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Good travel-related customer service in this day and age?

If you read travel guru Christopher Elliott‘s writings as I do, you would think that the entire travel-related industry is going to hell in a handbasket when it comes to customer service, be it airlines that routinely institute new fees, or hotels that regularly overbook and then send unwary customers to lower-grade motels (if at all).

You would think that in these tough times, businesses would be bending over backwards to provide good customer service, to maintain a good reputation, retain loyalty, and reap long-term benefits, yes?

Well, it turns out that there are some bag/luggage manufacturers that fall into this category. Today, let me showcase Tom Bihn Bags.

Tom Bihn Bags

Based out of Seattle, Washington, this small bag manufacturer still makes all of its products in the USA. If you’re American and you prefer to purchase products that are made in-country, Tom Bihn bags are a keeper. All of the products they make are heavy duty and hold up well to everyday use.

What makes them a standout in the customer service realm, however, is their direct interactivity with customers:

  • Blog: You can expect new blog entries on an almost daily basis, and they include everything from reader-submitted videos to information about new inventory. If you use an RSS feed reader like Bloglines or Google Reader, it’s a great way to see what’s going on in the world of Tom Bihn.
  • Twitter: These days it feels like every company (and celebrity) has a Twitter account, and Tom Bihn is no exception. You’ll get updates when they post a blog, but they also follow their own subscribers, and they will actually respond to your queries on Twitter! Talk about feedback.
  • Forums: Finally, they have a active discussion board at their Web site. They use vBulletin, a bulletin board system familiar to many. Here, people can post photos of their own Tom Bihn bags, ask questions, discuss the merits or problems with products, and so on. The membership hovers just below 3,000, which, while not huge, means there is a very loyal core following that has direct input into product design and redesign.

What’s impressive is how much direct feedback the people at Tom Bihn actually take into account in this interactive environment. It is not uncommon for company staff to post a teaser about an upcoming product or ask people for opinions about specific features about upcoming items, with a photo or two. At that point, the loyal readers respond with honest feedback, and there can be a lively exchange over the merits of various features, until the designs are tweaked to better meet customer requests.

A good example of this is in the board thread entitled, “TriStar day!!!!” where a reader was disappointed that the photos of this new pre-production travel bag indicated zipper pulls that were cords instead of metal tabs. After some back-and-forth exchange, company rep Darcy announced a change to metal tabs, with a package of cord pulls for people who prefer the latter. How many companies do you know that work so closely with their customers to hone their product design, and actually respond to them?

Many manufacturers simply hire out marketing researchers or leave it to their own staff for opinions, but by listening to their own customers, the folks at Tom Bihn can introduce new products that actually fit the bill for their market. What a concept!

For a small company, they are constantly working on research and development, coming up with new products or tweaking their existing line. They are adding new colors and new sizes and so on, and they try to coordinate products, so that small internal packs fit in large bags, colors match, and whatnot.

Listening to customer feedback? Seems like it!