In this time of mass-marketed, mass-produced services and products, I wonder if the last bastion of customer service are the relatively small, long-established companies with a rich tradition of loyal customers.
I say this because I have used the "contact us" form on several Web sites to no avail. My questions must go either to a black hole of lost/ignored/misdirected questions, or they aren't of enough interest for anyone to answer. In my limited experience, the only large company that quickly and consistently responds to my messages is Amazon.com, where a real person usually responds within 24–36 hours with a personalized answer.
Many other organizations seem to satisfy themselves with a cold, standardized, and obviously automated message [***DO NOT REPLY TO THIS MESSAGE***]. It is as though a few minutes of back-end programming is enough to pass for customer service. In terms of customer experience, it is a little short of, "The estimated wait time for a live body who will read to you from a script that you have memorized better than he has is 27 minutes. Please hold. We appreciate your business, honest."
Recently, though, I have had a couple of very good experiences, and I would like to acknowledge them.
The first was with the U.S. branch of Faber-Castell, the Germany-based producer of pencils and other writing implements. The company was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Faber-Castell 9000 pencil with a special anniversary tin of a dozen 9000s. I ordered two directly from the company (not from a retailer). They were not packaged as well as they could have been, and the tins were slightly dented and nicked on arrival.
After thinking about it for a few days, I decided to e-mail Faber-Castell through their U.S. Web site. I think I said that I liked the tins and pencils, but that the packaging had allowed the tins to be damaged slightly, which defeated the purpose of buying them as a collector's item. I did not expect a response, but I received one—a sincere apology from a senior customer relations specialist and an offer to replace the tins. Within a week, new tins, better packaged, and filled with another two dozen Faber-Castell 9000s (not necessary!), arrived.
That is customer service, and it made me an instant fan of Faber-Castell.
Several years ago I bought lined black notebook paper for use with gel pens. A couple of weeks ago it occurred to me that I would like more, but I couldn't find it at the store where I had purchased it originally, nor could I find it, or anything like it, online. This is not surprising; I have noticed a number of schools are cracking down on anything that is not plain white notebook paper or blue or black ballpoint ink. (Some even expressly forbid the use of gel or rollerball pens of any color.)
Then I visited the Web site of the manufacturer, Riverside Paper Corporation. I didn't see the paper on there, either, so I sent an e-mail via the "contact us" form asking if it were still being produced.
To my surprise, I received an answer from the director of sales, marketing, and logistics support. The paper is no longer being manufactured, but the company had a supply on hand that they could sell to me for a nominal cost plus shipping. I was thrilled, but I wrote back that I am just an individual, not a retailer, so I could take only a portion of the total quantity, if that was acceptable. It was, and now I am the happy owner of a lifetime supply (and more) of lightweight black notebook paper. (I hope 2,000 sheets is enough!)
You may never need anything made by Faber-Castell or the Riverside Paper Corporation, and it is quite unlikely that, even if you did, you would need to contact them. I did, and I think they deserve praise for understanding that, no matter how big or small an organization is, it could not exist without its customers.