Monday, May 17, 2010

Customer Service So Good, It's Scary!!

At Halloween Asylum, we really care about customer service and today I want to share a story with you about the cooperation of manufacturers, distributors, and retailers that goes on behind the scenes that hopefully leads to greater customer satisfaction.

Last week we received a large shipment from one of our suppliers, Morris Costumes. We have a great relationship with this company and I always deal with Scott Morris, who has always treated me well and is just a really nice guy. In this particular shipment there were many Frightronics animated props that we had ordered. This line of props is distributed by Morris, but made by Distortions Unlimited in Colorado… good old American made products! The props in this group include Rocking Granny, who was very popular last year, along with seven new characters – Crotchety Grandpa, Bones, Twitch, Psycho Sam, Buzz, Creepy Cathy, and Twisted.

We started opening up these props, setting them up one by one, to test them. We wanted to see what they actually do as opposed to what we saw them doing when we ordered them at a tradeshow months ago. All of these props are accompanied by a cd soundtrack that goes along with the movements of the prop. So we set each one up and prepared to video tape it with the sound so our customers can see what they are actually getting when ordering from us (if different than the video already supplied by Distortions).

Right out of the box the prop Buzz was quite different than expected. At the show and in the video provided to us, he gently rocked back and forth during the “electrocution” sequence on the cd. I set him up on a table (mind you he weighs 33 lbs.), plug him in, reach around his back and turn the knob. Well, I nearly got head butted into unconsciousness when Buzz started to violently flail back and forth! Gone was the gentle rocking I’d seen at the show! If only the video were rolling right then, we’d all have a good laugh today. Believe me, trying to restrain a full size human prop that is violently thrashing around while you let go with one hand in order to reach for that knob again is not an easy task!

After reading the instructions, I realized that Buzz is sound activated and the knob that I turned was meant to be adjusted slowly until he responds to the electrocution sound, not just cranked full blast. Armed with this new knowledge, I set out to get Buzz to respond only when needed. But I had a really hard time… his soundtrack was not the same as I heard at the show – instead of speaking with a soft southern drawl, he now had a gruffer, meaner voice. In my opinion, that was a good improvement (he is a prisoner after all), but it seemed the volume of his voice was too similar to the volume of the electrocution and he was moving when he shouldn’t be. I’d turn the knob a hair in one direction and he would do nothing, turn it a hair in the other and he moved non-stop. I futzed with the prop for about an hour and got it to the point where he moved only a little while talking and then did his violent thrashing when getting zapped.

The video of Buzz as received last week:

I sent a quick email off to Scott to tell him what a pain it was to work with this prop. I knew my customers would be as frustrated as I was in trying to get it to work correctly. Scott then forwarded my email off to the good folks at Distortions. A day and a half later they responded saying they recorded a new soundtrack that will correct the problem and they’d send it right out. WOW! They listened and responded, fixing the problem faster than I could have imagined!

As we continued to test the rest of the props, we thought they were all great, but if their soundtracks had slight improvements, they’d be even better. There were long lag times between the tracks and the tracks themselves were fairly short. Most of these props are not sound activated… they just keep moving, pausing here and there, and the soundtrack runs in the background. It just seemed a little odd to me to have the prop moving and not saying anything and you could hear the motor humming along making some clicking sounds as the prop went through its various motions. So I dashed off another email to Scott. Once again, there was a super fast response from Marsha at Distortions that said after reading my suggestions they looked at all of the soundtracks again and are now reworking them. They should have them completed in about a week. They are making the tracks longer and adding continuous background noise to cover any motor sounds. For example, Crotchety Grandpa is made to sit in a rocker and rock back and forth, so he will have creaky rocking chair sounds running continuously that can be heard between his spoken phrases. This will add to his overall effect and hide any motor sounds. There will be a similar change for many of the Frightronics props. The Psycho Sam soundtrack was already set up like this with breathing and heartbeat sounds running continuously on his cd – I think it makes an incredible difference.

We also passed along suggestions to change the box size for a couple of the props. If you’ve ever shipped anything with UPS, you probably know that the bigger the box is the higher the price is. Once you get over a certain size box, UPS has a formula to calculate the dimensional weight of an item and that’s what they base their charge on, not the actual weight of the box. For example, Buzz weighs 33 lbs. but due to his box size, UPS is charging as if he weighs 80 lbs. We found it would cost about $108 for us to ship one Buzz prop to the west coast – we’re in Massachusetts. But we also found that there was a lot of excess space in Buzz’s box and that if we just trimmed it down a few inches, the shipping cost dropped to $58. So for a little bit of effort, we can save our customers a lot of money and in this economy, who wouldn’t appreciate that?? Customers that live closer will still see significant savings in the neighborhood of $35. We also repacked all of the Creepy Cathy props for the same reason. She’s a lot smaller than Buzz, but by buying smaller boxes and simply repacking her in these, we will save our customers about $20 on each one sent out. We spend $2 on a smaller box, you save $20 on shipping… not a bad deal, right? I believe Distortions will be packing both of these props similar to this when they leave their factory in the future.

So kudos to Scott Morris for caring enough about my concerns to tell the manufacturer. And kudos to Distortions Unlimited for listening and taking amazingly quick action to improve their products. Their efforts are much appreciated.

I just thought you might be interested to know that some retailers and manufacturers really do care about customer satisfaction… Halloween Asylum is proud to be one of them!