Throwback Thursday – My Customer Service Roots


The image is from a brochure that Polaroid’s Camera Products Services Division produced to help develop a stronger authorized repair center network.

The year is early 1975, and I was working in Customer Service at Polaroid. The Polaroid SX-70 camera had been introduced and with those first cameras being 300% defective there was a lot to do. I was a Customer Service Rep based in Waltham, Mass, and we had a walk-in counter giving us the opportunity to help consumers face to face. 

Remember, there was no Internet so, as a consumer, your choices for contact were pretty much limited to a phone call or writing a letter. Offering walk-in service was something Polaroid had available only at the major distribution centers. While most people were pretty nice, even though they were frustrated with a camera that didn’t work, it was still one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever had in terms of dealing with the public.

However, there were some hysterically funny highlights: 

We had a phone call one day from a woman who was going on a cruise and wanted to know if it was okay to take her Polaroid “LAND” camera. She obviously couldn’t figure out that the “Land” was for Dr. Edwin Land, the founder of the company.

Then there was the woman who called in one day asking for help with her Square Tooter Shoe. The camera was a Square Shooter II.  I remember the rep who answered the phone just cracked, couldn’t stop laughing, and somebody else had to take the call.

Then we had a guy who decided the picture was coming out of the wrong place on the SX-70. He glued the exit slot shot, which destroyed the entire transport system, voided the warranty and created a major repair.

But my all time favorite was an idiot that I waited on out at the same counter in the picture above. He had built a 12-foot remote cable for the camera. There wasn’t a self-timer at the time, and he wanted to be in the picture himself. Well, the camera did what was called a mid-cycle shut down. It stopped each time and the picture only came out halfway. That was only half the challenge for me though.
He came in, looked at me and bellowed, “The damn camera doesn’t work!” He then proceeded to lay out a half dozen prints of him and his girlfriend naked in various attempts at creating a not so private porn library. He saw the look of shock on my face and said, “So what’s wrong with these pictures?”

I had only one response, “She’s ugly!”

There was an awkward silence, and I knew I had crossed the line, but seriously, who shares stuff like that? He looked a little like Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade and then burst out laughing. He apologized and said, “Okay, can you guys fix the camera?”

In spite of a lot of bizarre things that happened in Customer Service back then, it gave me an incredible foundation to build on.  It gave me solid roots in working with consumers, manufacturers and created a basis for a series of performance standards I’ve tried to stay true to, right to this very day.


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