.
  2. I will write the product up, however:
  3. If I do not like the product, I will not publish it.  I will send the negative review to them, and let them either fix the product, or give them the option of not posting the review.  In the years I have been doing this, I have never posted a negative review on my blog.  I have, on one occasion that I can remember, removed a positive review of a product after a subsequent negative experience (which the company would not make good on).  However, I did not go back and badmouth the product.  I want to keep my blog as positive as possible.
  4. If I like the product, of course, I will publish the review.

There have been a number of occasions when I have liked most of a product, but was not comfortable with one or two aspects of it.  If I like the vast majority of a product, I have written reviews like this: “I really like this product, I just wish this aspect of the product was different or better.”  Huge positive, slight negative.  No company has ever complained.

There is a big difference between reviews on my personal blogs (both The World According to Mitch and Passion For Cigars, and a review on Amazon.  On Amazon, I am not being given a product to review, I am buying a product at full price, and writing it.  At the same time, it is extremely common for the product vendors to send me e-mails asking me to review their products.  Unlike on my blog, I have paid for this product, so really I do not owe the company anything.  I will not lie, but if I do not like a product, I will be clear about it.

I mention this for a reason.

ear budsA few weeks ago, I purchased a pair of wireless earbuds from Amazon.  No, I did not buy the Apple Ear Pods, nor did I buy the Boss whatever.  When I typed ‘Bluetooth Earbuds’ into Amazon, I got a whole list, including what I can only assume is a Chinese company, which shall remain nameless.  I got them, I tried them… I hated them.  They were big, bulky, clunky, and did not hold a connection to my phone.  I returned them within a day, and bought a different pair (which I also eventually returned, before settling on the pair I liked).

A few days later, the company sent me an e-mail asking for a product review.  Note to companies: If I have already returned your product, there is a very good chance you will not like what I have to say.  Seeing as this review was for Amazon and not for my blog, I did not feel the need to follow the same practice.  I wrote an honest review.  That was two weeks ago.

This morning when I woke up there was an email in my box from the company, which I have only cleaned up a little bit for grammar, clarity, and to remove different coloured text:

Dear Mitch,

Thank you for buying from our store. We understand that you are not happy with the wireless earbuds you bought from us recently. What you received might be a defective item, we do apologize for this issue.

We will make things right immediately and would really appreciate it if you could give us a chance.

We have the following options for your reference to choose:

If you agree, how about sending a new pair set (higher version) totally for free? And the previous item does not need to be returned.

Or if necessary, how about providing you a gift card in order to satisfy you again.

Would it be possible for you to remove your previous rating/re-view please? So that I can use it as a strong justification to management team to apply the offer for you.

Thank you so much! We sincerely hope we could make you happy again. And your review certainly reflects the quality of our service.

Your satisfaction is always our goal!

Looking forward to your kind reply, thank you.

Well wasn’t that nice of them?  They are willing to send me a free product (and a better one than the one I had originally purchased and returned) in exchange for deleting my negative review.

I had to give this some thought.  Would deleting my review ruin my integrity?  If so, I did not want to do it.  However, there is a big difference between changing a negative review to a positive for money/free stuff, versus deleting a negative review for money/free stuff, isn’t there?  Also, this review is not on my blog.  People come to The World According to Mitch because they trust me, and they want my honest opinions.  Amazon works differently.

I have written very negative reviews on Amazon a handful of times.  The first that I can think of was because I ordered liquid soap, and the poor packaging caused a huge mess when I opened it up.  I ended the review with ‘If this is what I’m going to get, next time I will just buy from CVS.’  Although I wrote the review, I was notified that because I named a brick and mortar store in it, the review was not published.  Kinda petty if you ask me, but they didn’t ask me.  The second time I opened a package that was terribly packaged as well… a cheap cardboard box was not put into a standard Amazon box, rather into an oversized envelope.  Somewhere along the way it got wet… when I opened it up, the structure of the box had disintegrated, the contents were mouldy, and I had to throw it out.  When I tried to resolve the issue with the vendor, they told me to just call Amazon because it was not his problem to deal with, but theirs.  That got a scathing review as well.  He just didn’t care, and I ate the cost of the product.  If he were to call me tomorrow and try to make things right, I would still not alter my review.

This case is different.  After I returned the product after I received a refund, the company reached out to me to make it right.  I never said to them ‘Hey, if you give me something for free I’ll delete my review.’  I would never do that.

I hate when I am in a restaurant and I hear someone behind me say ‘I’m a Yelp reviewer, so if you don’t give me something extra I’m trashing your establishment on-line.’ Every time I hear something like that (and it has happened more often than one might think!) I want to tell them to sit down, shut up, and either be honest or go somewhere else.  I don’t, of course… it is not my place.  I am a Yelp reviewer too… and either I like a place and give them a good review, or I do not, and I am honest… but unless it is warranted, I am never scathing.

So let’s look at a restaurant equivalence: I give a bad review.  I’m not going back.  The restaurant owner then calls me up and says ‘Mitch, you came in for a burger and you didn’t like it.  I understand.  We are refunding your credit card right now.  Please come in and have a steak, on the house.  Oh, and if you wouldn’t mind deleting the negative review, we would appreciate it.’  Completely unnecessary, completely unexpected, completely appreciated.  You know what?  Yeah, I’m going to delete the review, and go back to try their steak.  If I do not like the meal again, I will still give extra consideration before posting a negative review… they tried!  In fact, they went above and beyond what they needed to.  Even if I don’t love their meal in the end, I still love the effort and customer service they are putting into this.  Really, unless they screw up so badly – cockroaches, mean or even abusive service, that sort of thing – I am going to give them a pass… I won’t write them up well, but I will not give them a negative review, because they really did their best… excellent customer service goes a long way to my satisfaction with a product and with a company.

So I sent the following response:

Thank you for reaching out to me.  I appreciate that you are going to great lengths to make this situation right; I appreciate that, and am willing to remove the negative review when I have received the upgraded version.  Please let me know if you need my shipping address.

I know you want to keep only positive reviews, and will be happy to remove this one once I have received the new product.

It is now noon Monday, about two hours after I wrote my response to them. and I have not heard back from them yet… nor would I have expected to, as if they are in China, it is the middle of the night.  In all likelihood, I will receive a response tomorrow morning, or the following day.  I am not in a rush, because I have nothing to lose.  What you will note in my response though is that I will remove the negative review once I have received the new product.  If this is a quid pro quo, then I want my quid before I give them my pro!


Thank You For Lousy Customer Service!

CuisinartKeurigWhen I moved into my condo I bought a refurbished Cuisinart coffee machine.  You know, the type that brews Keurig coffees.  It was my first purchase for the condo, and I was very proud of it.  Why?  Well for one thing it is a very nice machine, and for another… well, mornings are just better with coffee.

A few weeks later it started leaking.  I was busy with other things, but in December I looked into it and sure enough it had a 90 day warranty.  I called Conair Cuisinart Canada because by now it was probably Day 89, and they told me to ship it to them and they would honour the warranty, and I would have the machine back within 10 business days.

I shipped it out on January 2nd.

After a month I called and by chance reached the same rep I had originally spoken with, and he told me that they were replacing it, but they had been out of stock of the refurbished machines which explains the delay. ‘Don’t worry Mr. Garvis, the machines are now in, and we are sending it out to you today.  You will have it by Friday.

Friday came and went.  So did next Friday.

I called back and was told by another rep that the machine had definitely not been shipped, and that they were out of stock.  I asked to speak to the supervisor.  I was transferred to a voice mail box, and left a message.

The following day, fully twenty-seven hours after leaving the voice mail, I called back.  After nearly an hour on hold I reached a rep and I immediately asked for the supervisor, but not their voice mail.  I won’t bother to explain the ridiculous conversation that followed, but in the end I was at last speaking with the supervisor… the same man who had told me to ship them the machine and that I would get it back in 10 days; the same supervisor who told me two weeks prior that my machine was being shipped out that day.  The same supervisor who, in my eyes, had lied to me, and had no credibility.

‘I have great news for you Mr. Garvis!  We still don’t have the refurbished machines in stock, so a decision has been made to send you a new one.  You should be thankful that I was able to arrange this… we don’t do this often!’

I should be thankful.

Over the eight weeks that I was without my coffee maker I bought a cup of coffee nearly every day; assuming that I only bought the one cup (probably not true, but let’s average it), then at $2.36 per cup per day, I spent $132 on coffee… an operational expense that I originally bought the coffee machine (capital expense) to avoid.  And while a simple search of BestBuy.ca (and without doing any comparison shopping whatsoever) shows that the exact model I bought sells for $199.99… but another simple search of eBay shows I can get a new one for $79.00… not to mention that my refurbished one originally cost me $65.

All of this to say that with the $132 I spent at Starbucks since December, I could have bought myself another machine… and had plenty of money left over.

…and yet, I should feel thankful that they sent me the new one (which of course will only come with the warranty for a used model).

Had I had that conversation in December I would have just gritted my teeth and called it what it is… what we get in a day and age where customer service is not considered important, and companies are unwilling to spend the money to go the extra mile to retain their customers.  However two incidents in January showed me that there are some companies for whom customer service is extremely important, and customer retention is everything. They both happened on the same day in the same mall, from two very different companies.

Story 1:

iphone5When I came back from Japan in January, 2014 I needed a new cell phone, and rather than selling my soul to my cell phone provider, I bought a used iPhone 5 from eBay.  I don’t remember what I paid, but it was reasonable.  From what I could tell the phone was a little over a year old, and worked fine… for now. 

Over time though some issues arose, but I would just live with them.  The first was that the power button stopped working.  This is less of a game-stopper than you might think, because the only time my phone is off is when the battery dies, and when you plug it into a charger it immediately turns on again.

I noticed the battery life diminishing… so I went to speak to a ‘Genius’ at the Apple Store in Square One mall and he told me that I should be getting at least eight hours out of it… as long as I turned off vibrate mode.  As for the power button… well they could take it in and ship it out to be fixed at my expense, but I would be without a phone; I decided to use the phone until it was no longer useable, then get something else.

I woke up Monday morning in Bellevue, Washington the second week of January, and my colleague and I went to the Microsoft Store to look into an issue with my corporate laptop.  We had to wait a couple of hours for the appointment, so we were going to find somewhere to sit and talk when my phone died.  It was 10:15am, I had charged it overnight, I was not awake two hours, and the battery was dead.

I said ‘You know what, we have time to kill… let’s go into the Apple Store and see what they tell me.’  We did just that, and yes we had to wait in line for a ‘drop in’ appointment.

The Genius who helped me was a nice enough guy, and after I explained the situation he examined the phone and then he asked me something that surprised me:

“Your phone is registered in Canada with Rogers, so if I replace it for you it will not activate until you get back to Canada and it can connect to a Rogers tower.  Would you be okay with that?”

The phone was nearly 18 months out of warranty, purchased from a different company, in a different country.  And yet Apple was willing to replace the device for me.  I was shocked, and told him yes, I would be okay with that.

He was wrong by the way… the phone activated on my Rogers account as soon as it connected to the AT&T network, and I was not without my phone for any period of time.

They owed me nothing… I have in my lifetime bought a grand total of one thing from an Apple Store, and I sold it on Craig’s List three months later.  The Apple Store could very easily have said ‘Yeah… you’re not really our customer, but here are a bunch of devices you could buy from us to replace your device that has clearly been used into an early obsolescence.  Instead, he pulled out a refurbished iPhone 5 that was identical to my old one, and gave it to me.

That is Customer Service.  THAT is a company that wants to earn or retain my loyalty.

Story 2:

SP3Michael and I left the Apple Store in awe, thrilled by the customer service that I would never get in Canada, and he doubted he would get in Japan.  We went back to the Microsoft Store.

My corporate laptop is a Microsoft Surface Pro 3, i7 model.  It is certainly a Microsoft product… but it was purchased from another company in Japan, re-imaged, and was not working the way it was supposed to.  We were hoping the technicians at the MS Store could tell us what was wrong with it, but we assumed it was going to have to go back to Japan.  Michael and I had even discussed how we would do that – he would give me his identical device, take mine back to Tokyo, and have it dealt with.  It would not be convenient, but that’s the price of doing business sometimes.

The technician spent thirty minutes trying to resolve the issue.  I confess, I sometimes find it tedious watching retain technicians work through all of the troubleshooting steps I have already followed, but this time I was glad for it because Michael and I actually had business to discuss.  He tried this and that and the other thing, and for love or money he just was not able to resolve the issue.

“Mr. Garvis, we know this device has your corporate image of Windows 8.1 on it, but I would like to replace it for you because I cannot resolve the issue.  Is that a problem, or do you need the corporate image?  If you do, I can send it in and they can fix it.”

Once again… the device was nearly a year old, bought from another company, in another country… and yet the Microsoft Store was willing to replace it for me with a brand new device.  Oh, the best part:

“Look, normally we would give you a refurbished machine, but in this case we don’t have any refurbs in stock so I’m going to give you a new one.”

In the event that the corporate image had been important, Michael had the ability to image it in his hotel room… but it wasn’t – I was able to install all of the necessary software on the Microsoft image… and it works great.

That is Customer Service.  THAT is a company that wants to earn or retain my loyalty.

I do not know if the customer service issue is a Canadian thing, or if it is just that I was dealing with a bad company or a bad department or a bad rep.  Whatever it is, Here is a lesson for Cuisinart Canada.  The next time I buy a smartphone it will probably be an iPhone; the next tablet I buy will absolutely be running Windows, and there is a very good chance that I will buy it from Microsoft.  And the next time I buy a kitchen appliance it will not be a Cuisinart. 

But how can I say that?  After all, they did send me a brand new coffee maker, even though I had sent them a refurbished one.

It’s not that the device was defective.  Welcome to Earth, sometimes consumer products don’t work and have to be fixed or replaced.  Hell, look at my Surface Pros and my iPhone.  The reason is not only that I was lied to repeatedly (but I was); it’s not that Cuisinart makes bad products (they don’t); it’s not even that I had to sit on hold for nearly an hour each of the five times I called regarding this issue (I did). 

It’s simple… After all that, Cuisinart wanted me to be grateful for what they were doing for me.  They felt they were doing me a favour, and I should be singing their praises.  That is not what customer service is supposed to feel like.  I shouldn’t have to genuflect because you helped me – you are customer service and that is what you are supposed to do.

Microsoft and Apple both demonstrated to me that they wanted me as a customer, and even though they are two of the biggest companies in the world, they need me as a customer.  Cuisinart thinks I need them more than they need me… and in this case, to fix or replace my coffee maker they were right.  However in the grand scheme of things, I do not have any need to be a Cuisinart customer.  I have two of their appliances, and I think that is just enough.

Customer Service… do YOU get it? Wake Up!

I spend far too many nights in hotels. One of the services I rely on is the wake-up call, and this week I was reminded of the episode of Seinfeld by that name… I got to the hotel, left my 6:30am wake-up call, and went to sleep with the peace of mind that I would sleep until the phone rang.

It didn’t ring.

At 7:35 I opened my eyes, and as my instincts have me trained to do I looked for the clock, and as the reality of the situation registered I bolted out of bed and got out of the room within about 9 minutes to grab a cab.

I hate being late.

On my way out the door I told the front desk what happenned, and asked to have the manager contact me. When I returned later in the evening there was a very apologetic message from the General Manager telling me that he and his engineer had tested it and made sure it worked, but just in case I should call the front desk to register my wake-up for the next day, which I did… 6:30am, in person.

At 7:23 my eyes opened, and my first thought was ‘Not Again!’ Yes again though. Fortunately my class started at 9:00am so I had time.

I got downstairs and asked to speak with the manager, who was extremely embarassed by the first incident, but mortified to hear it happenned again. Fortunately he appreciated the gravity of the issue, and offerred me (read: offerred my wife) a free week-end to make it up to me. In a word (three) he got it.

He got the fact that his staff, equipment, systems, procedure, whatever screwed up, and while he may have speculated about it, he made no attempt to pass the buck. He got the fact that the screw-up likely could have cost me money. He got the fact that it was his responsibility, and most importantly he got the fact that whatever it would cost him to comp my wife and I for a week-end is nothing compared to what it would cost for me to never return to his hotel, and worse – if I started telling my colleagues (and you the reader) about it.

In the hotel industry Customer Service is hugely important. It is important that our reputations match our image because if it doesn’t then our clientele will be fleeting. Of the several hundred hotel nights I have spent over the past few years I can only think of a handful that I would speak bad of due to service, but those hotels will never see me back. I can also think of a couple that were bad but that the managers made good for them. I don’t speak badly about those hotels because every business is entitled to a second chance. You will notice the hotel in question is not named herein, but if someone would ask me about it I would mention the comfortable room, polite staff, and convenient location and not of the unfortunate incident with the wake-up call. See the difference? It cost the hotel a week-end, sure… It will earn them much more going forward.

All businesses make mistakes… even serious ones, including yours.  How will you handle it the next time… acknowledge guilt and try to find a way to make things right, or will you try to pass the buck, and hope that there are enough new customers to make up for the one you are about to lose?  The choice is yours… but more likely than not there is no third option.

Thanks Kevin.  Theresa and I will see you soon!