Saturday, March 13, 2010

What's the value of good customer service?

Don't worry, this isn't one of those rant-type post where I will rail against the injustice and indignities inflicted upon me by some company.  I do want to discuss how much of an impact that good customer service has on your desire to buy a product from a miniature vendor / producer.  I had the opportunity to go to the war-games show "Cold Wars" yesterday with some friends.  We spent the majority of our time in the vendor hall and it offered a fascinating range of customer service models to observe.  Some vendors were a pleasure to chat with and while others seemed to behave as if both being at the show and, even worse, interacting with a customer was an extreme inconvenience.  Now before you go making assumptions, I do have relatively good manners and had, in fact, taken a shower the morning of the show.

Rather than use a negative example, lets go with a good one.  I wandered by the booth of Thoroughbred Figures, which run by a gentlemen named Toby Barrett.  One of their products is a range of 1/600 scale ACW ironclads that look great and it's a period that my son is interested in.  Toby was very pleasant and took some time to walk me through the range.  Now, I need another game range like I need a hole-in-the-head but after talking with Toby and getting a better understanding of his products, I now have the start of a fleet of ironclads.  Had Toby not tried to engage me, I doubt I would have ever made the purchase.  I think our total interaction lasted about 10 - 15 minutes and he made a $100+ dollar sale, which has a high likelihood to drive additional transactions.

Other vendors, who don't need to be named, were either rude or could not be interrupted from their cell phone conversation about which gentlemen's club they were planning to attend that evening (true story) to answer questions or try to make a sale.  This isn't a moralistic rant, people can do what they want but I'm not sure your customers should be involved or inconvenienced by it.  That example may be extreme but I would say at least a third of the vendors were downright cranky during the show.  I do realize there is a deep recession on and some may be struggling economically, but letting that show through to customers doesn't seem to be that good of a strategy.  I was also a bit off-put by the choice some vendors made to plead to me there case on the injustice of the fee raise for the upcoming Historicon show.  Why discuss the topic with me? I don't set the rates and the more your denigrate the upcoming show the less likely I am to go to it.  Simply amazing.

So here's the rub - how much does good service drive your decision making.  From my viewpoint, it's a big factor and I'm willing to pay a bit of a premium for it it.  If vendor "A" is a selling a gaming item for $10.00 and has good service and vendor "B" has a poor service attitude but sells the same item for $9.50, I'll go with "A" ever time.  Why?

For me, the hobby is both totally discretionary and pursued as a stress reliever.  My own logic tends to translate good customer service into a better overall experience and the point of the hobby is the experience.  The improved experience comes from a better understanding of the product, better product support and just a more pleasant interaction.  Better experience equals lower stress.  I haven't tried to figure out the equilibrium point (WARNING: economic babble-speak), but likely think I'm willing to pay as much as a 10-20% premium to a company that offers great service on gaming products.

Of course this doesn't hold for other items, say groceries, where the experience factor isn't that important so my willingness to pay a premium is greatly diminished.

I really think the hobby can benefit a lot from more vendors that stress great service and use a customer lifetime relationship model rather than more, deeper discounters.

Let me know what you think.


JAM said...

Boy I could not agree more.

It is all in the service.


Barb said...

Excellent. I hope some vendors somewhere read this.

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

I couldn't agree more...!

Your experience is entirely typical (in my experience) of the UK market as well... it's an amazement to me that some traders even considered entering the business they're in - surely they must realise that in order to sell things they have to interact with everyone, not just a small select coterie???

Your estimate is spot on for me - good service and a personable trader is easily worth 10-20% more business that I'd give them..

A case in point, the chap who runs Newline Designs is a thoroughly personable bloke - doesn't know me from Adam - yet at the recent show I was at, despite him not having what I wanted, I still spent what I was going to spend (on other things), just because of that interaction...!

jmezz382 said...

You hit the nail on the head. My money is sure to be spent on items in a booth which the vendor is pleasant and down right polite.

Hard to be in this hobby and not be friendly considering interaction with others is the whole point ...

Ron said...

Couldn't agree more! I've had a miserable week dealing with two vendors who will not answer the phone, apparently don't take messages seriously and are no easier to connect to via the net. The abysmal customer service taken for the norm (and tolerated by many) in this hobby would be "death" to any other business.

DeanM said...

Great expose of your experience. The closest I've had was not so rude a vendor, but one that was kind of intimidating - he looked angry. Maybe he was stressed out - I dunno. Anyway, if he had the product I wanted, I would've bought something from him - just to see if his expression would've changed. However, I do agree with everything you've said. Dean

christot said...

Agree whole-heartedly, its certainly not an exact science though, there are some vendors whom one is happy to pay a premium to, others who seem to expect it while offering little in return.
One thing I would say though, that it is a 2-way street to a small extent. Having once upon a time been a wargames trader there were customers for who one would bend over backwards (irrespective of how much money they spent) because they were polite, sympathetic and even fun to deal with. There were others who were incredibly rude and ilogically demanding...these may not have always recieved the same service levels!

jmilesr said...

Great point Chris - there is never an excuse for bad manners and that goes for customers too. One of the reasons I choose not to identify any of the "bad" customer service examples is that you never know all the circumstances and we are all human.

I do think, on average, the war gaming population can be a bit, shall we we say, demanding which makes us a challenge to deal with at times. I've never had the opportunity to sit within the traders booth at one of these shows so my opinions are overly biased.

Since it's raining outside, I think it's time to get back to painting.

Have a great day everyone

Docsmith said...

Couldn't agree more Miles - an excellent rant! It IS a two-way street and you should always at least be polite but all things being equal - its that extra bit of service that gets the repeat customer or passes the word on and get other customers. A good example is the Perrys. They must be two of the busiest guys in the business but they will usually take time to reply AND I cannot fault their service. Having a superior product as well doesn't hurt but its being prepared to go that bit extra - particularly when you don't have to - that gets my vote. I must be blessed as I have had mercifully few negative experiences in the hobby with retailers and purveyors of all things wargaming.