Cleverchimp has a customer in Madison, Wisconsin, who bought a Stokemonkey kit. Customer started out with a frame too small, but just barely, and it took a good deal of tedious trial and error to conclude that it wasn’t going to work. So customer bought another bicycle, and proceeded with the installation.
Customer experienced connector integrity problems, perhaps exacerbated by the prolonged installation handling. We fixed that temporarily, and stopped shipping product with the same liabilities.
Customer then experienced a prompt failure of the driving Shimano freewheel, possibly related to operation in sub-freezing temperatures. (Sales into Wisconsin outside of “bicycle season” tell us we’re reaching the right people.) This is a rare, but not unprecedented occurrence: freewheels fail periodically in “normal” applications too; ease of replacement is one reason I use only industry-standard drivetrain components. But coming on the heels of the other problems, customer’s patience began to wear thin, understandably.
Customer then exposed the indoor battery charger to rain (don’t do this!); water entered and the charger failed shortly thereafter. We replaced without charge. We began to fear that the stars were aligned against this particular marriage.
Customer then took a 20-mile ride in 10-degree weather, and had the drive chain pop off several times. Much roadside rage ensued. The following support call uncovered prior miscommunication of some important installation details. The installation corrected, the next lengthy ride went off without a hitch, to a resounding YAHOO!
But the very next ride saw some kind of slippage occur with the mount, and the chain deraillment problems returned. Ouch. There’s still something wrong with the installation. I’m confident that I can get to the bottom of the problem and fix it quickly, the key word being “I.” I don’t want the customer to expend his last measure of patience on another try if there’s any risk of failure. I’ve offered to refund his money, but we’d both much prefer to fix the problem rather than cut our losses.
So I’m fixing to fly out to Madison for a service call. It’s one thing for the product to perform as designed, and have people just not like it — that would mean we need to screen sales better. It’s quite another if they really want to like it but can’t make it work: I just can’t let that happen. And frankly, it’s more money out of my pocket to refund the purchase price than to travel. Obviously I have some important things to learn here. Cleverchimp won’t succeed if only MacGyver-types and I can install Stokemonkey reliably on the first go. It’s probably the case that my experience developing the mount and doing so many installations has given me a privileged degree of mechanical intuition that I can’t count on in people new to the product. I don’t believe it, but there’s also a remote possibility that there’s something funny going on with this particular bike and maybe the frigid conditions that my mount design doesn’t take into account. There’s only one way to find out.
And no, I won’t be at the Madison Bike Swap to meet Mssrs. Babilonia and Thil; I’m going sooner. Maybe there’ll be a satisfied customer there, though.
Another thing: once a reader remarked that it took “courage” to be open about business problems I’m experiencing. I don’t see it that way. One model here has been Grant Peterson’s Rivendell. Grant’s Reader articles have frequently gone into excruciating detail about every credit crunch or supplier problem or bad customer experience. It humanizes the company. It also lends credibility to the positive things the company says. That’s priceless in the electric vehicle space in particular, which has suffered countless waves of lying hype going back a century.