An Open Letter to L.A. Music Canada

Dear L.A. Music,

Interest in learning guitar seems like a milestone in my family. My father reached it, as well as three of his children, and now two of mine. It got me to thinking about where I might acquire another new or used instrument, and one of the first places I looked into is L.A. Music Canada, where I purchased my last two guitars, with mixed results. Still, businesses can change. Maybe your current ownership or management or staff is giving customers a memorable experience.

As it turns out, you really are, but not in the positive sense.

Exhibit A
: The customer complains about poor treatment, and L.A. Music tells the customer "you should keep to your business of selling Marijuana instead of smoking your inventory." What does marijuana have to do with the customer's experience at the store? And what kind of store would use that information out of context to insult the customer? I wondered, and continued to read.

Exhibit B
: The customer provides a pretty tame 2 star review about his mixed feelings, and the store replies that he is a "childish baby" with "mental issues". It's difficult to know how impatient or unreasonable the customer was, but the tone of his review is neutral, unlike the arguably slanderous reply from L.A. Music. Honestly, which of the two sides seems the most volatile and unstable?

Exhibit C
: It's unclear whether the customer is dismayed by a pricing error or the cost of shipping. In any event, he's civil, unlike the respondent at L.A. Music who calls him a "loser". Wow. Would you do business with a store that spoke to you like this?

Exhibit D
: This customer is upset about the store's return policy, which apparently is 'no refunds - store credit only'. Additionally, he suggests that L.A. Music employees feel free to withhold service and professionalism if they've had a bad day, so long as they notify the customer. Anyway, for the bad review (and possibly for the threat of it), this "master manipulator" gets a ban from the store.

Exhibit E
: which we learn that L.A. Music management invests time into investigation of suspected review fraud... because it's a valid use of store time... more valid than, say, managing the store or stopping to think of the detrimental effect that this level of creepiness has on brand public perception. Well, let's not be too quick to judge. Perhaps this was a one-time lapse of good judgment.


Exhibit F
: No, apparently L.A. Music feels pretty confident that it's better to try to discredit reviews with amateur sleuthing than respond with patience, humility, sensitivity, and humanity. And, as a capper, there's the characteristic schoolyard insult. Are you smarter than a 5th grader? Maybe not. Who's responsible for all this unchecked bullying and belligerence under the company banner?


Exhibit G
: Finally, an answer. In addition to more faux detective work by L.A. Music to attempt to shake off a negative review, we learn that these clever pokes and devastating finish moves aimed at fake / jobless / joke reviewers are from "The Owner(Old School, Keeping it real, Mario Piperni" [sic] who is definitely not hiding behind his computer. I do hope that Mr. Piperni spelled Mr. Cruickshank's name correctly during the investigation, unlike in this response.

Exhibit H
: L.A. Music, historically, has done business with just one Chris K. That's why, even with no text in the review, "Owner Mario Piperni not ever hiding behind a fake person or computer" [sic] can say with absolute certainty that Chris K tried to trade a 10 year old guitar for a (probably cheaper—but what do I know?—I'm not an investigator and through no fault of my own I've inadvertently met more than one Chris K—damn, damn my stupid luck—Christoper, Christine, Christian, woe be thy name!) newer guitar.

To Mr. Piperni I must ask the question he posed above: "Does it make you feel better when you put some one down." [sic] ?

I left a review today, reflecting on my previous interactions with L.A. Music:

I've made a few web orders over the years. First was an LTD EC-50 as a starter guitar for one of my kids. The website had it in stock but the store didn't, so the length until delivery was disappointing, as was the terseness of responses to my inquiries. Decent guitar though. Second was a Gibson Limited Run Flying V Melody Maker which did arrive but the hum from the pickup (Seymour Duncan HB) was awful. So bad, I've played it twice in all the years I've had it. It had a lot of fingerprints on it and none of the protective plastic and packaging I would expect of a new guitar, so I wonder if it was a floor model. In any case, it should have been plugged in and tested before sending.Third, I made an order which was cancelled due to a pricing error with the item (which they do reserve the right to in their policy, but...). Anyway, if the price seems worth it, you might have a good experience. With 3 tries now, I now prefer either an easy no-Q's-asked Amazon return or the ability to interact with employees in person. A good deal is great, but kindness and patience and no-hassle service can be included for free. Speaking of which, I hesitated before leaving this review because I'm disappointed by the tone of the store's responses to negative reviews. You should probably read them, too. I'm writing this now only because I'm about to buy another guitar for another of my kids and was reflecting on how I felt as a customer over the years.

I'll post the response here, if any. I have noticed a few one and two star L.A. Music reviews that go unanswered. I want to believe that it's because the customer had a valid point; there's nothing to argue about. But why not take the opportunity to apologize? I can only guess ('I'm not an investigator...') but it seems like L.A. Music considers any sort of concession or apology as a form of weakness—something that could only undermine them or make them more susceptible to fraud or other behaviours of bad customers. And make no mistake—there are bad customers—but this isn't a solution, Mr. Piperni.

I gather that Mr. Piperni, while responsible for these comments, may not have actually written them all personally. In other comments, L.A. Music describes itself as a family business—one that has undertaken the conversion from a brick and mortar operation to one doing business almost exclusively online. These comments suggest that it's as a result of changing business and economic reality. That is certainly so, Mr. Piperni, but only in part.

Going online won't save a store from demise if the main competitors are anyone that treats their customers with politeness and dignity, or in the very least, withholds all the angry remarks that they certainly still feel. There's a reason that "the customer is always right" is the most hackneyed phrase in business. The customer is always right—especially when the customer is wrong. But even if the customer is wrong, they have rights, the very least of which is basic respect. To invoke a second trite phrase, "If you can't say anything nice..." Businesses that embrace that will survive. Those that want to win the argument at all costs will do so: the cost being that no good customer will risk doing business with you.

The good are the majority. How will you ever succeed by frightening and alienating the majority?

L.A. Music's Response (1 Sept 2020)

Todd after seeing your negative post we looked up your account. And we were very disappointed. No mention of any complaints from you. If you had any complaints we would of been happy to take care of you because we had you in our computer as a good customer. Now you mention this because you are about to buy another guitar for another kid of yours. We do not want to read years from now that you were not happy. Todd shop where it makes you happy then we will both be happy.

A fairly neutral response, though it scares me to read that my ability to get good service rests on whether you've determined me to be a good customer or not. Given the really awful things you've written about your "bad" customers in public, I shudder to think what is recorded in your database.

It seems my interactions aren't recorded anywhere in your system. I'm actually not surprised. If store reps are annoyed I am requesting a status update and respond tersely, I doubt they would take any further time to record those interactions. To revisit that time: I ordered something which was supposed to be in stock. It wasn't. I waited, I inquired, I was shut down harshly. From reading all the other customer reviews it doesn't seem to be an isolated incident.

At that point I decided I would only make further purchases if I was willing to gamble, because the store responses to customers makes it clear that any post-sale service to instruments is up to the manufacturer. I don't agree. I think if it's defective—bad wiring, inadequate shielding of the pickups, whatever—it shouldn't fall to me to try to chase down the manufacturer and convince them the problem was from the factory, not as a result of my actions. Or in this case, a Gibson which didn't appear to be packaged in any way that suggested it was new. It came as naked and as smudged as a floor model. Back in the day, it was still possible to demo a guitar at L.A. Music. Someday I guess I'll have it repaired at my own expense. It's just not a priority.  It was a dream of mine to own a Gibson V or an Explorer. It came true, but  I'm saddened anytime I look at it. A pretty disheartening first experience with a new USA Gibson.

Anyway, as the seller, you have a stronger position to lobby on my behalf—send it back, repair it and bill them under warranty, something, anything. But time spent haggling with the manufacturer over a badly wired or poorly shielded pickup isn't profitable. Well... that is to say it takes time and effort on your part, which doesn't lead to more money for you. However, if your definition of profit was less focused on immediate gratification, there might come the realization that time and effort spent supporting the customer with the bad product you shipped them would result in future purchases from lasting loyalty, including good reviews! You'd actually save the time you're currently spending to investigate and challenge all these reviews you consider fraudulent. Instead, you'd probably be overwhelmed by the number of people who use their review space to laud the way they felt cared for and protected when the instrument they bought wasn't what it was supposed to be. You'd feel better. Your reputation would propel you, and there'd be no need to repeat "I've been in business __ years..." as some kind of proof of worth. Nothing you say about yourself is as powerful as what everyone else says about you. That's reputation.

I've noticed that here in Ottawa, the stores who go out of their way to be patient and kind with the customers (like every Long & McQuade I've visited in 30 years) have held on to their physical stores, while using online as an additional revenue stream. I want to reiterate that you closing down your store was more than just changing times. It's a reputation catching up with you. You can change what people say about you, but it means changing you.