customer for life …

In my experience, it’s usually difficult to find exemplary customer service. I’ve seen a lot of below-average, average, and above-average performances, but it takes a lot more to be exemplary. Today is one of those days in which I am truly amazed.

Let’s back track a bit to Friday, May 31st, 2008. I was in Key West with my dad, sister and husband. We had booked a trip with Captain Chuck, owner and captain of the Delphine. Captain Chuck had come highly recommended, and we were learning why. We had an amazing morning of snorkeling and fishing. After swimming with a sea turtle, looking lobster in the eyes, and checking out all the cool parrotfish, we picked up our fishing rods and tried hooking the big guys. Of course, we ended up with only some little yellowtail snapper and the barracuda continued to retreat under the boat. We snorkeled again, then headed back in to the marina.

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Once at the marina, Captain Chuck announced that we’d be feeding the yellowtail snapper to the tarpon on the other side of the marina. “Awesome!,” I thought. I had no idea! We head over to the fish cleaning station, where three fishermen are lined up and cleaning their catch of the day. We stood to watch them for a few minutes, and were amazed as the tarpon swimming in this area jumped out of the water to catch the scraps being thrown to them. These are 6 to 8 foot long fish that weigh 300 lbs.!

After marveling, we walked around to the open dock. Captain Chuck handed my dad a snapper and told him to kneel down and put the snapper near the water. He warned that they’re quick, so we should pay attention if we wanted to see them. My sister, husband and I watched in amazement as the first snapper was scarfed down by this mammoth fish. Alli was up next, and she did a good job of throwing the snapper to the tarpon. I got pictures of both dad and Alli feeding the fish, and as Justin grabbed his snapper from the bucket, Captain Chuck recommended setting our underwater camera on video mode and getting this last feeding frenzy from underwater. “Sweet!,” is what was running through my mind. “This is going to be awesome!” We get the settings ready to go, the lanyard is secured around my wrist, and before the camera meets the water, Captain Chuck issues a warning: “Be sure to keep the camera close to the dock. I’ve seen tarpon eat cameras before, but if you keep it close to the dock, you should be okay.” Alright.

-Interjection- Now, about this camera. It’s a SeaLife ReefMaster camera; a respectable brand for an underwater digital. As of May, it was fairly new, and had met the water only 3 or 4 times – a couple of times in Grand Cayman, the rest in Cabo San Lucas. Camera, media card and batteries made up an investment of around $300-350. Memories in the camera to this point were worth around $1,000. Okay, I admit it, I’m a picture FREAK.

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Back to reality. So armed and ready, I submerge the camera, keeping it right next to the dock. Seconds later, Justin feeds the fish, and we’re all excited about what we’ll see on the camera. Ha! Right after the yellowtail snapper meets his fate in the belly of a tarpon, the camera meets the same! Without even a second to think, or look, a tarpon comes from no where, rips the camera right off my arm, and tears the lanyard in half!

Once I realized I still had my hand and was still safe on dock, I became immediately devastated. The camera, which belonged to my dad, was not my worry. I could replace that. The lost pictures, and the loss of pictures from our 4 upcoming dives, is what broke my heart.

We spoke with the marina manager, who told us that he’s seen them spit cameras up before. He said he’d send a diver down to look for it later in the day. Awesome, there’s hope! We offered him a reward, gave him our contact information, and headed back to the house, heavy-hearted.

-Interjection- Okay, I was the only one with a heavy heart. Everyone else thought it was hilarious! My sister said she’d never forget the look on my face, and my dad said, “That’s your luck, babe!” Justin, true to his quiet style, just shook his head.

Before leaving a few days later, we checked in at the marina to see if they’d had any luck. The diver didn’t find it, but they’d keep our information in case it came up.

Keys 128On Thursday, June 12th at 7:47 am, I got an e-mail from my dad that said, “Check out the picture I found!” After checking out the attachment, I was completely confused. (Remember, I’m blonde.) Running through my mind was, “This looks an awful lot like the barracuda that was hanging out under the boat after our second snorkeling endeavor. Or was it under the dive boat? No, it was snorkeling! Yes!” He confirmed; the camera had made it back to us! Woohoo!

The condition of the camera itself was not so good. The buttons were rusted and gummed up. The camera was officially out of commission, but the memory card was good to go! Success!

A few weeks later, my dad sent the camera back to SeaLife with a note about what had happened. Honestly, we thought they’d laugh at it, check it out for research purposes, and offer to fix it for a “nominal” fee. Nope, not so. What did they do? They sent him a brand new, still-in-package, with tags camera! Unbelievable!

On to the point. As a marketer, I’m terribly critical of companies and their customer service decisions. While most of my analysis is done based upon negative circumstances, there are exceptions. What SeaLife did is almost unheard of. Why more companies don’t “get it” like SeaLife does is beyond me. They’ve earned at least two customers for life, and hopefully many more (Hint, hint!). They’ve gone above and beyond with respect to their customer service. A low-cost decision on their part could bring them thousands of dollars worth of business in the long run.

Sweet, huh?

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