How Pebble missed an opportunity to provide great customer service and then turned it around
25 Jul 2013
Wearable technology is becoming more popular by the day. Google has begun to roll-out its Google Glass to a select group and other companies like Apple are rumored to be creating their own lines of wearable tech.
One company, Pebble, with a product by the same name has already released a “smartwatch” that brings text messages, emails and phone calls to a user’s wrist, among other things. The watch was borne out of what was one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns to date. Backers of the campaign pledged over 10 million dollars to bring the Pebble to their wrists.
I was one of the early backers of Pebble on Kickstarter. I pledged enough money to get two watches. I liked the product and I liked the story. The Pebble was not their first watch but it was going to be their best. They had learned from past failed attempts and were now ready with a product that their customers were excited about. They had my excitement; without question.
I like many others followed the progress of the Pebble via Kickstarter emails and company posts. We were told the watch was shipping early 2012, but in reality it was early 2013 before mine shipped. Since I was one of the first backers I received one of the first shipments which seemed fair. I had been patient over the months and ignored the mounting comments, articles and blog posts from others frustrated with the delays. I’d remained positive and encouraged by a young tech company taking on what was undoubtedly a very difficult task of designing, building and delivering a product and all of its supporting products while in such high demand. I’m an entrepreneur and the appreciation of the entire process of ‘shipping’ a product is surely not lost on me.
Pebble customer service shines
Pebble as a company did an awesome job of keeping me engaged. They told a story via Kickstarter and social media, letting me sit in as they made engineering decisions and manufacturing advances. It was refreshing to see this great product unfolding in front of my eyes and I was going to be one of the first to flaunt it! [I love being an early adopter…]
When my two Pebbles finally arrived I immediately let go of any thoughts about how long it took to get them. It was jet black and sexy. I remember putting it on my wrist and tweeting a picture of how great it looked; to which Pebble promptly replied – a great customer service play on their part.
— Pebble (@Pebble) February 26, 2013
I must have spent at least two hours over the next 7-8 months showing off my Pebble. Many recognized it when they saw me wearing it, asking “is that the new Pebble?”. “Yep” I’d reply, “check this out” as I’d show them how a text message or caller ID would show on the watch’s E-Paper screen.
My favorite thing about the Pebble
The Pebble gives you great visibility into information that you’d otherwise have to pull out your phone and unlock to it see. I’ve setup my Google Calendar to send me SMS messages of upcoming events and when you couple that with the Pebble, you have a great vibrating alert system on your wrist. You can easily see when someone is calling, quickly accepting or denying the call directly from your Pebble. It’s a great device that makes routine tasks easier. In a world of constant tasking, that’s good stuff.
Fast Forward about 8 months
So, I love my Pebble and I’m telling everyone I can that they too should get one. “It’s a great product from a great company”, I say, “go support them”.
Early one Saturday afternoon my girlfriend and I are at Ikea doing a little couples shopping. You know, towels, kitchen odds and ends, etc. As we approach the end of the matrix, I look down at my wrist to see how long we’ve been under the Ikea influence – did I mention the Pebble tells the time too? Anyway, I look down and my watch is destroyed! I mean the watch is still in one piece but the display is completely unreadable. It’s as if the display had been smashed but there is no visible damage. I struggle to understand what’s going on. I push the buttons thinking maybe it was some sort of glitch, but it’s obvious this is not going to work. Clearly the watch’s E-Paper screen has been compromised and is no longer able to display properly. I drop my head towards the floor and shake it slowly side to side. My Pebble is broken.
When I get home I am able to inspect the watch in more detail. I notice there is a small, pencil tip size, indentation on the face of the watch near the left edge. A closer look reveals this to be the culprit. Apparently, my Pebble has somehow come in contact with something at Ikea at just the right angle to destroy it without me even noticing.
Above: My Pebble’s E-Paper display is destroyed.
There is still hope!
As much as I am dismayed by the situation, I figure it’s be a simple fix. I haven’t had my Pebble for very long and this certainly happened during ‘normal use’. I’ll send Pebble support a message and a few photos like the one above, showing how minimal the physical damage is and they’ll be happy to replace it. Sure, I’ll have to wait a week or maybe ten days, but I’ll have a new Pebble soon and all will return to normal.
I send the message and photos via Pebble’s support center and I go about my day. About two weeks later [first problem] I receive the following response from Pebble’s support staff.
Sorry to hear about what happened to your Pebble. It’s possible that I may be able to send you a refurbished Pebble if you are interested.
It would cost $110 via PayPal and includes US shipping. If you’re interested, please email me back for next steps on how to proceed.
Refurbished Pebbles are fully functional and covered by our warranty, but may have minor cosmetic blemishes. In most cases, the blemishes can be fixed with screen polishes like Displex.
As you may imagine, I am more than just a little bit disappointed. How could this be the case? Why is my only option to purchase a refurbished product for nearly the price of a new one? What about the fact that It was destroyed under normal use? What about the fact that I was an early backer and stuck by the company as others bailed and did so loudly? Could a young company with an already tarnished reputation, by many accounts, be foolish enough not to jump on an opportunity to show they care and go the extra mile for a customer?
I decide I need to respond and hopefully, I’ll be heard
I’ll save all the details because my response was long and a bit of a diatribe, but the gist of the response is me passionately explaining why I think this is such a bad response to a situation that could pretty easily be remedied with a replacement and a thank you. I point out that until this moment, I have been a supporter in more ways than one and promoted their product on nearly a daily basis. I let them know that I now felt compelled to join the voices calling Pebble an inadequate company and their product the same. I liken it to the feeling a basketball team must experience when they go from possibly up five points to down two because of a missed opportunity. I mean to say, the momentum swung from my being a loyal and happy Pebble customer who actively helps to promote the company and its product, to a disappointed and regretful customer who wants to find some solace in sharing his unhappiness with others.
Pebble’s customer service takes another swing and this time they connect
Four days later I receive the following response from a Pebble representative [four days is much better than the previous 14 days it took to respond].
Camille forwarded your case to me. At the moment, we do not have repair procedures for Pebble so we offer the refurbished Pebble option. I’d be happy to make an exception and send one out to you free of charge. We do appreciate your support and I’m delighted to hear you enjoy your Pebble so much.
Please just confirm I’ve got the right address for you and I’ll send it out on Monday.
Immediately I am delighted. I spend the next day telling the story of how Pebble made me whole again and how glad I was to see them go the extra mile. I’m inspired enough by how things ended up, I decide to write this blog post in an effort to show how a lost opportunity can still be overcome if you’re willing. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make a disgruntled customer become an advocate on your behalf. I suspect the first response I got from Pebble was a standard one and they must be inundated with support requests on a daily basis; making it difficult to fully appreciate the context of our needs and how to best respond in each case. Nevertheless, it’s very important that a company embrace a culture of doing all they can within reason to make or keep a customer happy. Voices of dissent are always louder than voices of praise. I’m going to work towards promoting Pebble and its products on an ongoing basis after this experience. If it cost them one watch to get me to work on their behalf, well that’s super cheap. My time is not inexpensive.
Pebble really is a great product and a great company. The company cares enough to do the right thing, even if a mistake is made the first go around. That’s a valuable thing and something that should be supported and celebrated by us all.
Actually, buy two! You won’t be disappointed.
Update: My new Pebble arrived as promised and I am a happy Pebble owner once again!
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