Wednesday, April 8, 2009

RMM's Guide to Getting Broken Stuff Replaced for Free

When bike parts break "just riding along," I contact manufacturers and ask for replacement parts. Nine times out of ten, companies send me replacements along with profuse apologies, sometimes with freebies.

Over the years, I have cultivated my persuasive writing skills. I follow a proven pattern when seeking replacements, listed in chronological order:

1. Bring the broken item into a friendly LBS. Ask them to pursue the manufacturer. Often the quest ends here.

2. In simple cases I may call the manufacturer, but usually I skip straight to step three. Remember to be polite and consiliatory. Use the strategies listed in three, only verbally.

3. Write a professional, polite business letter that: first tells the company how much you like their product (seriously stroke their ego), states your history with the product and with the company in question (tell Look how many sets of Look pedals you have bought), outlines the issue/failure, states the steps already taken (LBS, phone call), states why you think that you should get a new -----, discusses the inconvience that you have experienced (If you walked 15 miles in your carbon road shoes, make sure you mention it), states what will happen if the company refuses to satisfy you (you will never buy their product again and will talk trash about it at every opportunity) and lastly thank them for their consideration. Remember to be firm but very polite.

3. The letter should provide a deadline for hearing from them concerning the matter; I usually give them 2 weeks. Assure the company that you will refrain from talking about the issue until after the deadline has passed.

4. After the deadline passes without satisfaction, use your Twitter, Facebook, blog whatever internet tools you have to roast the company in question. Many of the bigger companies have people who monitor what people on the internet are saying about them. See the comments on my Knog post for an example.  There have been rumors of dissatisfied customers getting turned away by customer service only to be contacted and conpensated after they posted on thier twitter/facebook.  

5. If you get no justice, DON'T BUY THAT GARBAGE EVER AGAIN!

6. If you get justice, you should give the company some props: Facebook, Blog, Twitter, whatever. Don't forget this step, it is an implicit part of the bargain.

My usual strategy when contacting bicycle companies to request a remedy is to convince them that whether they agree that the I am justified in demanding a replacement or not, that they should provide a replacement because if they don't I will make it uncomfortable for them. Ultimately, it is less expensive to accomadate me than to cross me. I break it down into simple math, without the numbers.

It is a subtle craft. I perfected this art in fighting parking tickets. When disputing a $40 parking ticket, your only job is to make it cost more than $40 for the city to recover the cost of the ticket. When this is the case, they will drop the ticket even if you are in the wrong (unless you get a bureaucrat with a chip on their shoulder).  If you don't make it difficult for them, they will deny your dispute, even if you are correct, because they's rather be wrong and get the money than do the right thing and forgo the income.  

Call it blackmail, call it underhanded, call it a dark art. But when you consider the prices that we pay for components, frames and clothing, I feel like we should be able to rely on our gear to function properly for a reasonable period of time. When things break under normal use, you have been ripped off and you are within your rights to ask for justice. Of course there are economics running in the other direction too. If you are worth $40 an hour, it makes no sense spending more than half an hour trying to collect $20 worth remedy. If you are well paid, write off the small stuff. If you are starving student or unemployed...

17 comments:

Colin R said...

My usual strategy when contacting bicycle companies to request a remedy is to convince them that whether they agree that the I am justified in demanding a replacement or not, that they should provide a replacement because if they don't I will make it uncomfortable for them.

No, that's definitely called "blackmail."

RMM said...

Colin:

You have helped me establish my limits with your comments on this blog.

While I consider cowering in the gutter while cycling beneath my dignity, I am willing to engage in blackmail to push manufacturers to stand behind their products.

rosey said...

cut to the chase. you will be a royal pain in their ass until you feel rightfully compensated.

RMM said...

rosey:

You actually pulled off the single best gripe that I know of.

Correct me if you are wrong: you got a discounted frame from Seven while you were an employee there. A couple of years later you decided that you didn't like the frame. You talked Seven into making you a new frame for the cost of new tubes only. Meanwhile they allowed you to sell the unacceptable frame on eBay for more than you paid for the new frame.

You should be in sales. Oh wait, you are.

Also, you forget that I am a teacher, I feel the need to teach my readers how make their bitching effective in remedying their issues.

Yash Katsumi said...

On the whole, politeness and professionalism goes a long way.

One of the battles I did not win against was with Reynolds. They have almost no one working there and take forever to return your emails. I once heard that the receptionist was truing wheels because they were so short on staff.

Anyways I tried to have them replace a hub which they claimed was "machined incorrectly". They wanted me to pay for shipping to and from there and the new hub. Terrible terrible customer service. I will never buy anything from them again.

On a brighter note, Eriksen cycles has amazing customer service.

RMM said...

Yash:

I wish that you had stuck it to them on your blog before you signed off. Some of your friends have purchased Reynolds wheels since your problem with them. They may have thought twice if they had known that Reynolds dared to cross the mighty Katsumi.

RMM said...

Yash:

On another note, the makers of Jimi read your blog and saw that yours had broken. They replaced it for free without you ever asking.

rosey said...

rmm,
actually i emailed them to ask if i could pay them to rework the frame with a new front end because after becoming a more competitive 'cross racer i felt the geometry was not well suited to 'cross racing (which i had asked for from the beginning).
there were no threats, no negative comments, and i offered to pay for the rework from the beginning.
the fact that 7's management took it upon themselves to offer me a new frame at the same price i paid for the first one was their decision, with no suggestion or forcing from me. i would rank their customer service at the top of the list for bike companies based on my experience.
i can also tell you from my days of employment (as the customer service manager) at 7 that they do not succumb to negative tactics or online verbal assaults when they know they have done nothing wrong. plenty of other companies do but as the saying goes: you get more bees with honey...

kevin said...

I gotta agree with Colin, I think your whole approach/letter would be more effective if it didn't contain any threats about what you will do if your demands are not me. It's the bike industry, it's not like these companies are sitting on a giant pile of money. We're all basically on the same team, no need for hostility.

Yash Katsumi said...

True true.

JIMI does rock.

I am not sure what Reynolds is like now(my experience was from 2 years ago), but I find it strange that they no longer make C-forks, which was what they were known for for years...

RMM said...

Kevin/Colin:

In my experience most companies respond better to the stick than to the carrot.

It is sad but true.

All I want is gear that does what it is intended to do for a reasonable period of time.

Most bicycle companies never hear from me, because their stuff is well made and lasts for more than a season. Others allow their dealers to service broken items so that the issue never escalates.

Most of the companies that have head from me were arrogant or handled the situation poorly from the getgo, causing me to resort to "blackmail."

As for me, when I have a $400 piece of equipment that fails for no good reason and the manufacturer tells me that I am on my own, I think that I am within my rights to tell them how I plan on handling the situation. If that causes them to rethink their flawed policy in my case...

Also, if someone is making garbage and refuses to stand behind it, I am providing a service when I tell you all about them.

Colin R said...

Of course, everyone's definition of "unreasonable equipment failure" is different. That's kind of the problem here. We can all agree that sometimes shit breaks when it shouldn't, and sometimes shit breaks because shit wears out over time, especially depending on how it's used.

I'm sure in your mind you only threaten companies whose products have broken when they shouldn't have, but based on your opening sentence it sounds like you prefer to scam new parts out of companies whenever it seems even remotely possible. After all, what is a broken or worn part but a parking ticket in the side street of life that is your cycling hobby?

Anyway, it seems clear to me that when you threaten a company prior to them actually doing something wrong/rude to you (a broken part is not them wronging you), you are being a douchebag. The fact that this tactic is effective in no way absolves it of douchebaggery; after all, I could supplement my income by hustling schoolkids for their lunch money. It's much cheaper for them to give me the money than to get beat up by a hulking 145 lb cyclist, but that doesn't make it right, nor something I would brag about on the internet.

RMM said...

Colin:

I think that you have misunderstood something. I have ruined many parts and accepted most of them. But when inexplicable failures occur that are clearly due to design or manufacturer error, then the manufacturer should be held accountable. If one has to push a little to get action...I see no problem with that. Over the course of my cycling career, I have trashed/broken/snapped/stripped/rendered useless/knocked out of true/pitted 100's of parts. I have written no more than 5 of these letters in response to failures.

My first step is always the bike shop. Notice that I state that this usually provides the remedy.

Often times it has been shop management that has encouraged me to write a letter, as they know that I can be more firm than they can, as I have no account to protect.

As for my douchebaggery, that has been established long ago. And I don't deny it in general, but in this case, I deny douchiness. Obviously I have struck a nerve.

RMM: Systematically alienating Boston area cyclists since 12/2008.

Colin R said...

Thanks for clarifying the frequency with which this happens.

The purpose of my comments here have been to try to alert you that you came off as a real d-bag in the original post. This could be because you actually are a d-bag, or just because you didn't realize that saying something like "I blackmail companies for free stuff" could come off as d-baggy.

Anyway, hopefully you can understand that there's an ethical line one can cross here, to get a fair amount of ill-deserved free stuff simply by being a threatening pest to various companies. The tone with which your post was written made me think you crossed this line regularly, but your responses in the comments sound better.

RMM said...

Colin:
While people read your blog because they like you and want to hear what you are up to, people read my blog for the same reason that they slow down when there is a major car wreck on the highway or stop and watch a fight on the street...drama.

Colin R said...

Actually, the traffic stats have shown that they read it hoping to see seat cam videos :)

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