Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Quality Control vs Customer Service

Tom over at Impact Miniatures announced that there was going to be a delay in shipping out the majority of the Trollcast teams from the kickstarter in the beginning of summer.  He had brought in some help to pack and pick the teams for shipment and tested them out for a first batch of deliveries which where hand delivered to players who went to Chaos Cup this year.  My teams came through this route.

Well, the picking and packing did not go well as pretty much everyone report some issues with the shipments from missing pieces to miscasts.  Looking at the new Pro Elf Models the deluxe team came with 26 or so players and each player is made up of say 3 parts so you are talking 75 parts per team.  Even if your packer is 99% accurate then every other team will be have a mispacked part.  He can and will send out the replacement parts but he is unhappy with this so will be packing the parts himself.  Shipping out a new part for a team pretty much eats the whole profit for the team not to mention does not leave people with a great feeling about the company.

I can see how packing these can be pretty challenging for people.  Many of the models have small pieces and duplicates.  I got 3 teams and probably spent like an hour checking them all over to find any missing parts or issues with models over two days so I could make sure I had everything.

This all reminds me very much of Forge World and Games Workshop.  People used to comment about how good they were about getting you replacement parts or kits when there were issues.  I always wondered though why so many bad parts went out in the first place.  Parts that were horribly warped or had holes that went all the way through.  If everyone you gets the parts like this asked for a replacement why send them out in the first place.  It was not like they were considered rare outliers (5%) on otherwise pristine product ranges.  They were pretty common.

The answer as always lies along a profit curve.  Consider that doing a replacement shipment probably costs about 10 dollars combined from postage and time communicating, picking and packing.  Now a person working in the packing department might be burdened at a rate of say 30 dollars for salary, benefits, and taxes.  Such a person pays for himself if he finds three sets with a replacement requirement per hour.  Now if your packing/casting error rate is only like 1% then that person needs to check like 100 parts per hour which is getting pretty high but not unreasonable if you are checking the same collection of parts repeatedly.  I doubt that the resin miscast or mispack rates are that low so I think checking every part and package before it goes out would make sense but they clearly do not.

The reason is that many people do not bother to ask for a replacement.  There are a lot of parts that are borderline in quality.  Some customers do not ask for them to be replaced while some do maybe because it does not occur to them or maybe the hassle.  I was unhappy with the quality of some of my reaper bones from the first kickstarter, while I complain about them in blog posts I did not ask for a replacement since I knew they all looked like that since it was a mold issue not a casting issue, but it turns out if I had asked I might have gotten some credits to the webstore.

In the condition where only some people ask for a replacement, you have to factor in the cost of the replacement part as well as the likelyhood of the replacement request. If only half the people ask for replacements then our checking needs to find twice as many errors to cover his cost.  Add in the price of the parts say 1 dollar than the error checker finding 6 errors costs 36 dollars to fix before shipment while the three people who want replacements only costs 33 dollars which means he needs to find check even more parts per hour to cover the cost of his process.

This is how the dollar and cents of the decision about this type of quality control should probably be done at GW or Forgeworld.  Ofcourse they for a long time had essentially a captive audience so the bad initial feeling about the problem could be fixed by prompt replacement with some extra product maybe thrown in since the margins are very high.  Impact! Miniatures probably does not have that luxury.  They are going to want to get good and proper pieces to their customers since they are dealing with a more limited customer base or are also very connected so Tom is making the correct decision to try his best to get everything right the first time.  There margins are also not so high as that giving away whole sets to replace one missing part is possible.

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