A term that, I suppose has its roots in the first deception but has recently come to be redefined as the intentional misleading of an audience for a calculated reaction. Fake news is everywhere. Fake News has a deception at its core but is flowered about with enough truth that it takes some skill to rightly divide truth from fiction. It is insidious, and, as I have already alluded, a story as old as time. So what does this have to do with air guns? Plenty. We’ll circle back around to this directly. Sit down for a spell with me and we’ll get there in due time.
Any business that deals either directly or indirectly with consumers has to fight a battle for public perception. Competing companies in the same industry wage wars of brand identity and quality that they hope translates into sales. Like antonyms, the mere mention of one brand conjures its main competitor right away: Coke--- Pepsi, Chevrolet--- Ford, McDonald’s--- Burger King- you get the picture. People are competitive and brands are likewise competitive. There’s nothing wrong with that. Brands, we hope, operate ethically. At the end of the day, a decrease in sales at one doesn’t necessarily mean that those dollars are going to the other. They may be going somewhere else altogether! Although not common at all, businesses do engage in malicious deception from time to time. And when they get caught an extreme amount of damage is done to the brand. Sometimes the brand disappears forever.
Inter-business competition, however, is not the end of the story. Consumers develop passion for brands. They buy from new brands to try them out for varieties’ sake. They have success and joy from products, they have utter failure from products. Sometimes they have no idea how to use the product. As much as any company would like for each end user’s experience to be all wine and roses, the math indicates that this is just not possible.
But let’s back up a minute and talk about consumers. Consumers are exposed to advertising, marketing claims, their own experiences, and the experiences of others. This list is written in about the reverse order of the measured effect on buying for a consumer. Despite the billions of dollars spent on advertising and marketing each year, the results of those advertisements and marketing campaigns pales in comparison to what we see each other doing. We are all, wittingly or unwittingly, billboards, marketers, and reviewers of goods and services. It is the ultimate democracy where we vote with our dollars.
Remember New Coke? How long did that last? Like two months? People didn’t like New Coke, no matter what Coca-Cola did to make it appealing. Coca-Cola owned up to the mistake and managed, over time, to recover from the (self-inflicted) damage.
In years past, the individual consumer could be counted on to have a marketing impact on a relatively small group of people. Not so in this day and age. One Tweet, Facebook post, or Youtube video can go viral and be seen by millions. Even when scaled down to a small circle of friends, a particular post can be seen by hundreds of people. With the click of a button, a company’s brand can be boosted, slandered, deified, or crushed.
But one aspect of the aforementioned scenarios is given much more credence and publicity than the other. Consumers have always been more likely to share horror stories than they are to sing praises. How much more likely? About 50%. When my circle of influence was the people I could talk to (12-20 people) this was of concern for a business, but not overly so. Today, my paltry sphere of influence stretches into the thousands. Maybe more than that. Statistics say that I’m a coin toss from sharing a bad experience with a company or product on some platform.
But there are good reviews to outweigh the bad, right? Yes. Studies have shown that it takes 12 positive testimonies about a product or service to overcome one bad one. As you can see, reality is starting to separate from perception exponentially. It gets worse. That one bad testimony will be heard or read by twice as many people compared to a positive testimony. Ouch.
How many customers are typically in contact with a company for a satisfaction issue? I’m glad you asked. That number averages out to 4%. This can be a LOT of people. Percentages are funny that way. And it is no excuse for a bad product or bad service. Our goal- even our competitors’ goal is for that number to go away. While that’s not the whole story, it does indicate that there is a rather largish group of folks who buy and continue to buy a brand’s merchandise or services. Otherwise, that brand would cease to exist. A democracy of money, remember?
What I’ve done here is laid a foundation for rational thinking about what can be, and often are, irrational processes. Irrational, you say? Yes, irrational. I alluded to brand loyalty earlier. There are a few components of brand loyalty. One, is inclusion into a group. “My Great-Grandaddy was born in the seat of a nineteen-twenty-aught Fictitious Flyer, and we’ve been proudly driving the Fictitious brand ever since!” Being a part of something larger than yourself harkens back to one of the seven essential human needs: Social Belonging. Going further into loyalty one finds that there are psychological attachments to things. Thinking about selling Grandaddy’s old break action shotgun? Your brother might rather see you die in flames than to see Grandaddy’s worn out $75 shotgun in the hands of a stranger. That is a psychological attachment. I don’t think we need to go further into this concept.
Both the group inclusion and heartstring attachments are powerful, powerful things. When my “thing” doesn’t work, it excludes me from the group for whom it works fine. But it’s my “thing”.
When my “thing” can’t be fixed, but it’s my “thing” and another one would be just like it but it’s not my “thing” there was only one “thing” and it was mine…. (my apologies to Wm. Faulkner): that psychological attachment influences us in irrational ways.
So what? What this speaks to in a rational analysis of people’s consumption of goods and services and their interaction with those who produce and sell them is that the individual consumer can and will act on subjective feelings in both positive and negative ways. This analysis also tells us that an unhappy consumer, while relatively uncommon, is much more likely to speak out in a negative manner than someone who is happy as a lark. And even if the “lark” speaks up, it takes a whole flock (murder, congress?) of larks to overcome the one elephant of discontent.
But, that elephant, he’s behind you….
Oh, that elephant. The elephant who intentionally inflicts harm on a brand or product by Fake News. The Elephant of Discontent we shall name him. The Elephant of Discontent often has a legitimate claim which begat the contact with the company to begin with. Fair enough, you say, and I will agree. Something happens along the way. The device is out of warranty, the receipts were lost, the parts are obsolete, there was a miscommunication about what was to be expected from the company by the consumer, a miscommunication about what was expected by the consumer to the company, or, as it is sometimes, nothing went wrong at all. The Elephant of Discontent takes up his standard and his bullhorn to broadcast to any who would care to hear the story of how he became the Elephant of Discontent.
Like a dumpster fire, there’s not much to see, but you still watch. Remember those statistics I mentioned earlier? We not only watch, but we buy what the Elephant of Discontent is selling. Ameriquest Mortgage Company made internet gold with their series of commercials based on the comic juxtaposition of people getting caught doing something that appeared something else entirely. For example, in one commercial a man has some spaghetti sauce cooking on the stovetop, which is knocked into the floor by his cat. The man’s back is turned chopping something on the cutting board. He turns around holding the knife and picks up his sauce covered kitty just as his wife opens the door. To her, it looks bad, but that’s not the whole story. Not even half of it.
I have seen many of these stories played out on forums and social media. I used to work in our Service department before transitioning to the Marketing team. The job wasn’t as bad as one might think. We honored warranties, helped people locate parts, repaired guns, replaced products, and kept straining at a goal of a stress-free customer service experience. There was a great deal of satisfaction in being able to help people. To be sure, providing excellent customer service is the standard operating procedure now and going forward. It was frustrating, though, to see reviews and horror stories played out in public that had little bearing on the truth.
It mattered not if the aforementioned psychological connections or questionable ethics were at play. The customer’s story broadcast publically was swallowed, hook, line, and sinker while we were dragged through the mud. We always took the high road and didn’t lay out the details of those situations on the thread or review. In one case we did, through the Better Business Bureau. We were sent a “new” RWS 34 with the complaint that it lost power. The gun showed up to us with a broken sight and no receipt. After several phone calls and emails over a series of weeks we finally received a receipt. A new RWS Model 34 sold for, at that time, about $367. The receipt was for $113.40, or about 65% less than MSRP. The receipt was also not from one of our authorized dealers, but from a “scratch-n-dent” store. We have a few of those shops around here. Those stores buy merchandise that was damaged in shipping or returned from retail stores for defects and then offered for sale with huge discounts and a no-return policy. It’s a roll of the dice for a consumer.
When our gunsmith took the gun apart for evaluation he found the action to be dripping with oil, the mainspring broken, carbon built up in the piston chamber and a burned piston seal. Those of you familiar with spring powered airguns know exactly what had happened here. This gun was abused heavily by either the real 1st purchaser or the person who sent us the gun. Spring guns need to be rather “dry” or sparsely oiled to ensure long, satisfactory service. Whether or not the sender over-oiled the gun, we could not, in good conscience, honor any warranty on the gun. We wrote up an estimate, which was refused by the customer. By this point he had already begun communicating with the BBB. We rebutted his claim, documented the condition of the gun, pointed out that RWS guns don’t sell for less than it costs to make them, ad naseum. We discounted the service to a “parts only” charge, pointed out that this would still be less than the cost of any new RWS Model 34. He still refused to pay and accused us of extortion. However justified he was in his mind, he did not send us a new gun. This story was not told to accuse the consumer of lying to us. As stated above, deep psychological ties to “stuff” can throw reason out of the window. This story is just to illustrate that things are not always as they seem.
One thing we’ve never done is publish any of the “pats on the back” we received from customers who were happy with our service. Those emails and letters were delivered in confidence and we kept them internal, only forwarding to certain individuals within our company.
What I’ve done here is taken a few excerpts from a few of those emails that we’ve been sent through our service department. I did hide last names of the consumers and took out any techs names’ mentioned:
“I sent my defective clip back to your facility and they sent me a new one. I’m very appreciative of the customer service at Umarex USA. It’s nice to see some companies actually stand behind their products.
Thank you and please pass this on to the corporate folks. I will be a return customer.
Carl, Anchorage, Alaska”
“I received the NEW rifle, didn't expect that. Shoots great with nice groups and good round strikes on target, very impressive. Thanks for all the info and great customer service.
Barry, Wade, North Carolina
You guys Rock! I sent in a Umarex Fuel for inspection/repair due to a power loss issue. I was expecting a long turn around window. WOW, you sent me a new replacement within a week of receiving my return. Incredible! For comparison, more than 5 weeks ago I sent a defective part back to different U.S based manufacturer, not only did they send an unrelated return part for a different model than I have, after many emails and voice calls, the part I was even willing to pay for still has not arrived and I have no idea when or if it will, even though it is a current model and they claim the parts are in stock. Meanwhile that firearm lays in pieces on my workbench.
I have enjoyed this Umarex Fuel so much (and the customer service) that I intend to upgrade at some point to an Octane or maybe a Gauntlet when it becomes available.
I WILL let others know about this positive experience.
Doug in Mosinee, Wisconsin”
“Received the 460 Magnum yesterday. Cleaned out the barrel of preservative, lubed accessible pivot points and ran 12 or 15 Exact Match JSB's through it and it's working fine. Ran a few more through it this afternoon sighting it in and finished with 5 rounds into a 2" plumbing cap hanging off the back fence at 30 yards. The 'smack' into the cast iron cap is similar to the noise of the AT44-10. Healthy. I'll have to admit that 'running' 25 rounds through it takes me 45 minutes. The term 'healthy' comes to mind again.
Thank XXXXX again for me on the order change from .22 to .177. The lament: why won't this computer do what I want it to do instead of what I tell it to do? Glad XXXXX knew how to work around that.
Good rifle, great service - Thank you.
Buck in Willcox”
“One hell of a guy XXXXX ! You are the fine example of leadership in customer service. I've rekindled my relationship with Umarex and already made a list for products from your store. Thanks for the awesome service ! I have a great respect for companies with this model for business and it's because of you XXXXX , and your solid belief in providing the best customer service. Ralph T., Sacramento CA.”
“ Just want to thank you for your great customer service! I had ordered this rifle for my dads birthday (80ish). he called me and said It didn't have hardware to mount the scope. I contacted the Amazon sales people and got a run around. When I downloaded the PDF and read only contact you folks I made the call expecting more of the same. Instead I spoke with a very helpful gentleman who suggested where I might look in the box to find the missing part. Five minutes later, we had the part in had(sic) and dad is happy as can be! Thanks again.
Garland T., in Quinton, Virginia”
“XXXX, you may just be the greatest man on the planet.
The knowledge and the quick reply - awesome, thanks. And there was me.. hammering the screw. Not just metaphorically, there was definitely a hammer involved and, as it turns out, a thread!
It reeeaaally didn't feel like a thread... Anyway, a bit (a lot) of torque and it's finally safely off. I probably (almost definitely) sound a bit overly enthusiastic, but the few times I've had to contact other customer services recently have either gone ignored, or don't know about the product - and they were much less specific questions than this.... Also, trying to pull, heat, jerk and.. yeah.. even hammer threaded metal pieces apart for hours - to no effect - was even less fun than it sounds. Not that I let this little thing frustrate me or.. ruin my day.. or.. anything...
I don't know whether you knew this info already or looked into it for me, (probably former?), but either way, really appreciative and impressed with the response and as a result, Umarex too.
Harry S. In Norwich, UK”
I received the replacement Fusion co2 re: case# XXXXX. Thank you very much for your professional and speedy handling of my concerns.
As an enthusiast in the air gun sport and hobby, I have put together quite a collection over the past two years. 50 rifles & pistols and counting. The Fusion is my latest and one of my top picks, especially in the co2 platform.
M92 FS, Walther CP 88 and Competition, Baretta CX4 Storm, Hammerlie .177 & .22, Ruger Air Magnum and others. All live up to manufactures spec and performance. I guess you can say I an a happy customer.
Again my sincerest thanks for your attention in handling my case.
There was no cherry-picking. I just searched “positive feedback” on my email and scrolled through and clicked on a few emails. There were hundreds of emails that I have archived. To be certain, most consumers don’t offer feedback at all. Those folks asked us to live up to our warranty, had a question, or needed a part and we serviced the product for the warranty claim, answered the question, or set up an order for the part. Like the classic “receipt for a donut” joke from the late Mitch Hedberg, no further documentation needed- end of transaction.
Wrap this thing up! OK, OK… We are truly grateful for all of our customers, even those who aren’t happy with us. We learn from them ways to improve our service and products. No, we can’t please every customer, all time. We’ve bent over backwards to make things right for folks and they’ve still walked away not satisfied. We’ve also offered a helpful tip to others and you would have thought we gave them the world. The underscoring theme of this missive is to be aware when researching any product or service. When you read reviews and testimonies, bear in mind the vast latitude of human personalities and personality traits. Only so much can be brought to light from one side of the coin. The other side is completely in the dark. Are all of the negative testimonies and bad reviews fake news? No. Unfortunately they aren’t. But that is where we work constantly to improve. Our service time is very fast. Shipping time to our facility is usually longer than the time it takes to address the issue and get the product on the way to the customer again. Our techs have a great deal of knowledge among themselves and work to address questions and direct customers in an efficient manner. Our gunsmiths are factory trained and been doing their jobs for years. Our service department as a team lives and breathes the subject of our industry. A quote from Lonesome Dove is worth paraphrasing here: “Great service is not a place, it is a direction.” We are doing our due diligence to follow that needle on the compass every day.
Mark Davis, avid outdoorsman and family man, is the Social Media Specialist at Umarex USA.