Customer Service Is The New Black

April 12, 2008

This is the tale of buying a portable digital piano keyboard.  The final decision involved two brick and mortar stores, hours of Internet research, several online retailers, and ultimately came down to customer service.  

Bad Customer Service

Sibylle has wanted a good portable, digital piano keyboard for her studio for a while.  A good keyboard with fully-weighted keys, and some MIDI software on a computer would give her some additional composition and teaching opportunities.  She spent quite a bit of time researching options within her budget before venturing out to the piano store to get some expert advice, and a chance to play some of the models in which she was interested.  As the piano store only had digital pianos, and Sibylle was wanting a portable keyboard, her friend there suggested that she visit a nearby Guitar Center location, as they carried a large selection of keyboards within her budget range.

The salesman at Guitar Center was extremely helpful, answering all of her questions thoughtfully and clearly.  When her final selection turned out to be the one keyboard not left in their inventory, he offered to take 10% off the price for the demonstration unit.  After a careful inspection revealed no blemishes, she agreed to his terms.

Unfortunately the salesman's manager had a distinctly different idea about the discount available.  Had the piano been purchased and then returned it would be an "open box item," and would be eligible for a 10% discount.  As a "floor model" it was only eligible for a 5% discount.  The manager was unwilling to negotiate this point or the amount of the discount.  In the end he lost the sale over $30.  (That a so-called "open box" item would have its box, manual, and accessories and, moreover, only would have been handled by one family, whereas the "floor model" no longer had a box, its accessories, or manual, and had been exposed to anyone and everyone in the store for who knows how long, is the subject of another post.)

The manager was also unwilling to negotiate a trade off the $25 stand (which was included in the sale) for a $25 sustain pedal.  Throughout the hour or so spent in the store we were constantly bombarded by the store's overly loud rock guitar "in store radio station," and had to wait several times while the salesman tried to find a box, or other accessories not with the floor model.

By the time the manager nixed the 10% discount it was all too much, and Sibylle walked away from the sale.  

Good Customer Service

After returning home from the abortive attempt at Guitar Center, Sibylle found the same keyboard, for the same price, online at Musicians Buy.  The model she was interested in came with a "free stand and set of headphones."  Preferring a good sustain pedal instead, Sibylle discovered the site offered one she like for $0.25 more than the original price of the stand and headphones.  Musicians Buy's online order form provided a field for notes.  She was able to add a note saying that she wanted the digital piano but wanted to substitute the sustain pedal for the stand and headphones.

Today, a call to Musicians Buy confirmed that they were happy and willing to make the swap - for no additional charge.  The call was immediately answered by a person, no "listen carefully our menu has changed" dance with the touch pad on the phone.  The delivery is already in the Fed Ex system and is scheduled for next Wednesday.

The online purchase took but a few minutes, and was for exactly what Sibylle wanted.  No obnoxious music, no waiting around for the salesman or manager, no objections to a substitution, and no confusion about the price.  The contrast to the in-store experience could not have been more pronounced.

The Moral of the Story

By being unyielding about the differences between a "floor model" and an "open box item,"  and by not acknowledging the time Sibylle had already spent in his store, the manager lost the sale.  Whether or not a single lost sale will hurt his monthly revenue isn't the point.  His resistance to seeing the customer's viewpoint and, in effect his refusal to spend $30, cost him the sale, and the good will and future recommendations Sibylle will now be making for Musicians Buy. 

Investments aren't always black and white, sometimes there are intangibles worth far more than the immediately visible dollars spent or saved. In a day and age when a few minutes online can get you outstanding, personal customer service, I am not sure that the brick and mortar stores can safely cling to an outdated "take it or leave it" attitude.

Author's profile picture

Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.