Christmas Eve, a train that wouldn’t run, and a happy ending

It was Christmas Eve. I finished playing Santa, then I plopped down in front of the computer to unwind and signed into Facebook. Internet pal John Dominik posted a status update about buying a Bachmann N-scale train set and it not working, and how he knew he should have tried it out before Christmas Eve. I offered to help. He related the epic troubleshooting he went through–OK, perhaps it wasn’t epic, but his account of the things he tried was longer than the Book of Jude and several other books of the Bible–and, frankly, there wasn’t anything I would have thought of that he hadn’t already tried. He went beyond that and even tried things I wouldn’t have tried. Or recommend, for that matter, but that’s OK. He mentioned he’d had a set of HO trains when he was younger, and that gave me an idea. I asked if he still had that power pack, because, if he was willing to do a little creative and sloppy wiring, he’d be able to get that new Bachmann set working with it. He said he did.

The temporary fix worked, and Christmas Eve was salvaged. John said he hoped Bachmann would be cooperative about the bad power pack.

In the old days, when you bought a train, you got legendary customer service. A few years ago, I heard a story about a boy who had a broken Marx train. He took the train to Marx’s office at 200 Fifth Avenue in New York City. Not knowing where to go or what to do next, he looked around, and saw a kind-looking old man. He held up his train and asked the man if he knew where to go to get it fixed. The man led him to an office, where a technician replaced the motor and sent him on his way. No money changed hands. Later in life, the boy saw a picture of Louis Marx, the multimillionaire owner of the company who made his train, and was pretty sure he was looking at a picture of the kind man who helped him that day.

Frankly, I don’t think today’s customer service is all that bad, at least from most train companies. About six years ago I bought a Lionel Polar Express set. It worked for about 20 minutes. I tried the train out with the old transformer that had belonged to my Dad, and it worked fine. I e-mailed Lionel at an address I found on their web page, told them what I’d done, and they wrote back asking for an address where they could send a replacement. No further questions, and the replacement arrived fast.

I’ve never dealt with Bachmann, but they’ve been the market leader now for pretty much all my life. You don’t get into that position and stay there for 30-plus years just by undercutting everyone else on price. They have to be doing something else right. I told John I expected this story would end well.

He called on Monday and didn’t get anywhere. Everyone’s voice mailboxes were full. He wrote that off as the first business day after Christmas. Of course they’d be slammed with calls. He called again Wednesday afternoon. A real person answered the phone. John gave him the short version of the story. The guy’s response wasn’t what you’re used to hearing today. He told John he clearly knew what he was doing, that his troubleshooting had saved both of them a lot of time, and he’d send out replacement parts in the morning. That was it.

In John’s case, they didn’t get it right the first time, but they worked hard to get it right the second.

So if you’re wondering if Bachmann’s customer support is any good, I know a guy a few states north of me who thinks it’s perfectly fine.

And if you’re thinking of buying a train set for Christmas, set it up a week or two in advance and try it out to make sure it’s working, then box it back up and wrap it. That way, if there’s anything wrong, the store or the manufacturer has time to make it right before Christmas Eve. Not that there’s anything wrong with playing trains on Christmas Eve, but it’s much more fun to be playing with them than trying to figure out why they don’t work.

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2 Comments

  1. jim`

     /  January 3, 2011

    What am I missing here? I thought John had given up on the his musings and your link doesn’t give me any current entry.

    Glad to know he’s out and about and doing well.

    • Dave Farquhar

       /  January 4, 2011

      It’s been a while since he posted anything there. The communication happened via Facebook. After the resolution, I asked if I could post something about it and he gave the OK.

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