Customer Service Hero: Dodge & Burn

Customer Service Hero

Many aspects of business are difficult — if not impossible — to control. Influencing, or even predicting, the multiplicity of factors that impact the success or failure of a business keeps many entrepreneurs up at night. Business owners struggle to reach new markets, develop sound supply chains and keep up with changing social and technological trends, many of which they have no control over. That’s why more and more savvy business owners are looking to optimize areas of the business that they do control. Customer service, for example, is one aspect of a business that can be controlled to a high degree. Unfortunately, many businesses overlook this critical area of opportunity; however, my recent experience with an online t-shirt retailer Dodge & Burn reinforced my belief in the power of customer service.

As an avid photographer and collector of camera equipment and paraphernalia, I happened upon a website selling photography-inspired graphic t-shirts. There were a range of colours and styles to choose from, each with a different camera model printed on the front. After perusing through the website and checking out the shipping options, I decided to purchase four shirts. Within minutes of checking out, I received a confirmation email of my purchase and a notice indicating shipping time.  Excellent.

A few days later, I was the happy recipient of four t-shirts. After unpacking them, I washed them so they’d be ready to wear the next day. I decided to wear the black one first, but as I was putting it on, the shirt ripped. Disappointed, I showed my girlfriend and exclaimed, “I just bought this! And now look at it!”

A few days later, I was reading an article on the photography blog PetaPixel when I noticed an article about Dodge & Burn. A few other readers had left comments below the article so I decided to share my experience about my t-shirt ripping. To be fair, I also pointed out the excellent communication and fast shipping of the seller.

The day after posting my comment I received an email from the owner of Dodge & Burn, Ted Rybakowski:

I heard through the grapevine that one of your shirts ripped.  We’ll be more than happy to send you a replacement (provided we have it in stock).  Let me know which shirt was faulty and I’ll have a new one out to you ASAP.

 I was blown away by Ted’s dedication to customer service. Ted was obviously aware of the press he was receiving on PetaPixel, and had read the comments section under the article. He could have easily overlooked my comment, chalking it up to a whiny customer. Instead he took it as an opportunity to service his customer and stand behind his product. I replied to Ted, by complimenting him on his service and thanking him for his offer. To that he replied:

Actually, I saw your comment on PetaPixel this morning and was sorry to read that your shirt tore before you even wore it.  Part of the fun I have in running this business is that I get to run it exactly how I want to, and that includes making sure my customers are happy (it’s right there in the FAQ where we describe our customer satisfaction policy)!  Your replacement shirt is going out in tomorrow morning’s post.  Don’t hesitate to get back in touch for any reason.

Ted certainly made his point: I was one happy customer — happy enough to write an article about it and happy enough to share the experience with my friends and other photography enthusiasts.

When customers are treated fairly it stands out. Sadly, it stands out because so few businesses focus on it. If every business treated customers as fairly as Dodge & Burn did, I wouldn’t be writing this article. It would be par for the course.

The opportunity is clear: when others are ignoring their customers, focusing on customer service will increase all-important brand loyalty. Ted heard that his customer’s shirt had ripped its stitches; however, by standing behind his product, by setting things right, Ted will reap what he has sewn. His act of recompense has turned what would otherwise be a one-time sale, into a word-of-mouth bonanza. As a business owner, you can’t control everything, but you certainly can control your dedication to your customers.

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Wedding, Willing and Able: A Guide for Novice Wedding Photographers

It’s more than a hobby – better to call it an obsession. Not only are you passionate about photography, you’re talented too. In fact, you’ve spent the last six months impressing your friends with artistic photos of ornamental orchids, snow-covered spruce trees and that rambunctious baby gorilla at the zoo. Now your best friend Sherry has asked you to put your brand new Canon EOS 60D to use at her wedding this spring.  She has even offered to pay you $500.00. Thinking this fair, you’ve agreed, despite the fact that you have no experience taking wedding photos. You’re a bit apprehensive, but don’t fret. I know what you’re going through. I made so many mistakes during my first wedding assignment I vowed never to do another. In the years that followed, however, I gave weddings another chance. Since then, I’ve photographed dozens of weddings and during that time I’ve learned many useful lessons. A few simple strategies make all the difference between success and failure. If you want to take amazing photos while avoiding common pitfalls, just follow these simple rules.

Be prepared for a long day of work. A typical wedding assignment will include: photographing the bridal party as they prepare, the arrival of guests before the ceremony, and the actual ceremony. Afterwards, you may be asked to stay for the reception, which can last well into the night. Believe me, if you try to do this in formal shoes, your feet will feel like lead weights by the end of the day, so wear a comfortable pair of shoes.  I recommend black Nike trainers. They’ll keep your feet comfortable and won’t look out of place with dress pants. My photographer friend Derrick summed it up nicely: “Shooting a wedding is like running a marathon. You‘ve got to pace yourself and keep your energy up if you expect to make it to the finish line.” With so much to keep track of, it’s easy to forget about eating. If you do, your stomach will let you know about it. Avoid a gastronomic gaffe by snacking on high-energy foods such as protein bars, granola bars or trail mix.  God forbid your stomach gurgles audibly in the hushed silence before the bride says, “I do.” In addition, it’s important to keep hydrated. Packing heavy camera equipment will cause you to sweat and dehydrate, so bring bottled water (or better yet Gatorade) and drink regularly. By being physically prepared you can more readily focus on your primary task: taking great photos.

Get up close and personal. Famous photographer Robert Capa said: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Don’t be afraid to cozy up to your subject. You might obscure the view of the guests who are trying to snap a photo, but remember: you’re getting paid to get the big shots. If you have to block the view of the audience to capture that magical moment when the bride and groom kiss, so be it. Do whatever it takes. When it’s impossible to be in close proximity, use a telephoto lens with a focal length of 200-300mm, as it will allow you to zoom in from across the room. By being close, you’ll improve the creative quality and intimacy of your images.

Finally, don’t forget to manage expectations. When the wedding is over, Sherry and her new husband Greg will be itching to see the photos. They’re sure to exclaim, “I can only imagine the photos you get with that amazing camera of yours!” as if it’s all about the camera. You may indeed have some excellent images, but never let on. Downplay their expectations by saying, “The lighting was very difficult, but hopefully we got a few really nice ones.” Once expectations are lowered, your friends will be that much more astounded and amazed by the number of winning shots you captured despite the odds being stacked against you.

Being a first-time wedding photographer is not easy, but if you follow these simple rules, you and your clients will be pleased with the results. When Sherry and Greg finally see the photos of their first kiss, or the moment he slipped the ring on her finger, they will know they made the right decision hiring you and lavish you with praise. Within a few weeks your phone will be ringing off the hook as referrals come pouring in. Engaged couples will be lining up to have you shoot their wedding. They will say, “Sherry and Greg can’t stop talking about how happy they are with your photos. Would you be interested in doing our wedding this autumn?” Being in high demand, your rates will naturally increase over time. Many top wedding photographers charge as much as $4,500 for the day. With your newfound capital you’ll be able to afford that shiny new lens you saw at The Camera Store. And when you print your new business cards, don’t be afraid to add the word ‘professional’ to your title. You’ve earned it.