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Recent Customer Service Incidents:  Who's always right?

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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?

The Good

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 relations mistake.

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 available.

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 items.

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 back.

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.

The Bad

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 answered.
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 going on.
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
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