Those of you who know me will no doubt know that I use a, fairly expensive, Black Rapid double harness to carry my cameras. Peter, a Yorkshireman and Naturetrek naturalist who I have spent a couple of Naturetrek holidays with, once recognised my harness, and then me, when our paths crossed in Moss Landing, California. The harness has given me great service for about 5 years. A completely separate accessory is the Black Rapid binocular strap which fastens my Leicas to the harness by means of two plastic clips.
In Antarctica, I managed to get one of the binocular strap clips tied up in the fabric of the harness and with my big, clumsy (and cold), fingers, I broke it trying to release it. When I got home, I wrote to Black Rapid customer relations in the USA and asked if they could help me find a new clip. I sent them photographs of the damaged clip and the harness to which it fastens.
Here is the substance of their response: Both the harness and the binocular strap are now obsolete so they can’t help me replace the clip. However, they can sell me a new camera harness at a 25% discount. I can see you thinking this isn’t a bad offer until you read back a few lines and realise that I don’t need a new harness but just a means of fastening my binoculars to my existing one. But that isn’t the weird bit. In order to take advantage of this amazing 25% discount, I would have to send the perfectly good old harness back to Black Rapid, or, since I am an international customer, instead, they would be happy for me to chop it up and send them photos so that I can evidence that it is no longer serviceable.
So, let me get this right. I have broken a clip on my binocular strap so I pay around £90, after the 25% discount, for a harness that I don’t need. Then, in addition, I buy a new binocular strap, and, finally, I destroy my perfectly serviceable harness so that I can’t use it again. Is there some logic to this that I’m missing? What will Black Rapid do with my harness if I send it back? What will it benefit the company to have returned to them a 5 years old harness? And what benefit will there be to the company if, alternatively, I chop it up?
This can’t be typical of American customer service? I’ve never heard anything so daft. When the clasp on my 20 years old Gucci watch strap broke and Gucci couldn’t replace it, they offered me a 50% discount off a new watch. I was delighted with their offer even though I didn’t take advantage of it. They didn’t suggest that, to qualify for their help, I should take a hammer to the old watch and send them a photograph to prove it. (Just in case you’re interested, a watch repairer in Leeds sourced me a replacement clasp which looks exactly like the old one so the Gucci is still going strong. I’m hoping my binocular problem is resolved in much the same way)
When I received the Black Rapid offer, I simply rejected it. But, the more I dwelt on it, I realised I should, at the very least, tell them what I thought of their offer. So, I’ve just replied and I’m awaiting their response. One thing is for sure, I doubt very much that I will be using their company again. And alienating their customers should certainly not be the aim or result of their customer service policies. If they had simply explained that they couldn’t help with the repair but made me an offer for a new kit, I would have accepted their response without another thought. But there is a certain meanness about their demand that the old harness be destroyed that I, simply, cannot comprehend.
Update: Today, I received a response from Black Rapid. To be fair to them, they did acknowledge a mistake in asking me to destroy my harness as it was not the harness that was the issue. Readers who buy the more expensive Black Rapid products because of their perceived quality and reliability might still like to see this extract from their email. It seems they have little confidence in their products after a few years of use, and still less confidence in photographers’ ability to decide for themselves whether their equipment is past its best.
‘Our Trade-In Program requires that our customer first send in their used BlackRapid strap before being able to receive the special discount code, as most trade-in straps have worn hardware that should no longer be in use. (It is our experience that some photographers do continue to use very old and very worn hardware and we just want to help keep camera gear as safe as can be). However, this has proven to be a costly expense for our international customers, as shipping to and from the US is quite expensive. We listened to our internationally located customers, and to help them in this area we now require only a photo that shows the carabiner cut from the strap to ensure that the strap cannot be used any longer.’