During the last nine months I had several camera equipment pieces that needed to be serviced. First a Zeiss 21mm 2.8 M-mount lens, which I really like, that suddenly went out of focus. At infinity the whole image looked completely blurred. Shortly after my Leica 50mm Summilux ASPH mount got wobbly. The lens was not firmly attached to the camera anymore. A few months later a purchased demo Leaf Aptus 2 12 digital back showed strange artifacts in some night images. It created a magenta haze on the edges. So all three had to be send in. Interestingly the Leica lens is about 4x more expensive than the Zeiss lens. The Leaf back is about 4x more expensive than the Leica lens. The Zeiss came with a two year warranty, the Leica I purchased as a demo version from a Leica dealer and it had a three year passport warranty in it. The Leaf came with a one year dealer warranty. Since it was a demo version the warranty was not covered by Leaf but offered by the dealer. Yeah, it has a hefty price tag for a non-professional and you don’t want to buy one without any coverage.
Lets start with the cheapest part, the Zeiss lens. I had it sitting in my cabinet for at least six months before I started to look into the service. I contacted the distributor via email. A day later they replied and told me that I can send the lens to them and they would take care of everything. At the same time I looked at the website and decided to ship the part directly to Germany. Shipping was more expensive but I wanted to get it back quickly. On the website they provide a repair form that I filled out with all needed information and a description of the problem. I shipped it on a Wednesday. On Friday afternoon it arrived in Germany. On Monday morning (Boston time) I received an email from Zeiss with a detailed description of the problem. They asked for a invoice to verify the warranty, which I forgot to include but sent them via email. Two weeks later I received a letter informing me that the lens had been shipped back. Same day in the afternoon a box arrived with a letter from Mr Bogenschuetz providing some details on what they did to the lens. Flawless experience.
Now the Leica lens. When I noticed a problem I contacted Leica service in New Jersey. They estimated the repair time to be between 4-6 weeks. That is a long time for someone who really likes to shoot with that lens. For professional photographers they provide a rush service in Germany but for non professionals with warranty repairs the only option I had was to send it in and wait. After two weeks I received a letter with a service invoice. The text was understandable but not personal. It looked like a list of facts that you would get from a car dealership repair shop. The expected repair time was 4 weeks. They told me that the lens got registered to another person, which could well be since it was a demo version, and was not covered under the warranty. I paid almost $200 dollars to get it fixed. After two weeks it arrived at my door step. A small surprise since I was not expecting it back so quickly. Total repair time was four weeks, updates were provided at a very technical level. The problem got solved and the lens looks like new. It took two weeks longer than the Zeiss repair. The explanation I received over the phone is that the capacity of Leica repair in New Jersey has not yet been adapted to the increased demand of Leica products. As a premium company I would expect a faster, more personal service with better updates on the repair status. Plus they have to offer a rush service not just to professionals and not just in Europe. At that price point I expect repairs to be done in no longer than two weeks.
The Leaf back is the most expensive piece out of the three. When I discovered the problems in mid March I notified my dealer. They thought that some tilting in the sensor caused the problem. After a few conversation over a period of one week I provided a raw file for evaluation. The file and some technical specs got send to the Mac Group, which does most of the repairs in the US. A week later I received the suggestion to connect my back to my laptop to upgrade the firmware to the newest version. The hope was that some software upgrades had addressed that issue. I don’t shoot tethered to my laptop. To do so I had to buy a $100 special firewire cable. Yes, they make the ports so small that only their cables fit and not my standard $30 cable. I upgraded to see the same results. Ok, that was not the problem. So they asked me to send in a raw file to inspect the problem. Didn’t I already do that. Ok, maybe the new software shows the same problems differently. A week later, after a months of first identifying the problem, I sent an email to see if my new raw file lead to any new conclusion. A day later I received the authorization to send in the back and that the repair estimate would follow based on a detailed inspection. And, because the back is not under warranty, I had to….. . hey, wait, the back has a one year warranty. Ahh, the manufacturer didn’t know, because the dealer covers that back. They don’t share the systems. Ok, fine. Lets ship it. A week later I received an update that the Mac Group had received the back. Four days later I receive an update that the back needed to be shipped to the manufacturer in Israel because a board failure had to be addressed. One last thing, I have to pay $3300 because the back is not under warranty. Silence, exhale……….. With the next email we established the warranty situation again. Done. Three weeks later I receive another update. Good news, the CCD board needed to be replaced and calibrated. Easy to do, I just need to pay the repair of $3100 and it will be all done quickly. Yeah, by that time you probably noticed that something in that email was off. I have a warranty so I shouldn’t have to pay anything. Manufacturers, dealers, not connected, different databases…… . fine, we got that solved and a nice apology for their repeating mistake. Can happen and I am a patient person. So being in Israel for three weeks I thought it would be fair to ask if I would see it back in about a week, since the original estimate was less than four weeks for the repair. Next week, that would be optimistic was the reply. But they would check. A few hours later the good news. It is Wednesday and it will be shipped on Friday from Israel and with no delays at US customs it should be back the next week. Great, I thought. The next day I received a box from New Jersey with my back in it and a letter saying; ” Unit needs to be sent to Israel, MFG for repair. Price $2700. Unit requires exchange of CCD board & recalibration.” ………….Puzzled? Me too.
So three different examples, three different experiences. One thing that stands out is that as bigger the company, as more transparent and organized is the service. Zeiss is extremely efficient, detailed, and personal. The emails and letters that I received from the distributor and the factory made me feel that someone really takes care of the product. Leica has a system in place, which is up to standard in regards to camera devices but not up to a premium brand experience. At their price point you can not provide a service that takes four weeks. Waiting is expected when you buy a premium product, not when you get it serviced. The huge demand of the last years may have stretched their capabilities but is shows that a lot of products seem to get returned for service. The communication was too technical and you can clearly tell that they have thought deeply about the buying experience but not so much about the service experience. It may work better in Europe than in the US. I remember when I bought a Sony Nex 5, that recorded the clicking sound in the video files, it took them three days to get that fixed. Leaf/Mamiya took a total of over two months from problem detection to having it back from repair. To be clear, I am not blaming a dealer here. I think that they do a great job overall in getting people the right products etc. I think the service system is just not set up to be efficient and transparent enough. Manufacturer and dealer have to share the same info. It needs to be clear what has already been communicated to the customer. You can not ask to buy more equipment to test if anything is not working correctly. As a customer I want to know where the device is and who is working on it. Having one person telling me that it gets shipped back from Israel in the next few days while I receive it from New Jersey the next day is strange. I assume that they had it repaired and shipped back to NJ but didn’t want to ship it to me until the repair cost had been paid. With that clarified for the third time they shipped it to my address. At that point the dealer didn’t know that the back had already been shipped back. Since all communication went through the dealer only, it should have been very simple to streamline it. One problem of the Leaf service is that it is set up for buyers of new equipment. When you buy new backs you may get rush service and replacement backs while yours is getting fixed. As a buyer of a demo version I am out of that system. The manufacturer doesn’t know my warranty status and my repair order has no priority. You are basically at the bottom of the food chain. That’s when you realize that premium is not about how much you have paid for an item but where that purchase stands within its own ecosystem. If you enter a system at the bottom, no matter at what price range that starts, you may not qualify for premium service. Personally I think that a feeling of premium service doesn’t require too much. In most cases it is about personal information and clear updates on your item’s status. And a little bit of understanding. The personal letter from Zeiss made a huge impression. How much does that cost? Often smaller companies don’t adapt quickly to grows. They rely on individuals to remember facts and to deal with follow ups when their schedule allows them so. As companies grow they have to put tools into place that orchestrate the service experience. While personal service is great you don’t want to leave it up to an individual to define the service. In some cases that may be a positive exchange but in many cases the individual service exceeds or suffers based on the individual’s daily mood and activities. My suggestion is to have rules in place and a streamlined procedure and defined control. Everything else will just leave you in a mess as a company grows and service demand rises.
All three devices got repaired well. The two lenses work again and they produce crisp, detailed images. The Leaf left me with some uncertainty about it actual repair. And the price between $2700 that the Mac Group communicated to the manufacturer and $3100 that they asked me to pay makes me wonder if failing products create extra revenue. Probably. Still, when I unpacked it it looked like a new back. Even the serial number, which was slightly faded, is now nice and clean. First I thought that they handed out a complete new back. I tested it and it still creates some magenta corners in certain night situations. As some online research suggests it may just be a problem of the lens. Who knows. D!RK