Dorothy Bing is an 82-year-old widow from Katy, Texas. She is so well-respected in her community that, despite the internet wiping out most major formalities of address, even her regular acquaintances refer to her as Mrs. Bing. After learning to knit in junior high school, Mrs. Bing knitted on and off throughout her life. She picked knitting back up as a full-time hobby about five years ago, at a time when a local yarn shop was opening in her area, and shortly before her local library formed a weekly knitting and crochet group.
At the beginning of August, Mrs. Bing went to Michael’s Arts and Crafts to purchase four balls of Bernat Cottontots yarn for a baby blanket she wanted to make. Realizing she did not have enough yarn, Mrs. Bing went back to Michael’s to purchase a fifth ball of yarn. It was this fifth ball, purchased at Michael’s regular price of $4.49, which caused Mrs. Bing to feel the need to take action.
Mrs. Bing wrote a letter to Bernat, included the ball band in the letter, and sent it to the address on the ball band. She also sent a copy, and indicated it as such, to Michael’s at the address on her sales ticket where the yarn was originally purchased. While Michael’s could not know the quality of the yarn by looking at the outer layer of the ball any more than a customer could, Mrs. Bing figured it was a manufacturing issue and not a retail-seller issue.
In her letter, she clearly stated that the yarn was spliced numerous times, and that the yarn should have been labeled “second” quality. As a knitter who has probably handled over a thousand balls of yarn in her lifetime, Mrs. Bing knew the difference between a stray knot in a mass-produced ball of yarn and something more akin to a manufacturer’s defect.
Within a week, Mrs. Bing received an appropriate and prompt response hand-signed by Leah Cherrey, a Customer Service representative at Spinrite, where Bernat Cottontots is manufactured. The letter stated as follows:
“Thank you very much for contacting our company. We take pride in the quality of our product, so it is very important that we hear about any issues that our customers are experiencing.
“We try very hard to make sure the strand is in one piece, however, you can not (sic) produce yarn in a never-ending strand. Although we do understand how frustrating this issue can be we are unable to detect knots within a ball, as our yarns are ran on fully automated equipment. Several thousand pounds a week are produced and knots are an inevitable part of the process. Industry wide standard states that one or two knots are acceptable in a 50 gram ball of yarn.
“We are continually striving to improve our processing methods and therefore appreciate you bringing this matter to our attention.
“We sincerely apologize for the difficulties you have experienced, and appreciate your comments. Once again, we thank you for taking the time to contact us and thank you for using our products.
“Leah Cherrey, Customer Service”
As stated, skeins of yarn are not perfect. Abstract Fiber, a yarn company based in Portland, Oregon, is one of very few companies who guarantee that their skeins do not have knots in them. As Mrs. Bing understood this, she could not help but feel a bit disappointed by this response. Getting a bad ball of yarn is not like getting a shirt with a shoddy seam; while bad craftsmanship can be fixed, an entire hand-made project is compromised if the material used to build it is obviously compromised.
Mrs. Bing thought that her letter was clear in terms of the severity of the quality compromise. After sending the letter, she ripped back the part of the baby blanket that had been knitted with the compromised yarn. Bernat Cottontots is sold in 85-gram balls, and she had, in fact, found fourteen places where the yarn was either knotted or spliced.
Midwest Discount Yarn, a local yarn shop that has been in business on the northwest side of Chicago for decades, carries Bernat yarns. The employees of the store do not recall anyone having a problem with its quality. Janet Avila, owner of String Theory Yarn Company in Glen Ellyn, does not carry Bernat at her store specifically, but provided information regarding general yarn quality. “We try to educate knitters that a knot or two per ball is normal, but sometimes you just get a bad batch,” says Avila. “The yarn companies I work with typically are responsive.” As a retailer, Avila states, “I stand behind everything we sell in terms of quality.”
Phone messages to the Customer Service department at Bernat were not returned.
Michael’s Arts and Crafts has a Customer Experience Manager in place in each of their retail locations, whose sole job is to ensure that every customer leaves happy. One manager at a Chicago Michael’s, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to company policy regarding media relations, stated that in his ten stores he has managed and in his eleven years with the company, he had only received two calls about the question of quality of particular balls of yarn. If there were a problem, he stated, the ball of yarn would be replaced by the exact same product, or the customer would be given a credit or refund for the original purchase. It is clear that Bernat is known for their good quality by their retailers.
After speaking with members of management at the store where Mrs. Bing purchased her yarn, it was apparent that nobody had recalled receiving her letter. While the letter indicated it was just a copy, neither the yarn nor the complaint had been familiar in the memories of the managers. When asked what could be done to help out Mrs. Bing, a manager stated, “Please do tell her to come in with anything she still has…the yarn, the knots, the receipt, the ball band…anything, and we would be happy to give her a replacement.”
Morton’s Steakhouse recently made headlines for sending a waiter to Newark airport in response to a tweet by one of their excellent customers (story can be seen at http://shankman.com/the-best-customer-service-story-ever-told-starring-mortons-steakhouse/). While no reasonable customer expects this stellar level of customer service every time they mention a particular business, it stands to reason that expectations may be higher in a case such as this, where Bernat states on its facebook page, “Bernat is committed to providing knitters and crocheters with high quality yarns and creative patterns.” If a customer provides feedback that the quality of her purchased product was “second,” then this is an example of not standing by a product as a company.
In a time of unstable economy, retailers and wholesalers are in need of the business of every patron who supports them. When good customer service is experienced, the recipient feels the need to tell people about their experience (as Peter Shankman did, above). When inadequate customer service is experienced, the same thing happens. Representatives at Bernat do not know Mrs. Bing personally, they do not know she is a member of a knitting group, and they do not know her extent of use of their produc. They did, however, know she was dissatisfied with the manufacture of her purchased product.
Just as one never knows when a member of the media is a witness to excellent customer service by Morton’s Steakhouse, one never knows when a dissatisfied customer of Bernat tells fifteen members of her knitting group that Bernat did nothing to replace her yarn, and how this information may affect the company’s business. The fact that Bernat responded to Mrs. Bing’s letter was certainly appreciated, but there is still an unfinished baby blanket sitting on Mrs. Bing’s table.