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August 24, 2003

Showdown at CameraWorld

Posted by Mike on August 24, 2003 7:41 PM

Here's one to file under "asinine customer service" tales...

Some time around the 20th of June the telephoto lens I bought for my new camera stopped working (the autofocus died). Not a problem: the camera was just two months old, and I have an extended warranty on it for this sort of eventuality. I took the camera and lens back to the store where I bought them and showed them the problem.

The clerk I talked to was cool: he promised me a loaner lens while my lens was off for repair. The manager was more reticent. After I stood at one counter or another for a good fifteen minutes, he came back and told me a.) the store wasn't going to replace the dead lens on the spot because their warranty support is farmed out to a company that decides that sort of thing for them, b.) the lens would be gone for "two to eight weeks" (but he assured me the eight week figure was a "scare number," and c.) the store had no intention of providing a loaner of any sort, except, perhaps, in the form of a fixed-lens point-n-shoot cheapy "if it was an emergency, like a child's birthday party."

I stood my ground on the lens, pointing out that eight weeks represented about a seventh of my total warranty period, and that the reason I'd bought the camera (our trip to Yellowstone) was just two weeks away. It took a lot of staring and repeating what the manager said back to him slowly enough to make him know I was listening to every word. Eventually he caved and dug out a spectacularly bad lens, saying it was the best he could do. I was out the store and about three blocks down the street when I turned around and went back in the store, explaining that I had looked at the lens, lined up a few shots with it, and didn't think it was a satisfactory replacement considering it represented about a third of the functionality I had with my lens.

More arguing (I didn't raise my voice, which seemed to hypnotize the manager into trying to say things as reasonable as the tone of voice I'd established) and I got a lens out of them that was substantially nicer than the one in for repairs, the manager pointing out that they'd have to sell it as used after I had it for a few weeks. I hadn't asked for a nicer lens: I'd asked for the lens I'd just handed in to be replaced with the same model, no harm no foul. A few of the longer shots I got in Yellowstone wouldn't have happened without the replacement, so I was immensely grateful to the manager for deciding to complexify the whole situation. It clearly pained him to break from the "sorry, you'll just have to do without your camera for two months" script, and I'm sure if I'd broken the loaner he gave me, it would have cost him at least an ass-chewing. He gets a nice letter from me.

Yesterday, the store called to tell me my lens was finally, nine weeks later, ready for pickup. I headed downtown, gave the counter person my name, and watched as they pulled out a brand new lens, still in the box. Nine weeks, two arguments, and the store having to eat a lens they won't be able to sell as new (the loaner they gave me) and the end result is someone at the warranty center saying "fuck it, just send him a new one," which is all I had asked for in the first place.

Color me bemused.