Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In


Brand Learning

The SNEWS View: Campfire tales raise customer eyebrows

Do you know what tales your customers are sharing about you and your business around the campfire at night? They could be good, or much scarier than you ever imagined. It's up to you what stories get swapped and how it affects your business. We listen in.

Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.

This spring, I joined several friends on a weekend car-camping trip at an Idaho state park. It was one of those casual get-togethers where you set up a base camp of trailers and tents, then frolic in the lake and on the trails during the day and lounge by the campfire at night.

A sizable group showed up — about 15 of us – and after a day of play, we all gathered around the glow of the campfire. Of course, two topics of conversation always seem to emerge around campfires — encounters with large, wild animals, and scary run-ins with awful people. We got both that night, with the most memorable being the scary run-ins. The scariest did not involve machete-wielding killers who haunt backcountry dreams. No, it was much worse — this campfire horror tale was about a salesperson.

Chris told us he and his family were delayed getting to the campground because they had issues with their trailer battery. His tinkering wasn’t working, even after a call to the dealership where he originally bought it, so he took it in for service.

Things didn’t go well. He was charged $100 essentially to change a fuse, which did not fix the problem. When he complained to the salesperson, he was told they could charge him anything they wanted because they were “experts” and needed to be paid for their time. Mind you, they hadn’t fixed the problem, so that definitely brought their expertise into question.

It didn’t end there. Chris said the salesperson further blew him away when he went on to say that he could have charged him another $50 for the time he had spent on the phone with him already. Um, aren’t you supposed to help your customers on the phone to support your products, foster customer loyalty and create overall goodwill?

Before this, Chris had told the dealership he was looking to buy a new, larger trailer in the next few months. However, he was left incredulous by the poor service experience, especially since he had supported the business with his first trailer purchase and had planned to buy from it again. So buying another from the company was likely out of the question.

But it gets worse. Not only was a future purchase from the dealership involving some sizeable dollars out the window, but Chris used a black marker to cross out the name of the dealership on his license plate frame. Yup, now that’s serious. And as a result he was sharing his negative experience with more than 10 other people, many of whom were camping with trailers and through Chris knew to avoid that dealership if they had a problem or planned to upgrade. Can it get worse?

If there had been any justice in the world, Chris would have been able to end his story with something like: “…and on a night very much like this one,” the salespeople went on a camping trip and were all eaten by a large bear. But stuff that cool rarely happens, so the story just ended on a bum note that meant the retailer lost sales it didn’t know it lost.

Fortunately, my friend, Lea, lifted the mood with a much better tale of customer service gone right. She’s an avid outdoorswoman who camps, hikes, kayaks, Geocaches and more. She had a pair of Teva sandals that were her go-to outdoor shoes for a couple years, until the toe section and outsole started parting ways.

She was distraught because she loved those sandals, but knew she had worked them hard and was contemplating her next new pair. She heard that Teva had a guarantee program on its products and decided to contact the company about her shoes. Ultimately, the company gave her a $95 credit, which she happily used to acquire a replacement pair that she was now enjoying.

Her story didn’t stop there: A few months later, the company contacted her again to say it had been reviewing its customer service files and saw her claim. For her pain and suffering (OK, I’m embellishing that a bit), Teva invited her to pick out a pair of flip-flops at no cost. She was astounded that the company still had her on its radar and appreciated the gesture so much that she had been telling her friends and work colleagues about the experience – likely gaining Teva sales.

It is commonly said that that one person will tell at least 10 others about a bad shopping experience he or she had versus telling only five people about a good experience. And, while they’re airing their complaints happily to others, only about 1 in 26 people will actually complain to the guilty retailer or other business in question.

So if three customers have a bad experience, and they tell 10 people, those negative impressions can add up pretty quickly for lost sales. Now, however, some pundits are saying the Internet has changed the game and upped the ante even more. A negative customer review or video on YouTube can cause a sensation today and reach millions virally. Ouch.

So watch out how you treat your customers…you never know what tales are being shared about your business or brand around campfires at night.

–Wendy Geister