Minding the store: The art and science of great customer service...our thoughts on the matter...

Periodically, I'll take a break from writing about stuff like leaves, wood, and read pods to touch on matters related to Tannin, the hobby, or the industry in general. Occasionally, I'll give you a sort of "inside view" of how we think in our operational philosophy. Today is one of those days!

I read an article the other day that cable TV companies are among the most hated businesses in the U.S. 

Consumer confidence, satisfaction, and loyalty have plummeted, citing poor service, inflexibility, arrogance, mediocre quality, and high prices. Did I forget to mention, poor service? The article that I read suggested that cable companies advise that one of the best ways to get customer support from your cable company was to engage in “self service†by going on websites and consumer forums to get help and advice from fellow subscribers, etc.

Really? When you have a problem, the best way is to contact fellow subscribers? Talk about "out sourcing"- that's insane! I couldn't imagine telling a customer who is having trouble with a product I sent him to go out on the forums to get help, making the shirking of my responsibility to help paying customers a "practice."



It made me reflect on the way our industry works in general, and more specifically, about the efforts that we have made at Tannin Aquatics to providing an excellent customer experience. Based on your feedback, and the exponential growth that we've experienced. I'd say that we're on the right track. However, I think there is a LOT of room for improvement. As we've grown, we've tried to keep the customer at the forefront of everything. And for the most part, we've gotten it right.  I can't recall any spectacular fails on our part during the first several months that we've been in operation.

As a business owner, I'm constantly reviewing our practices and procedures, and trying to tweak things whenever possible to create a better consumer experience. When you deal with many customers, there are bound to be good, bad, and awesome experiences. Obviously, the goal is to create a perfect customer experience, without exception. We're obviously not there yet, but it's nice to have a goal!


 Managing consumer expectation is a two-edged sword: On one hand, a paying customer should receive stellar service every time, with great communication and perfect products. That's our goal. However, the other side of the coin is that consumers (rightfully) come to expect such service each and every time, and sometimes, variables beyond anyone's control affect the experience. Our job as online vendors is to take control of some of the variables, removing some of the concerns and risks from ordering stuff online. Sure, once the order leaves us en route to you, we're kind of at the mercy of the shipper to get it to you...which, 99.999% of the time works fine...but there's always that one time when stuff goes wrong. 


A vendor really has a chance to shine when something goes wrong, regardless of what happened. I cringe when I see or hear of nasty vendor-customer exchanges on forums about stuff that went wrong. In the beginning, it was kind of funny to see some vendors implode when confronted publicly with an irate customer. Now, it just makes me cringe. It hurts everyone when things aren't handled well. That's why I dedicate this next part to all of my fellow vendors, who are working as hard as we are to do a great job for you. 

And yes, inevitably, I'll get a PM from someone- customer, vendor, interested bystander, telling me to "get off of my high horse" and stop flattering myself and fancying my company as the saviors of the industry or me as some pillar of fish world philosophy. To those people I'll say right now that I'm merely communicating my philosophies about how the consumer experience should be managed. Not the only way. And, yeah, I've screwed it up plenty of times, just like anyone who is in this sector has. I/we have made mistakes that ticked off customers, damaged product, and wasted money. We're not proud of it. But we own it. We're human. We work on things. That's how we improve. 

With that out of the way, let's talk a bit about what our responsibility is to you as our customers.

Look, there will be times when we will disagree on something. As a vendor, I might be right, or totally wrong. Regardless, it's my responsibility to make sure that you're happy. Part of being in biz. Sometimes there is a compromise required on both sides; sometimes, just on our side to make things right. And that's ok. I mean, if you're not prepared to lose a few short-term dollars to keep a customer for the long term, play in a different sandbox. 

Oh, I've made some wrong calls before; occasionally, I let a customer take advantage of my "customer first" philosophy. My thought has always been that it's better to make things right for the customer regardless. I've had just a very, very few people repeatedly take questionable advantage of this policy. Once I figured out their M.O., they didn't get the benefit of the doubt any more, and mysteriously stopped doing business with us.

Why am I telling you this stuff? Why am I sharing some "dirty laundry" with you? 

Because when you know how the guys on the other side of the keyboard approach things, you'll have a much higher level of comfort in dealing with our company. Communication is super important. It helps everyone. It helps the industry as a whole. We all benefit. There is nothing super proprietary being discussed here. Most vendors get this-or should.

In the end, it's as much about people as it is about products...I firmly believe that- and "personal service" is not just an expression. It's how we do business.

So, when something goes wrong-and it will- 'cause that's the nature of the aquarium  trade- just contact us. We'll work it out. 

In fact, when something goes wrong with ANY vendor, call them first. Talk to them. Give feedback. Let us know what we can do better, and why. 

So, I'm rambling now.

The point of this whole thing is to let you know that we have no intention of "going cable" on you! I don't think that any legit vendor does. The customer experience is flat-out, the most important thing we do -and I think everyone in this crazy industry can agree on that.

How can we do better? What do we as an industry, and/or Tannin as a company need to do better to kick things up a notch? Since it's been pointed out to me that this blog is read by a lot of vendors as well as hobbyists, you can reach a lot of industry people. Here is your chance to give wide feedback to multiple vendors. I think everyone could pick up something from your feedback here!

Have a great day, a great week, and most of all...

Stay Wet

Scott Fellman
Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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