Friday, July 17, 2009

This Is What Surfing Should Look Like

I've chosen a particularly happy image for today's posting, to help wash away the bad taste that was left in my mouth yesterday. It's exceedingly rare, almost unheard of, that I would tell someone to "f___ off" over the phone, but that's exactly what I did yesterday.

It felt good. It felt bad. It had to be done.

I've spent a few years as a casual associate of a company called the Fundy Group. The Fundy Group has developed a program called 'The Seamless Brand' and they help companies to make and keep a promise to their customers. I won't go into the details here, but take my word that they do excellent work. They also have a brilliant blog which is enlightening on so many fronts. It's not just for marketing and advertising gurus, it's for anyone who has ever bought or sold anything in their lives. The blog serves up resonant riffs on business with a bent on branding. The Seamless Brand blog is part of my ongoing education. Check it out.

Through my association with the Fundy Group I've taken more than just a passing interest in branding and customer service. I'm quite passionate about it. I'm not as active as the Fundy Group's president, Gair Maxwell, far from it. Gair is a fireball of energy, enthusiasm and ideas. I'm more of an armchair activist. When motivated properly, or improperly, I can get rather animated, hence my comment over the phone yesterday.

It all goes back to my purchase of a surfboard on June 12 from a store called the South Shore Surf Shop in Lunenburg. It's a small surf shop in an inconvenient location, but sometimes that's how I prefer to shop. I'd drive an extra twenty miles to avoid shopping at Walmart because I value the kind of customer service and expertise that I typically find from small businesses.

With a huge grin of satisfaction, I bought my first surfboard and drove forty-five minutes back to Halifax, where I was staying. The next morning I headed to the ocean to catch some waves with some fellow boardheads. In the parking lot at Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia's best known surf beach, I attempted to install the fins on my surfboard. I got the first of three on with no problem. It quickly became apparent that the other two screws that came with the board were not the proper ones so, disheartened, I left Lawrencetown and headed back to New Brunswick with not so much as one salt bleached strand of hair.

I was disappointed that the board came with the wrong parts but I understand that stuff like this happens occasionally. No one wants to be Schleprocked, but we all are from time to time. Wowzee, wowzee, woo woo.

Upon my return home, I went to the South Shore Surf Shop's web site and clicked on 'contact'. I filled out the e-mail boxes and pressed send. Then I waited, and waited, and waited. After two weeks without a reply, or the missing screws appearing in my mailbox as I had requested, I phoned the company. I spoke not to the owner, Walter, but to a new employee. I gave him detailed instructions as to what had happened, and what needed to be done. I gave all of my contact information. He was sympathetic. Then I waited, and waited, and waited.

Nothing. Nothing!

Finally, on July 16, I phoned the company again. This time I spoke to Walter. In the politest voice that I could muster, I told him about my e-mail, my phone call, and my lack of fin screws. He told me to go to a hardware store and buy them myself.


I explained that I felt that I should receive the factory fin screws so there was no chance of any mis-threading errors or screw ups. He kept insisting that he didn't have the proper screws in stock, and that he gave me what the surfboard manufacturer, NSP, gave him. He said that he'd have to order the screws for me. Again he told me to go to a hardware store and buy them myself. He seemed inconvenienced by my problem, never offered any apology, and didn't appear to give a rat's ass about me as a customer. That's when I decided to cut my losses, and I told him to "f___ off."

That was the end of my call. He called back and left a message on my answering machine, berating me me for not just going to a hardware store to buy them. In his parting jab, he derogatorily called me "Einstein" which, oddly enough, I appreciated because Walter is clearly not one.

I'll never shop at the South Shore Surf Shop in Lunenburg again. I'll tell my friends never to shop there. I'll tell the world never to shop there. I care about customer service, not just mine, but yours too. Surfing should put the biggest smile on your face that's imaginable. It's one of the most liberating experiences that you'll ever experience.

You. A board. A wave.

Every surf shop owes its customers a happy day on the waves.

I could end this blog on a sour note, but I'm not. A highly thoughtful friend of mine provided me with a link to the customer service department at NSP, so I sent them an e-mail last evening at
about 10:15 p.m. At 10:31 p.m. I received an apologetic e-mail from NSP's Customer Service Manager in Australia. He asked for my contact information and also alerted his North American dealer of my situation. I sent the information as requested. At 12:14 a.m., the North American Customer Service Manager sent me an e-mail saying that the missing fin screw would be sent by express post immediately.


It's amazing to witness the worst possible service followed up by the best possible service. I'll definitely purchase another NSP surfboard in the future, but there's a zero percent chance that it'll be purchased from the South Shore Surf Shop. I learned from my days with the Fundy Group that your company is only as good as the front line person greeting your customers. Even if your company's CEO is a wizard, it means nothing if the guy at ground level is a dolt.

Fortunately, for me, there's another NSP dealer in Nova Scotia. They're called Kannon Beach. I should have bought the board there in the first place. It turned out that they sell the exact same board that I bought, and for a bit less than I paid.

Oh well, it's all water under the board now. I've been screwed before, and I'll be screwed again. No doubt these fiascoes will make their way into my future blog postings.

The surfing picture at the beginning of this blog post was taken in les Iles de la Madeleine. Please take one last look at my surfing friend as that's the true essence of surfing. Look at the joy on her face. Isn't that what we're all searching for in our assorted hobbies, pursuits, sports, jobs and lives?

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