Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Customer Care

John Deaton cares about customers.
"From a customer's point of view, thanks for making the right decision." I was relieved to be able to say this to John Deaton, the owner of Deaton Yacht Service in Oriental, NC. He had agreed to yank my malingering engine and fix its lingering problems.

He astutely pointed out that it was the right decision from his point of view, not just from the customer's. If I wasn't happy with the outcome of their service, Deaton would make it right. That's the sort of company they are.

Whew. There for a while I was afraid this would turn into a meeting of the checkbooks rather than of the minds. I was already rehearsing scathing rejoinders to hurl as I stalked out. But then suddenly I was totally disarmed. Customer care can do that.

Over the past three years I have called at Deaton Yacht Service twice. Each time with the same problems: oil leaks and hard start. This after paying Deaton once to have them fixed.

Back in November '09 I was headed south and found oil in the antifreeze. I wanted a fix pronto so I could reach the Bahamas before the frost reached me. Deaton counseled that their own mechanics were fully scheduled, so they would subcontract the rebuild to Mack Boring, which is a name familiar to Yanmar owners. Before long my Yanmar was yanked like a bad molar, leaving an empty sump while it traveled to New Jersey for rejuvenation. It came back looking ready to go.

The dribbled results of an unacceptable rebuild
As soon as sea trials ended, I took off. I did make it to the Bahamas but arrived with a growing sense of dismay. Along the way and then as I cruised from the Bahamas to Cape Cod, there have been a series of unfortunate discoveries about the quality of that engine rebuild.

Fixing Aboard includes the gory details of how our trusted Yanmar turned on us to become a dreaded zombie that stalked as we fled from boatyard to boatyard.

Had I stuck around for a year I am certain that Deaton would have responded to my series of unfortunate events with alacrity, but I didn't give them the chance. Sweet Pea's home port is most anywhere warm enough or cool enough, depending on the season. I heard that the '09 winter was particularly brutal and included, of all things, a blizzard in New Orleans, giving new meaning to the phrase "when hell freezes over." The Bahamas saw nary a snowflake.

Sweet Pea slipped at Deaton Yacht Service, again
Now, three years and 750 engine hours after that rebuild, warranty wasn't in question. Mack Boring's warranty against leaks is an astonishingly short thirty days, so no warranty to worry about: zilch, nyetnada.

Besides, warranties only function to limit liability. In contrast, customer care is a much more strategic marketing game, played over a much longer time. I wanted to know whether Deaton Yacht Service cared.

There was no way I was going to pay Deaton twice for one fix. I wanted to know what John Deaton would decide to do if Mack Boring (Deaton's subcontractor) denied any responsibility for making it right. Would he decide to make me whole or leave me broken? Forget the distraction of Mack Boring's response. I wanted his answer now, on the spot.

Having already invested in this gold standard,
I should be cruising rather than tied to the dock.
In my mind, two questions apply to any boatyard's service. First, did they do it right? Second, did they do it right if they didn't do it right, first?

Here I'm using "they" to include the boatyard's employees, subcontractors, suppliers and anyone else invited to the game. But for me, my they is the owner, the general contractor who sits at the top of a pyramid of other "theys."

Complex projects always involve surprises. While it is tempting to believe that the answer to the first question should always be "yes, they fixed it right, the first time", my experience is that it is sometimes "no, not really" even though the most highly qualified resources tackled the job using the best parts available. Stuff happens even to professionals. Projects include risk, unanticipated outcomes that can't always be known in advance. I know that.

Eric, tracking the zombie
From Deaton Yacht Service, I now have a partial answer to the second question. They intend to do it right the second time, by doing it themselves. They have re-assigned their most highly-qualified resource from his normal role as service manager to that of ace zombie hunter.

Eric has already found some underlying contributors to the hard start, having to do with incorrect governor and injection timing settings. I'm impressed by his methodical approach to diagnosing the problems and have a growing confidence in this second fix.

Eric does things by the book. What a refreshing change.
This next winter in the Bahamas I'm sure that I will be asked whether I would recommend Deaton Yacht Service.

I will think of John's answer in yesterday's meeting and my response will be, "Sure. I'd recommend them without reservations, especially if you are a cruiser on the go and may not be back in thirty days. They took care of me." Can't say better than that.

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