Recent Customer Service Incidents: Who's always right?
The genesis of this page is the atrocious customer service I've gotten from several
companies lately. The first half-dozen incidents listed happened between early
September and early October 1998. Has customer service just disappeared?
- Best Buy
- JAN/99 I bought a computer for my grandmother a coupla months ago. We got a
Compaq. It had the right features for a decent price. (Including an AMD chip.
My Baby Bro works for AMD, so that was a bit of a thrill for my grandmother.)
Also, Best Buy bragged about being able to support it anywhere in the country.
My grandmother is in a fairly small town. My mom went to her place to set it
up. It worked fine for awhile. Then it Blue Screen O' Died in AOL. Kept
happening. Calls to Compaq were blown off. Finally, my mom called Best Buy and
they made good on their promise. They sent someone out who apparently changed out
the memory, and it appears to be working well, again.
- Warming Hut
- SEP/99 When Bruce and I went looking for ski boots in the middle of the summer (hoping
to find deals) we found this guy. He spent a lot of time explaining how a boot
should fit, potential problems to watch for, the advantages of each boot for different
shapes of feet, etc. Basically, it was clear this guy knew his stuff. But, at
that time they had a very limited selection. So we had to wait for Labor Day for
them to get a full line of boots in. Bruce' feet are pretty easy to fit, but I ended
up trying on about eight boots. When I finally found one, he made sure I wasn't just
settling on them because I was tired of putting boots on. A very low key, quiet guy
who didn't push any particular model. He really gave the impression that he was
trying to find the boots that fit us the best. He's in Richardson on Central just
north of Arapaho.
- Player's Bench
- SEP/99 A new hockey store opened close to the house, at Coit and Campbell. Fairly
similar to the Warming Hut, the owner, Stiles, really knows his stuff. And
apparently the other guy that works there used to play in the European hockey
league. He helped me find good equipment that fit me and he helped me watch the
price. He took the time to explain the tradeoffs I should consider for all the
equipment. For example, the pants should have tailbone protection. The elbow
pads should have bicep protection for those battles on the boards. Etc. Not
quite as low key, but definitely not a hard sale. At a pick-up game I played in I
heard several people in the locker room commenting on how impressed they were with him.
- SEP/00 I found these guys when following a link that discusses the decss controversy. I
liked the idea of buying a t-shirt as a way to tell blood-sucking lawyers to stick it in
their ear. After finding their site I sort of went wild and bought a whole bunch of
shirts, a coupla books, etc. Similar to Amazon.com, apparently one of the boxes never made
it to me. When I contacted them about it they didn't respond right away and I started to
get worried. A second email produced and apology and an explanation that they were in the
middle of a move and my email had fallen through the cracks. They attempted to send the
missing items. But they went and left a few items out of the second shipment, too. When I
informed them of the second mistake my contact there apologized in a very humorous way,
saying he was sorry that I was the victim of the most screwed-up order they had ever had.
While some people would look down on them for taking three tries to get my order right,
they left me with the impression that they get it right the vast majority of the time.
- JUN/01 For some reason, there are people who want to hate Amazon.com. There
are a few things they've done wrong. For awhile, they were charging their loyal customers
more than new customers. That was stupid and they quit as soon as people complained.
The One-Click patent was
apparently mostly a public
But overall, their site works. You can usually find what you're looking for very easily.
Their shopping cart has always been fairly straightforward, and has gotten better over
time. And when you order something it is usually shipped the first day the product is
I've spent thousands of dollars at Amazon.com over more than 50 orders and have only had
two problems. Once, the order was large enough that they apparently sent it in two boxes
and one of the boxes never showed up. When I contacted them they quickly sent the missing
And the one that really impressed me happened just this week. I received a DVD that was
defective. Their site made it trivially easy to report the item as defective, and they
offered to print a shipping label that would reverse the charges, so all I had to do was
pack it up and put it in the mailbox. The next day, before I got around to finding a box
for it, I received an email from them telling me that they had already submitted an order
for a replacement and would include a shipping label with it. Which means, when that
arrives I'll have a box just the right size to pop the bad DVD into and send it right
That's customer service as it ought to be. They initially won my business with low prices,
the convenience of mail order, and the geeky coolness of ordering over the web when that
was an unusual thing to do. But even though their prices aren't necessarily the lowest
anymore, my experience has been that they understand the rules of keeping customers happy.
- Southwestern Bell
- SEP/98 It took three weeks and seven phone calls to get a phone cable buried.
Apparently they hire contractors to do that. Yet, every time I called they
apparently sent someone out to "fix" my phone line. The contractor who
finally came ripped out a board in the fence and didn't replace it.
- SEP/98 A VCR I purchased last year worked great when I used it to control the old Tocom
cable box that TCI uses for analog cable. It doesn't work with the new General
Instruments digital box. It took eight phone calls (with two messages not returned)
to four different numbers (one of which was busy for days) before I finally got ahold of
someone who really understood that the VCR has an IR emitter in it to control the cable
box. Given how quickly the home electronics market changes, I expected them to have
an ongoing system to provide updated PROMs for new devices. After another half-dozen
phone calls I'm finally convinced that's not going to happen. What's really
frustrating is it almost works. From the symptoms, I think whoever captured the
codes made a mistake. My next VCR will be trainable.
- Home Theatre Store
- SEP/98 Early in the Mitsubishi fiasco, I called these guys (I bought the VCR there) to
get their help on tracking down a new PROM. Never got a callback.
- OCT/98 When I wanted to add another digital cable box they insisted on sending a
technician. I was here when they installed the earlier ones, so I know that all he
did was plug them in to the cable, into power, and into a phone line. I already had
a phone line running near the location for the new box. Okay, so he wrote down
serial numbers, too. But they refused to simply drop off a box for me to
"install." A humorous addendum is they forgot to leave a remote for the
last one. I called to tell them so I wouldn't get charged for it. I suggested
that I didn't need another mote because I have a universal in the living room. I
don't think the woman believed me. Anyway, their accounting system isn't set up to
handle customers without a remote. So they dropped one off.
- OCT/98 The affiliation between TCI and tci.net is unclear to me. They're two
different companies, but obviously they share equipment. Anyway, when tci.net came
to install the cable "modem" the guy doing the physical installation asked me
several times, "Is it okay if I use the B line?" (He didn't want to drop
another line down the wall.) I kept telling him, "I don't know. Both
lines go into the digital cable box. Seems like they're using it for
something." He ended up taking the B line. We tried low channels and
high channels. Wouldn't you know, they use the B line for the middle channels.
For the software installation, the guy who did it obviously was following a
cookbook. When he installed the first piece I asked him to put it on drive E:,
because my drive C: was nearly full. He did as I asked for that piece, but all the
others he rushed through the wizards so that I couldn't remind him to put them on E:.
He installed an older version of RealPlayer over top of one I already had on the
system. And he left without finishing putting in the IP and DNS addresses. He
didn't do anything disastrous, but I can imagine him screwing up a less-experienced user's
system and neither would be able to figure out how to fix it.
- OCT/98 They started refusing my card. I called them up to find out why. They
said suspicious activity. What activity, I asked? An unusual number of
charges. How many is that? Eight between August 7 and August 28. One
every three days is suspicious?
But wait, there's more. Apparently the strip died on my card (it's only a few months
old.) I called for a new one, supposed to arrive in 10 working days. Three
weeks, no card. Call again. Three more weeks, no card. Get a call from
Risk Control (something like that) because I was still using the old card. She
verifies that the charges are legit, and I tell her the card hasn't arrived. We
finally decide to close out this account number because of the cards out there
somewhere. Today, the card finally arrives and it's still the old number.
DEC/98 Update: A second card came a few weeks later. I finally got someone on
the phone that knew what she was talking about. She said that the first two people
had tried to take a shortcut and left out an expiration date. So the cards were
never sent, and no warning was ever sent or presented to anyone. When the third
person put in an expiration date it apparently got applied back to one of the earlier
ones. The oldest one had apparently aged off the system.
- US Business Web
- SEP/98 Yup, my web site host has had some troubles. First, the old server that
hosted this site fed its mail through alter.net, notorious for poor routing. Email
was taking hours to get through. So he moved me to a new server. It took a
coupla weeks to shut down the old site so that the DNS' updated themselves. It took
weeks longer to get the control panel up so I could maintain my own email accounts.
Still not sure it's working. Meanwhile, my roomies' email is getting forwarded to my
account. During most of this time, I'd go days without a response to my questions.
My Thought for the Day still isn't working.
Update: Thought is working, but email forwarding still isn't.
- SEP/98 Bought a Compaq IJ900 color inkjet. It was a little too expensive, but it's
fast (8 ppm B&W.) But the color sucks using the standard cartridge on laser
paper. I realize that for top quality I should use expensive paper and the photo
cartridge. But it should be able to do better than this. I'm pretty sure it's
gamma, or just needs to be adjusted. But I can't find any adjustments in the driver.
It's been about a week since I posted a message to their message board. My
message hasn't even gotten past the moderator. I sent a message to the support email
address a few days ago, and no answer from there, either.
Update: I checked daily for over a week, and every other day for another week and a
half. Posted a second message. None of my message ever showed up nor were any
- DEC/98 Bought a new computer for my grandmother. Ran for a coupla weeks, then
started Blue Screen O' Dying in AOL. Repeated calls to Compaq were blown off with,
"It's a software problem." Best Buy ended up sending someone out who
replaced the memory, and it has been fine ever since.
- Best Buy
- NOV/98 It took us 15 mins to decide what we wanted, and nearly another 2 hours to
actually leave the store. When we bought the computer for my grandmother, we stopped
at a few large stores in the area. For her machine, I wanted something as simple and
off-the-shelf as possible. On-site support was important, whereas for my own
machines it's a complete waste of money. Best Buy was the fourth place we stopped,
and it took my mother and I about 15 minutes to decide (on our own, no help in sight) that
one of their Compaqs was obviously the best bang for the buck. From that point, it
took about 20-30 mins to grab one of the (I think) two people working the computer section
so he could gather our items. It took another 30-40 mins for him to write up the
ticket by hand (computer, monitor, printer, half-dozen cables and accessories.)
15-20 mins in line. Then, I believe they had to transcribe all the various warranty
forms that had been hand-written. And finally, they had trouble with my credit
card. It was unclear exactly what the problem was. Neither the cashier kid,
nor the manager ever bothered to acknowledge we were still there, nor tell us what was
- 24/JAN/99 For my new computer, I bought both a mouse and a trackball. But there's
only one Control Panel applet and therefore only one speed setting. So when I get
one comfortable, the other is either way too fast or way too slow. Posted two
messages through the Logitech Global Support system. No response to either.
Update: Eventually I got a response. It don't work. Deep down, the
conflict is Microsoft's fault. But still the tech support black hole I experienced
here was Logitech's fault.
- Southwestern Bell Wireless
- 18/MAR/00 For my birthday, my mom bought me a cell phone and signed me up so that it was
working right off the bat. Within the first couple of weeks I called them to have
the service transferred into my name. They refused to do that over the phone.
Nor could I show up myself to make the transfer. Both myself and my mom had to show
up together in order to get it in my name. I mean, it's not like I'm taking out a
big loan or something. It's a telephone. Between my mom taking a trip out of town
and me procrastinating and various billing problems she's having with them for other
reasons, my service ended up getting cut off. So we ended up using an entire
Saturday afternoon to take care of this. On our way to SW Bell, we stopped by
Sprint. They have a slightly better plan, more minutes during the week. But, I
would have to buy a new phone because they're using a different network. If it
weren't for that I probably would have switched. Instead, we stood in line for 20
minutes before being given the form to fill out. Then we finally got to talk to a
person. I told the guy how annoyed I was and that I felt they had too much
competition to make this such a hassle. I mentioned that we almost went to Sprint
and his Company Line Comeback was, "You would have had worse service." I
let that go with a disgusted look. Basically, they're arrogant enough to think they
can force the customer to adapt to them.
Update JUN/01 My mother just had a lousy experience with these guys, now known as
Cingular. While her mother was visiting she used my mother's cell phone a lot.
She ended up running way over the minutes of my mom's plan. She talked with a
customer rep and he talked her into changing to a new plan with more minutes. After
the first month she realized that the new plan's minutes didn't include long distance.
Even a cursory examination of her call usage should have made it obvious that was
how she used her phone the majority of the time. So she called up to ask to switch
back and was told she couldn't, because that plan had expired. I'm glad my new cell
phone uses VoiceStream.
- 12/APR/01 I've read in the past how poor CheckFree's customer support is. I think
it was P.J. Plauger in a column he wrote. When one applies to their service the ID
number they give you is your social security number. When he applied they transposed
two numbers. He called them up and asked them to change it. They said,
"Don't worry about it. Your account will still work with this number." He
tried to point out that he didn't want an ID number that was almost his SSN
number. But they refused to change it. He said he filed his correspondence
with them in his file called, "Who's Always Right?"
My current experience is somewhat similar. A hard disk in my old machine started to
die, so I decided to bite the bullet and switch from MYM DOS v12 to Quicken. Quicken
also uses CheckFree. So I spent a few hours trying to find out what I needed to do
to make Quicken work with CheckFree on the same bank account. After a coupla phone
calls and an email I learned that they want me to send a letter stating that I want to
close the account and then send an application to open the account. The letter and
the application are in the same envelope. It'll be the same ID number and the same
bank account. It's just different software talking to CheckFree. I let them
know that if I had been given a choice then I would have almost certainly chosen anyone
else over them.
24/APR/01 Update: Sure enough, they gave me a new ID number that is almost
my SSN#. I find that very annoying. And then the sheet of paper they sent
telling my how to activate Quicken Bill Pay did not tell me that they had done that.
The only way I found out was to call their tech support. In addition, the
nomenclature on the sheet of paper didn't match the program, making it more difficult than
necessary to make use of the info. And finally, the PIN number they assigned to me
was buried in text and not highlighted in any way, making it more difficult to find the
number at the time I needed to actually type it into the program. An altogether
sloppy execution of the entire process.
- American Airlines
- 15/DEC/03 I'm not upset that my flight into Chicago O'Hare was delayed due to
weather. That happens. It's the safest thing to do.
I'm not upset that my connecting flight out of O'Hare wasn't delayed as much. It's a
random chance thing. It happens.
What I'm upset about is that when I landed in O'Hare my connecting flight was still on the
ground. According to the monitor, I had about five minutes to get there. Since
I didn't know O'Hare I decided to not risk just missing the plane. So I stopped at
the service counter at my arriving gate and asked the lady to call ahead and have them
hold the plane. She refused
At most, they'd have to hold it about two minutes. They probably weren't even done
loading the luggage when I got to the gate. But the door to the walkway was already
shut and the people at this counter weren't going to help, either. I probably should
have made more noise here. I think the plane was still sitting there, but there
aren't any windows at that gate, so I couldn't tell.
Update 28/JAN/04 I got a blow-off email back. They said they need 15 minutes
to finish getting the flight ready. And maybe that's true. Again, I wasn't
upset that I missed the flight. I was upset that the woman refused to even try.
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Last modified: February 04, 2004