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Machine Shop Tips Committing Harakiri as a Manufacturer

I have wanted to write this article for awhile. You see, nothing boils my blood faster than encountering living proof of Darwin’s theory of natural selection, especially when that living proof is a customer service rep on the other end of the phone. This particular story comes from a friend of mine in the forestry sector. A few of my customers in forestry have had similar experiences with their manufactured parts, but this incident is probably the worst I’ve ever heard. Read further at your own peril and potential amazement. 

So my friend in the forestry sector manufactures saws. A component in his machinery, some steel rollers, were beginning to show signs of wear. He sent the rollers back to the manufacturer to be resurfaced, meaning that the surface of the roll is made smooth again. He was told he could expect them back within a few weeks. 

A week goes by, and a Purolator box arrives from the manufacturer. It had arrived early which my friend was happy about, as he could get back to work making high quality saws again.

He eagerly opened the package and removed the newly resurfaced rolls. As he examined them, he discovered a very large, deep grinding mark on one roll. His mood quickly turned sour. He could not use the rolls with a defect like this. He called the manufacturer, and explained the situation to a customer service representative. He stressed the urgency of the situation, that he could not use the resurfaced roller with a large grinding mark on it, therefore he needed a new one right away.

“That’s impossible,” said the customer service rep. My friend offered to send a photo of the mark as evidence. “No, that is just impossible,” the service rep reiterated. “The Purolator guy must have done it!”

My friend’s sour mood now turned angry. Frustrated, he replied, “You mean to tell me that you think the Purolator guy opened my package, ground a mark into my part, then sealed it back up and delivered it to me?”

“Yes,” the customer service rep said, with no trace of mirth.

My friend began to look like a cartoon character with a red face and bulging eyes, you could almost picture smoke coming out of his ears too. He was surprised the service rep was insulting his intelligence so blatantly, but before he could reply, the service rep said, “It’s impossible we did this because we inspect 100% of our parts!”

My friend lost it and began yelling, saying things that cannot be repeated in this article. The manufacturer implied that the Purolator driver must have had a grinder in his truck and purposefully opened the package in order to muck up one of the parts with that grinder. It was a highly organized conspiracy of sorts, completely void of logic or any sense of accountability. To add insult to injury and say that they inspect 100% of their parts meant this manufacturer had no interest in even trying to repair the customer relationship. Such a shame, over a relatively small mistake.

After about five minutes of continuous harsh discussions, the service rep said, “Since you’re a good customer of ours, we will fix this situation by resurfacing the roller again, but we do not take responsibility for what happened.” 

All my friend could manage at that point was, “Okay, and please send this to me in writing.” He hung up in total disgust. Moments later, he received an email recapping the conversation. I actually saw the email with my own eyes.

Needless to say, my friend no longer does business with this company. Even today, every time the subject comes up he gets very angry. He tells everyone this story. 

The lesson to learn here is quite simple. If you want to keep your customer, then you need to work with them when things go wrong. Things are going to go wrong at some point! It just happens. Accept responsibility, fix the situation and then afterwards analyze what went wrong and if you can do more to prevent it from happening again. Customers are often understanding that you made a mistake – everyone makes them! – and as long as you find a solution, they will be appreciative. If you’re honest about it too, they’ll even trust you more.

Mistakes don’t have to damage your customer relationships, and can actually often improve them, but if you fail to respond accordingly, you will lose customers. 

By the way, I have asked over twenty-five Purolator drivers if they carry a grinder on their trucks. All of them gave me a weird look and said, “Of course not!” Go figure!

What’s the worst mistake you, or your company, has ever made? How did you save the customer relationship?