I just finished reading Delivering Happiness, “Path to profits, passion and purpose,” about Zappos’ unique brand of customer service.

It made me wonder if Zappos chairman Tony Hsieh’s unwavering focus on customer service has raised the bar for the entire retail industry?

Then I got the chance to test it with Columbia Sportswear. How would Gert “Ma” Boyle stack up to Tony?

The test subject was a pair of Columbia Titanium boots that had completely delaminated on me during a November duck hunt in Washington State. I sent the boots with the following note to Gert.

December 6, 2010

Ms. Boyle:

I love your company and its equipment and clothing so much, that I thought you’d want to know about a terrible, terrible thing. Well, only terrible to me, I suppose.

It is this pair of your Titanium boots that have delaminated between the rubber uppers and the leather lowers. I purchased these wonderful boots six years ago while hunting pheasants around Moses Lake, Washington. I live in Phoenix, AZ, and have worn the boots for about 10 days of hunting over the past six years.

I pulled them out for a hunt a couple of weeks ago, and they had completely fallen apart. I presume I am beyond the warranty, but I thought you and your R&D department would like to know about this defect. You see these boots were stored in my garage in Phoenix, which gets pretty warm in the summer. So even though I didn’t “wear them out,” with my limited use, the heat apparently took its toll.

Gert, (May I call you that?), I know this brings as much pain to your heart as it does to my feet. So if you feel the need to replace my boots, I would be delighted. If not, I understand. I will just have to keep my next pair of Titaniums in an ice chest, I suppose.

Columbia Sportswear fan,

Park Howell

Within days a chipper customer service rep from Columbia called.  Even though I gave them an out in my note – AND they pointed out that I had actually owned the boots for eight years – they gladly replaced my boots.

In me, Columbia has a customer for life.

Thank you, Gert.


UPDATE: Within 10 minutes of my post, Zappos responds with this:

Tony 2, Gert 1.