Monday, December 19, 2011

Customer Service Blues

I run a dojo at a local Salvation Army with my training partner, Ed. I'm the keeper of all things attendance and cirriculum-related and the orderer of gis, sparring gear and equipment.

Since the closest thing resembling a martial arts supply house to our town is about an hour and a half away, 99% of the gis, sparring gear and school equipment I order comes via companies I find online. Usually, all I need is a size and a credit card and the equipment arrives in about a week or so.

I understand that occasionally mistakes happen, but today marks the second time I've had to say goodbye to a company because of their less-than-stellar customer service.

The first company had prices that were managable for the families we service and I happily ordered many, many gis - three and four at a time - from them. But when a large order - one of sparring gear that we needed for an upcoming tournament - took twice as normal to arrive without explanation, I called to find out what the delay was about. The response was that because of the size of our order - an eye-popping five sets of sparring gear - I should have known it would take longer than the eight to 10 days the website said its orders normally arrived within. When I explained the situation - that the gear was needed for the youngsters who would be traveling to their very first tournament ever - they offered to expedite it so it would arrive in time - for an additional $200. And no, the customer service rep who told me that wasn't joking. The very last conversation we had was a request to remove our contact information from their marketing and mailing list because we wouldn't be ordering from them again.

About eight months ago, I stumbled across another martial arts webstore. They offered a wholesale site that enabled karate schools like mine to get even bigger discounts on gear, clothing and equipment. Since our green belts will be starting bo training soon, I ordered their bos and cases via site #2 - and wouldn't you know it - the very first bo order was screwed up (they sent a straight bo instead of the tapered one I ordered for my oldest student). I called the company and the guy who answered was a bit gruff, hinting that the guy who handled the orders worked out of his garage and there was no way he (store guy) could correct it - only the Garage Guy could. So I emailed Garage Guy - who was gracious in apologizing for the mistake made on their end and sent me a new bo without requesting the other back. That, I thought, was customer service. His one attempt to go above and beyond had earned our customer loyalty.

That is until this weekend. Two new, gi-less students' parents ordered uniforms for their children for Christmas. For one parent, I know getting the money together was a struggle, so I made sure I ordered the gi about 30 minutes after she'd proudly pressed those wrinkled bills into my hand. As site #2 had always promised order delivery (and had always made it) within 10 days or less - I felt pretty confident that the order would make it in time for my new guys' parents to have the uniforms under their Christmas trees. A few days before I ordered the gis, I'd ordered 21.5" sais (the newest weapon my sensei is having us tackle) and a heavy-weight gi for myself.

On Saturday, the sais came - but they were only 15" long. I checked the order and saw that the mistake was on the company's end as even the packing slip had the correct size. Today, the gis arrived, but although I ordered two size 3 black student weight uniforms, there were two size 2s in the box. Sigh.

Remembering what happened the last time I called, I went straight to Garage Guy via email. He apologized for sending the wrong size sais but was less than stellar in regards to the gis. He basically said he'd mail out the correct sizes and wanted me to pack up the other gis and the sais and prepare them for pick-up via Fed-Ex tomorrow. Sometime. But I'll be working tomorrow, I wrote back. And since the new stuff wouldn't arrive until after Christmas, coudln't I just schedule the pickup for Tuesday so at least the parents would have some uniform for their kids on Christmas Day, I asked? His reply? "Please have my package ready for pickup tomorrow or I will have to charge you the call tag fees."

The packages were delivered to my home - and I live in a very safe neighborhood - but he didn't know that. Garage Guy had no idea that the address was not our dojo - which is in the middle of an econmically challenged area that I would NOT have felt comfortable leaving a package on the doorstep of AT ALL. You might want to check with your customers about their availability BEFORE you call to schedule a pick-up for an order YOU screwed up next time, dude. I'm just sayin'.

The attitude from Garage Guy was a little too "well - it's your problem" for my tastes. This company - via Garage Guy - made me feel like somehow I had done something wrong, when in fact it was his mistake that caused the need for a re-do - twice in as many orders, I might add. Plus, I've already shelled out money for products I don't yet have. Not cool - which is what I replied to him before I asked him to also remove our contact information from their mailing lists. There are too many other martial arts supply companies out there for me to be feeling like I'm wrong for expceting them to fix their mistake without inconveniencing me too much. They may be able get by with crappy customer service - but it won't be with my student's hard-earned ducats, that's for sure. We'll be taking those ducats elsewhere from now on.

Remember - and other webstores like you: you are only as good as your least satisfied customer, no matter how big or small your company is. That is the only way to keep customers. At least, that's the only way to keep this one.


  1. My goodness, what a headache! That's the very reason I am so cautious about buying online. I'd prefer to go to a store, but the only place we have around here that sells MA equipment is an Academy Sports and Outdoors and their selection is rather lacking besides the basics of gis and sparring gear.

    I've only ordered from a few companies online and so far haven't had any trouble. Karate Depot in particular has been great about fast shipping and the customer service has been excellent. I've also ordered from and have had no problems with,, and

  2. currently in a similar pickle. My appreciation has waned for a company that I have ordered several VERY expensive bo and tonfa. The first two bo were great. But the third bo was a special order and meant to be a gift, and wouldn't you know - had problems meeting the deadline (I called them months in advance), delivery and when it came was a straight vs. tapered bo. I'm still angry about it...but sensei doesn't want to bother with sending it back. Now, my tonfa. After two years of sanding and trying to make them a better fit and form, the handle broke off. I don't even want to bother making the company fix it...I just want to go elsewhere.

  3. Service, not many know what the word means and what it involves. In one IT book they refer to service as "something done for money." Go figure huh....

  4. Karatedepot is great - never had an issue with them. The site I was using was just a little less expensive, but now I see that those saved few dollars are hardly worth the headache. It sucks, but it is what it is...