My friend David St. Lawrence, in the final week of what is turning into a white-knuckle move from Charlottesville to Floyd, is an ex-corporate type who writes a lot about customer service (or the lack thereof). His experience with Southern Heritage homes is a textbook example of what happens when customer service runs hot and cold.

As a professional photographer, I used Nikon cameras for nearly 40 years, starting with an original Nikon F in 1965 through a D2H digital SLR in 2004. Nikons, for decades, set the standard for 35mm professional equipment.

And, as a professional, I enjoyed “priority” services for repair and equipment loans through Nikon Professional Services (NPS), an operation set up to serve the needs of the working photographer.

But both Nikon and NPS began to take their customer base for granted. Nikon, after developing the digital professional SLR used by most news organizations (the D1), fell behind rival Canon in both digital development and service to professionals. NPS, once the standard for service, appeared at fewer and fewer events to loan out equipment and the attitude of the service departments deteriorated into a “we’ll get it back to you when we get it done, whenever that may be” attitude.

So, late last year, I dumped all my Nikon equipment and moved over to Canon, buying three digital SLR bodies (an EOS-1DS Mark II, EOS-1D Mark II and a EOS 20D) along with a necessary compliment of lenses.

The 1D (8.2 megapixel) and 1Ds (16.7 megapixel) became my workhorses while the 20D usually sat in the cabinet as a reserve.

Last month, the 20D stopped writing images to the compact flash card and I called Canon customer service. I had never taken the time to join Canon Professional Services so I went through the normal channels, fully expecting that such a route would mean sending the camera in and waiting for God-knows-how-long for it to be returned.

A friendly rep named Alan pulled up my registration records, noted the camera was still under warranty, and told me to send it to New York for repair. He gave me the address and I thanked him and was about to hang up when he asked me to stay on the line while “I check something.” Uh, oh, I thought.

He was back on the line in a few seconds.

“Mr. Thompson, I was just checking over your product registrations. You own several pieces of equipment. Are you a professional?”

“Yes.”

“Are you registered with CPS (Canon Professional Services)?”

“Nope. Never got around to it.”

“That’s OK. Do you need a loaner camera while we repair the 20D?”

I assured him I did not since I had two other camera bodies.

“Just checking,” he said. “We will get the camera back to you as quickly as possible.”

I shipped the camera UPS ground on a Tuesday. Canon received it on Thursday and sent me an email acknowledging receipt. On Friday, they sent a follow-up email saying the camera had been repaired and was on its way back via FedEx overnight. It arrived on Monday, fully repaired, cleaned and with a firmware upgrade as well. Alan called later Monday afternoon to see if the camera had arrived and wanting to know if everything worked.

That’s customer service.