Failure is the best test

There’s an old truism in business that you only really earn your customers’ loyalty when things go wrong. Customers (generally) accept that mistakes happen; if you step up and solve the problem, they can actually be happier with their overall experience than if no problem had happened in the first place.

This week I really tested that hypothesis.

In the past week or so, three pens landed with me.

The Scribo Feel Verde Prato, ordered from Scribe in the Philippines.

The new Izods Nettuno 1911 collaboration, ordered from Izods.

The Visconti Midnight in Florence, ordered from La Couronne du Comte in the Netherlands.

They didn’t all arrive at the same time, but earlier this week I posted an Instagram photo tagging all the manufacturers and retailers, saying that all three pens had nib problems.

I wasn’t explicitly asking for help — I tag folks on Instagram as a matter of course, and I had already worked a little on each nib to try to improve them. But the post quickly turned into an experiment in customer service.

First it turned into a therapy thread though, as several other pen addicts posted their experiences of Italian pens and, in one case, the retailer in question. I received several other direct messages too.

Then Roy from Izods got in touch. Roy is a stand-up gent, and despite this being the cheapest of the three pens, and indeed the cheapest pen of several I’ve bought from Izods, he immediately set to work on getting me a replacement nib, no questions asked. Not long after, Nino from Nettuno reached out directly, committing to solving the problem any way he could. Two for two so far.

La Couronne du Comte replied next through Instagram, also offering to help. I sent them pictures of the nib and over the next few days we have exchanged messages. LCDC’s style is very formal and polite (they start every message with ‘dear sir’) but I have felt quite well looked after. Unfortunately the actual resolution is a bit more painful: despite having Visconti’s screw-in nib units in stock, they can’t just send me out a new one to swap over and send back. Their distributor insists on getting the whole pen back before issuing a replacement. Since the first order took over two weeks, I’m not looking forward to another waiting game, but LCDC is covering a DHL pickup today. Not a word from Visconti, though.

Luca from Scribo reached out directly, the next day. Again, I sent some photos of the new Scribo writing next to my old Scribo with the same ink, showing how much drier it writes. He promised to make it work the way I expected, so I am sending it directly to Bologna to be worked on.

And then lastly this morning Scribe reached out by email to see if they can help. Better late than never!
I told them that I am sending the pen by DHL, and they offered to reimburse me the courier costs — a gesture I was not expecting, and for which I’m very grateful.

So with the exception of Visconti, I received prompt and helpful contact from all the brands and retailers involved. Is that because I have nearly 2,000 Instagram followers and a popular blog, and they want to avoid a raking over the coals? Maybe a little, but I didn’t get that impression. Just good customer service.

All three nibs suffered from the same symptoms: they were drier and scratchier than I expected based on previous experience with identical pens from the same brand (in the case of Visconti and Scribo) and from similar pens (in the case of Nettuno). All three wrote out of the box, which is better than some pens I’ve received in the past, but frankly I am bored of putting up with sub-par writing experiences on £600 pens and of having to take the risk of fixing nibs myself.

To give more details:

The Scribo wrote a little dry and scratchy, although it looked OK under a loupe. I gently shimmed the nib, checked alignment and used the finest micromesh. The result was better, but I found it still wasn’t nearly as wet as my other Scribo and I was taking away the trademark Scribo feel. So I stopped.

The Visconti had one of the new 18k in-house nibs and it was clearly a beautiful but fragile beast. The tines are extremely long and thin and soft, and a big blob of unshaped tipping sat on the end. Out of the box the tines were bent a little to the right, and splayed, so the slit was slightly off straight.

More significantly the nib and feed seemed twisted in the nib unit axially, and I was unable to rectify that — I couldn’t remove the nib and feed from the housing. The writing experience was dry and very scratchy even after my best gentle work, and with such a delicate nib it was time to stop and call the experts. I was particularly disappointed because a) my other Viscontis had been uniformly wet and smooth and b) I had asked LCDC to do a writing test, which introduced a delay in shipping.

The Nettuno had a few problems. Either the slit or breather hole were off centre.

There was a wide tine gap all the way to the tipping, which made it scratchy. Despite that gap, it wasn’t particularly wet, and after half a sentence became noticeably drier. I have little experience fixing ink starvation, so I quickly gave up.

I’ll return to my usual points when I write about nib problems. It’s understandable that problems occur or damage is done anywhere throughout the complex process of making a nib: from initial stamping, tipping, slit cutting, grinding, polishing, assembly and testing through to retail inspection and even shipping. So I get it.

But it happens so often that it is really starting to ruin my anticipation of a new pen. I am actually surprised and shocked when a pen is perfect out of the box, and I’m sad to say that Italian and. yes, German nibs (particularly Pelikan and Bock branded for me) are performing worst so far after 200 pens purchased.

Is the problem me? Well, maybe. I’m a lefty overwriter or sidewriter with an extremely light touch, so I demand a lot from my pens. But if I can use and enjoy an Aurora BB and a Platinum UEF and a Montblanc flex with no problems, I know I’m not doing anything too crazy with my writing expectations.

In fact, I think I have gained more confidence to know when something isn’t right. Take the Scribo for example: it was OK. It flexed, it didn’t tear the paper, it didn’t skip or hard start. But it wasn’t in the same league as the several other Scribos I’ve used. And after trying three different inks and a host of different papers I felt confident to stand up and say ‘there’s something not right with this nib’. In the past I may just have left it unused in my pen tray until I finally sold it.

So there’s a message for you. Listen to your hand. Don’t let a retailer or brand tell you that ‘we test every nib so they’re perfect’, because that may be a harried, underpaid and hungover shop apprentice dipping and scribbling on printer paper just to make sure the nib lays a line.

When a pen arrives, check under a loupe for misalignment, flush the feed, rule out bad ink or paper… but if those quick fixes leave you dissatisfied, then feel confident to put the blame on the pen. And you might be surprised how helpful the retailers and brands can be.

8 thoughts on “Failure is the best test

  1. No I don’t think being a lefty overwriter precludes you from anything less than perfect, especially for what you’re paying. These things cost money, and we shouldn’t expect things to be anything less than darn near perfect if they’re marketed and priced to be such.

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  2. Nib quality issues on expensive pens from big companies always bug me. I’ve used 3 five buck Jinhaos that worked almost perfect (one had slightly misaligned tines out of the box). A Pilot Kakuno ($12) and Metropolitan ($15), in EF and M respectively, that both wrote absolutely perfectly. A TWSBI Eco ($30), again, wrote perfectly. If you can get the damn nib on a twenty buck pen to work well, why not on a 500 dollar Pelikan, or a 1k Montblanc? I personally would be fine paying an added premium on an already expensive pen to ensure that the nib was fully checked by a well-paid, dedicated employee. Especially with factory nibs, like Bock and JoWo, seeing as so many companies use them.

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    • This. ^^^

      Every Platinum steel-nibbed pen I’ve bought has been perfect out of the box: four Preppies, a Prefounte, and a Procyon. I’ve had the same experience with TWSBI that Conrad has: perfect alignment and flow every time with all of my Ecos, a 580, and a Vac Mini. On the other hand, I have a Pelikan m205 and two Sailor PGSs that all needed alignment, and one of the Sailors has some other problem with ink flow. This isn’t to say they’re not good pens – the m205 and the PGS are two of my favorite writers. But It seems to me that a pen that runs $250 MSRP should consistently write as well out of the box as a theoretically disposable Preppy. If I’m paying even more than that – $500, say – it seems like it should just write.

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      • I’ve had great experiences with about six Platinum 3776s, and no problems with any of the five or six Sailors I have owned. And eight TWSBI Ecos, all with no problems. Good nibs are out there!

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  3. Pingback: Fountain Pen Quest Trail Log – June 21, 2020 | Fountain Pen Quest

  4. I have received an official reply to a misaligned nib breather hole like you nettuno…
    Here is part of the reply..

    “that the nib slit is hand made therefore there is a tolerance in each nib.
    A nib is considered defective only when the slit is outside the airhole.
    Technically speaking the function is not affected by that!”

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    • Well I’m not sure I agree with that — there’s more to it than pure function, there’s an expected level of aesthetic finishing too. I would be really unhappy if the clip wasn’t straight, the finial overhung the cap, etc — even though those are all cosmetic.

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