Close encounters with customer service

30 Jan

The Master Weatherproof lock was not weatherproof at all. Getting it returned for exchange was no an easy thing, however.

January 30, 2012

By Geoff Meeker

I’ve been raving for three years about my Zeppelin, the fabulous iPod speaker dock by Bowers & Wilkins (B&W). The sound quality from this device is the best I’ve ever heard from a speaker dock.

Alas, my precious Zeppelin started to malfunction late last year, and crashed completely just before Christmas.

The humanity!

The speaker, which is named for its dirigible-like shape, would not recognize my iPod or iPhone, and just sat there, an expensive doorstop ($700) with a flashing red light. I tried downloading new firmware, but that didn’t work, and the warranty had long since expired.

An Internet search revealed that my “red light of death” was not an isolated illness. It was, in fact, an epidemic, with Zeppelin owners the world over experiencing similar problems. I saw an opening. Could I persuade B&W, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of high-end speakers, to fix my unit, by suggesting that this was a “recall” situation? Yes, the warranty was expired, but this was a manufacturing defect. More than anything, I was testing the company’s commitment to customer service, and willingness to stand behind its products.

I called B&W to see what they could do. It was a long shot, for sure, but I hit the bullseye.

The attendant recognized my problem immediately. He didn’t ask when I purchased the product, or challenge me on warranty. He asked if I still had the original packaging. I didn’t. He said they would mail me the box with foam cradles, at no charge, and I should then mail the Zeppelin to their service centre in Montreal. B&W would repair the unit for free, and pay for return postage. My only cost was $25 shipping to Montreal.

I mailed the Zeppelin on January 9. Two weeks later, it was back. I set it up, connected the iPhone and pressed play. Whoa. I was back in business. It’s sounding better than ever. It also looks new. They either replaced the fabric that surrounds most of the speaker, or have given me a completely new unit. Either way, this is the sign of a company that cares about its products.

B&W could have easily shut me down, and stuck to warranty limitations (as lesser companies would do). But they didn’t. They stood behind their product and fixed it, without hesitation or argument. Congratulations, B&W, on getting it right.

My experience with a local hardware store was not as commendable, but social media came to the rescue.

Have you ever tried bringing back a defective product, only to be rebuffed by a clerk who, despite your best arguments, refuses to accept the return? In the old days, that was the end of it. Not anymore.

A while back, I bought the Master Weatherproof lock ($15), to secure my new shed. It has a blue plastic outer case, and a cap on the bottom that covers the keyhole, supposedly protecting it from the weather. Having chipped freezing rain away from my old lock on more than one occasion, this technological advance made sense.

However, several weeks later, I removed the cap and a small deluge of water poured out of the lock. Rain had trickled in from the top and was prevented by the cap from escaping. Talk about a design flaw! When it dipped below zero, the lock would freeze solid.

Hoping for the best, I left the cap off the bottom, allowing it to drain. Alas, it was dead of winter the next time I tried to open the shed, and the lock was frozen solid anyway. I sprayed WD40 into the keyhole and, after much coaxing, it opened with a worrisome grind. This was a faulty product, and it was going back to Home Hardware.

The clerk at the returns counter understood the problem, and agreed that a lock full of water was not a good thing. However, when he inserted the key into the lock, which was now toasty warm and full of lubricant, it opened. He wouldn’t take a return, even when I reiterated that the lock would freeze again if I used it outdoors – especially with the cap in place.

However, no luck. In frustration, I told them they could keep the lock, and walked out of the store, leaving it on the counter.

Several hours after posting my complaint on Twitter, I received the above message from customer service at Home Hardware.

In the old days, that might have been the end of it. But now, we have Twitter. I sent a message to @home_hardware, outlining my complaint with the lock, and the store’s intransigence. Within two hours, I had received a reply from Jenny in customer service, advising that my complaint was being forwarded to the purchasing department, and that they “hope to find a lock that will work properly for you.”

This discussion was going on right up to my deadline, but it looks like the situation will be handled. The lesson? If you feel burned by a major chain, fire off a complaint on Twitter. In most cases, they will take notice and rectify the problem for you.

As for the lock, I have since learned that solid brass is the only way to go. Pass over everything else – especially those with plastic caps on the bottom.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at


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