Why Pleasing Your Customer Isn’t Always a Good Thing

It Could Be Bad for Your Business

We always want to push the limits of customer service, but sometimes it can be the worst thing for your business.

In 2008 I quit soccer and took up bicycling on my 24 year-old Cannondale that had been top-of-the-line in 1989. In 2009, after a year of riding a lot, I knew I wanted to take it seriously. I had some experienced biking friends who tried to convince me to buy a metal frame, because carbon was too fragile and flimsy. But carbon was the new thing, all the rage, lighter, faster, etc. None of the industry marketing mentioned durability differences (they still don’t), so I forged ahead to buy carbon.

In fairness to the manufacturers, they are all responding to their professional customers and other very serious customers who relentlessly push for lighter and faster bikes. But in trying to please them, the manufacturers are jeopardizing their reputations among a growing population of those serious bikers, and the much larger general population like me, who are looking for the “best” bikes. They don’t disclose that today’s bikes are not meant to stand up under even normal amateur conditions like my old Cannondale would. See the difference below:

Repair History of the 24 year-old, top-of-the-line aluminum Cannondale w/ Dura-Ace components-90k+ miles:
• Regular tune ups. All original components, wheels and frame still functioning very well.

Repair History of the four year-old Specialized Tarmac SL2 Pro w/ Dura-Ace components – 4.5k miles per year – 14k total miles:
• Complete frame replaced at 9k miles – Bottom Bracket separated from carbon frame (extremely dangerous)
• Seven defective wheels – cracked rims at spoke holes – very dangerous
• Both front chain rings replaced at 3k miles – defective – too thin/light; recall
• Head tube defective at app. 1k miles – full manufacturer recall – too thin/light – had fallen apart on some riders – very dangerous
• Bottom Bracket (BB30) rebuilt five times.
• Front derailleur replaced – snapped while being tuned up
• Seat post bracket defective at 5k miles – too thin/light – replaced w/ heavier one.
• Front brake lever replaced at 8k miles – internal mechanism messed up
• Entire crankset declared “too old” and in need of replacement at 12k miles
• Back derailleur hanger snapped on new frame at 12 months old (4.5k miles) – destroyed back derailleur and back wheel
• Back derailleur replaced at 14k miles
• Loud clicking and grinding noises on every turn of the crankset (people could hear me coming for 20-30 yards) – never resolved.

How Slow Am I?
This all cost me a few thousand dollars beyond the price of the bike, endless time in the shop, and some dangerous crashes that fortunately I walked away from. I’m obviously a very slow learner. I assumed that the more expensive the bike is, the better it would last, as well as perform. The bike industry is turning out bikes that are extremely high performers, but with no durability at all. But they’re not telling anybody that. And that’s the problem.

There isn’t a thing wrong with building a bike that stretches the limits of design. They want to please us by pushing those design limits. The problem is they haven’t been up front in telling us we’re buying race cars where many major components will need to be replaced regularly, and that a carbon bike is more dangerous than previous designs. You’re just supposed to be geeky enough to know that the most expensive bikes on the market will need the most maintenance. They don’t want to displease us with reality. It’s not just Specialized. Anyone selling carbon frames is marketing them the same way – all virtue and no warning.

The local bike shop has given up. They won’t repair the bike anymore. They feel I’m too demanding. I finally get it. If they or the manufacturers had told me up front that the most expensive bikes are now the least durable or reliable, they would actually be right to say I am too demanding. Armed with that information, I could have made the decision to buy speed but not safety or reliability, or stick with a metal bike. With that information, I would have known what I’m buying – caveat emptor would be on me. And I might still like Specialized.

Full Disclosure – Tell the Whole Story – Not Just the Fun Part
The lesson here for all of us? Sometimes pleasing your customers comes at the cost of losing your customers. If you want to please them so badly that you won’t disclose the downside of a new product, you set them up for false expectations. Only after a miserable experience did I figure it out for myself. I’ll stick to metal bikes except when I want to go 8 seconds faster over a mile, which isn’t very often.

Be up front and clear with your customers about both the upsides and potential liabilities of everything you sell them. You and your customer will both be a lot happier, and you will make a lot more money.

My 24 year-old aluminum bike still rocks. The high-end custom steel one I’m about to buy will cost me 10-15 minutes or so over 100 miles, but it will be inherited by my kids. How cool is that?