If you’ve seen my about page, then you know I grew up in the music industry. As a result, I have formed expectations of what I expect from a retail music store.
My recent experience with Guitar Center in Winter Park, Florida was a textbook example of great service, not-so-great service, and then excellent service recovery.
And it all began with a new house.
At the end of 2012, we began the process of purging as many unneeded items as we could in anticipation of moving. I had some musical equipment I decided to sell, and one of those pieces was a classic Park amplifier. For you gearheads, it was a 4×12 cabinet with a 50 watt head all wrapped in the retro green Park exterior.
It is a vintage amp in good condition, but I had been lugging it around for 25 years or so and had not played it in over 10. It was time for someone else to enjoy it.
I took my gear to the Guitar Center staff one night to see what I could sell. Most of my stuff is junk or out-of-date, so they were only interested in the Park amp.
The purchasing process was interesting. The buyers were in California, so they used a system where the associate took digital pictures of the amp with his phone and sent them to the buyer. The process took over two hours, as the sales associate had to take apart the entire amp and photograph every tube, transistor and speaker to ensure they were the original components.
The associate apologized for the delay but kept me going with “I think you’re going to be happy; they got really excited when I told them it was the green amp.”
The short of it: Guitar Center did not nickel and dime me, and they gave me a fair price for the amp.
I was toying around with buying a guitar as a reward for accomplishing some major goals in 2012 but, considering how little time I have to play, was not keen on spending much. So, I decided that if I got enough for the amp; I would buy the guitar I had been eyeing online.
After receiving a solid price on the amp, I made the leap and placed an order for my new guitar, putting the amp trade-in towards a large part of the price.
Since it was right at the beginning of the holiday season, my associate told me that the guitars were out of stock, and the next batch would not be in until early January. I was in no real rush, so I told the associate just to let me know when it arrived.
Last week, mid-January, I had a note on my to do list to follow up with Guitar Center about the guitar. Before I had the chance, I received a voicemail from Jeremiah, the Operations Manager at the store.
The message was professional, but the message was upsetting. Essentially: Your guitar has been sitting here for over a month. Would you like to come pick it up or should we return it?
Of course, I was upset. I had not received a single communication from Guitar Center about the guitar. And how was it in the store for over a month? It wasn’t even supposed to be in until early January.
I called Jeremiah and explained to him why I was confused and a bit upset by his message. Once I explained what I had been told, he told me that instead of coming from the warehouse in January, they fulfilled the order out of another store soon after my purchase. He said that I should have received multiple emails letting me know the progress of the order. I told him I had received none.
I also asked if the guitar was a floor model. He had been super cool so far but impressed me even further with his response: “I’m not sure if it is or not, but it is still in the shipping box so I am not going to open it until you are here, so we can both see how it came in.”
He gave me his hours and told me to ask for him when I came in the store.
I went down to the store a few days later and Jeremiah pulled the guitar for me. We opened the box together, and as soon as he saw the interior box, he said, “I can tell you right now, this is a floor model.”
I had already told him that I wanted a brand new guitar and not one that had been test driven at a retail store for heaven knows how long.
He didn’t even blink. He took me back to his office and looked up the model on his system. It was showing one in the Distribution Center, and he placed a call to the DC to make sure that they had the item.
Jeremiah offered to overnight the guitar to the store. I told him that he could save the money and just do 2-day, as there was no chance I was going to make it back the next day to pick it up. He insisted in having it there for me, however.
I also asked him how the setup on the new guitars was. (Guitars have to be “setup” to be in their best playable form.) He said the factory setup was pretty good, and I asked about how they charged to do a setup ($60). I told him that if he thought it needed to be setup, to go ahead and do it. I said I trusted his judgement and that I did not live close by. I did not want to come down there, find out it needed a setup, and then have to come back a few days later.
Fast forward to last Friday, I gave Jeremiah a call. He told me that the guitar was there and ready for pickup. I asked him if he had the chance to check on the setup, and he replied, “I had it setup for you here in the store, and we took care of it for you.” I thanked him, and he thanked me for “having the right to be a lot more upset than I was.”
I told him I would come by on Saturday. He said it was in his office and just to ask for a manager when I came in.
When I was in the office with Jeremiah, we tried to figure out why I never received any emails. My original sales associate had been off by two letters. He had counting@ instead of accounting@.
It was a simple mistake that could happen to any organization — what mattered was the recovery.
Here are a few key takeaways:
1. Proactive Anticipation. The Ops Manager, Jeremiah, took great care to avoid future problems once the issue had developed by proactively anticipating other issues that could arise. He made sure to not unpack the guitar from it’s original shipping box until I got there, eliminating any possibility of me accusing the store of weird stuff with the guitar (not that I would). He also made sure to call the Distribution Center to ensure that the single unit showing on the computer was actually there.
2. Accountability. Jeremiah took ownership of the problem. He gave me his hours and told me to ask for him when I came in the store. He also made sure to notice when the guitar came in so he could create an…
3. Added WOW. Jeremiah threw in a free setup for the guitar when he did not have to. This saved me money and time and was a pleasant surprise when I arrived at the store to pick up my new guitar.
My experience at Guitar Center in Winter Park provided a great example of service recovery. When was the last time a company dropped the ball with you but made it better with a great service recovery?
By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.