Life’s Not A Beach for Provo Craft & Cricut Owners

First Provo Craft ticked off small store owners with their Cricut electronic die cutter when it appeared on big box store shelves priced at less than the price for which the company was wholesaling the machine to the small stores.

Now, they have been in hot water the past few days with owners of the machine over missing images on the newly released Rob & Bob “Life’s A Beach” cartridge.

Apparently during the pre-order period for the cartridge, preliminary artwork was distributed that included cuts that were not included on the final version of the cartridge. The artwork was noted by Provo Craft as being preliminary and subject to change. Some retailers selling the cartridge online via pre-order did not note, however, that the artwork they were displaying was preliminary and subject to change. Some of those retailers are still displaying that preliminary artwork although the final cartridge has now been released.

So, some Cricut owners who purchased the cartridge were understandably disappointed and upset when they got their cartridge and discovered that some of the designs they expected were not actually available on the cartridge. And they have been complaining loudly on the Cricut message board, among other forums.

Up until that point in the saga, it is hard to fault Provo Craft for the situation. They distributed preliminary artwork that was noted as being subject to change. The retailers’ mis-handling of that artwork cannot be solely blamed on Provo Craft. Perhaps it could have been avoided if Provo Craft did not distribute preliminary artwork in its push to generate pre-orders, but ultimately the responsibility lies with retailers to represent the product correctly if they are given the correct information from the manufacturer.

Customers need to vote with their dollars and not shop again at stores that don’t provide accurate information about products (and a pro-active manufacturer may decide to sanction a store to prevent situations like has happened to Provo Craft this past week).

But let’s analyze from a customer service standpoint what the company did once they had a problem on their hands. Because even if the problem was arguably someone else’s creation, their (mis)handling of it made it squarely their problem that they will be the ones to face the fall-out from, not the retailers.

Provo Craft issued an official statement about the problem via administrators on their message board on April 7th. It was posted in several places, and one of the resulting threads became so heated it was eventually removed from the site.

The statement explained the use of preliminary art by telling consumers that Provo Craft reserved the right to “make changes to artwork without any notification.” It then went on to advise customers that they need to check the Provo Craft website for the most up-to-date graphics of any Cricut item to make sure they are actually getting what they think they are buying.

Customer service and public relations are about making the customer happy and mending your image, not providing justification for the things that you did that upset them and then going on your way. Provo Craft seemed to fail to understand this in several ways.

The second problem with that solution is that it effectively tells consumers “if you want to buy our products and really know what you are getting, you will have do extra work”. It basically puts the onus on the consumer to do their research about a cartridge and find out if the store they are buying it from is using preliminary artwork that isn’t noted as subject to change (or that has changed). It says to the consumers that if they don’t get what they are expecting, it is their fault for not researching the product on other sites and entirely lets the retailers who are misrepresenting the artwork off the hook.

There is also no indication from Provo Craft in this statement about what they will do to prevent this from happening again – other than advising people to check (non-existent) artwork on their site to protect themselves in the future.

So what would have been a more effective response to this problem? First, there should have been a remedy offered to the cartridge buyers who were upset – a coupon, the missing graphics via Design Studio – something to acknowledge that what they bought was not what they were expecting. Even if it wasn’t the company’s fault the art was misrepresented on a retailer’s site, ultimately the company wins by ending up with a happy customer instead of an unhappy one who vows to never buy again. And a coupon probably even would have generated additional sales for them while making customers happy.

How important is customer service to a company’s image? Provo Craft has a pretty bad reputation for customer service. This is reflected in their records with the Better Business Bureau, which show 43 complaints over the past 36 months. Other large scrapbook companies, such as EK Success, American Crafts, and Making Memories, have only a handful of complaints over that same time period.

All companies are going to have products that break, or other quality and customer service problems. What is the difference? Let’s consider Making Memories, which literally has no complaints against it with the BBB in the past 36 months. They are similar in size to Provo Craft – do their products never break or have problems?

Of course they do. But Making Memories is legendary in the scrapbook world for their customer service. Postings on a message board about a problem with a Making Memories product are invariably met with a response of “email customer service – they’ll take care of you”. Customer goodwill like that is a priceless asset for a company. They are a huge company, but they make customers with problems feel like they are being taken care of with the attention usually afforded them by small boutiques. They are made to feel important, not just one of tens of thousands of customers that the company won’t miss. Their customers’ complaints don’t escalate to the point of being reported to the BBB because they are handled satisfactorily by the company itself.

Customer service and public relations are inextricably intertwined. In the modern market driven by word-of-mouth, customer service can be some of the best PR and advertising you can get. And the price for not offering good customer service can be pretty stiff.

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