Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Customer Service. Now With Continuing Randomness.

Almost three weeks ago I wrote about a company living deep inside a dark pit of evil.

All monopolies seem to go this way. Qwest is no different. I had a problem on April 6. Sundays are exempt from customer service according to this company's principles, so I had to wait until the next day.

On Monday I talked to three people, the last two of whom promised me new replacement equipment the following day. Not absolutely bad. A problem on the 6th and new, free equipment on the 8th, to keep as my own. Yeah, right.

On Wednesday the 9th after no news I called again, and was assured that my equipment was on its way and would arrive that very same day, by 5 p.m. Heh.

Thursday I finally bought my own DSL modem, then called Qwest again on the 18th. Since it was a Friday the two people I talked to (a nice guy and his nice supervisor) guaranteed that my equipment would arrive, a little slowly, but definitely on Tuesday, April 21. I had decided that if I could get my hands on it I could resell and get back the cost of my purchase. Waiting, tick, tick.

Today is April 30 and I am waiting in silence for my next bill. I want to see that they're still charging me rent for the defunct equipment I sent back. Then I'll go to the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, the Utilities and Transportation Commission, and finally to small claims court when they don't come through with a refund.

How cool would it be to get a judgment of $5 against a huge multi-state corporation and then put a lien on their property? And then do it again the following month, and the month after that. And then keep it up forever. Until they try to sell a shed somewhere and find that they have to pay me first.

Meanwhile I've had another experience. One not bad but not great. It worked out OK, but like a situation I got into over the winter, it could easily have gone the wrong way. For me it would have been an annoyance, maybe an infuriating one, but for the company I was dealing with, well, a few screw-ups can be a major hit to viability.

I've been waiting months until the Shuttle KPC small form factor PC became available. I wanted to take another whack at Linux, and this baby looked good. Really good. Small and sexy.

Finally, the day came. It was available. I found a place carrying it, ZaReason, a small assembler of Linux systems. But configured the way I wanted it (fairly minimally) it amounted to more than I really wanted to spend. Good luck though. ZaReason had another box, a bigger one, but a lot cheaper even than the Shuttle. Deal.

A quick check turned up lots of good customer reviews. So within about two hours I went from never having heard of this company to feeling really good about it. I want to say feeling good about "them". I felt that there were real, ethical people working there. So I ordered a custom built box and a smallish LCD monitor for $624, plus $19.24 in shipping. I couldn't believe the shipping charge. To prevent unwarranted hyperventilation from suspense, let me say that both the cost and the shipping charges were true.

Ubuntu/Kubuntu Linux 8.04 was due in a few days so I asked them to wait for it. Then began waiting for them. That was on April 15, 2008.

By the end of the following week there was no news from them, and nothing showed up under my account when I logged in to my account. I thought it might be time to check in so I waited through the weekend and late Monday the 28th sent them a query by email. I got a nice answer, but wasn't actually able to read it until after the computer and monitor arrived the next day.

In the interests of continuing to defeat unwarranted suspense, I have to say that everything was OK. All fingers and toes accounted for.

So why am I such a whining fool? What's the point of all this crap?

Well, I like them. They got lucky. So did I. Things worked out, but that's not a good way to run a business, as I found out earlier this year when I decided to send my sister two late Christmas presents.

Her birthday is December 9, and she's been shorted her whole life, getting one present at Christmas and never anything for her birthday, so I bought her two presents. One was some good chocolate and the other was some good coffee.

I wrote about this before in "Customer Service, Where Ha' Ye Gone?". But I'm still bugged by it, so I gratuitously sent the innocent at ZaReason's shipping department a page-long email on customer service. I might have been just another insane raver to him but tried to use a cheery tone. Tried to be helpful They could use a bit. Only a tiny bit, but I'm really on their side and wanted to be useful.

Maybe the company is too small yet. Who knows, but for them I had to contrast what happened to me with Chocosphere, of Portland, OR and Batdorf and Bronson of Olympia, WA.

The latter company had an insane online ordering system that completely mangled the information I entered. I had to log on to send them a message -- no simple email for them, no siree. Then they sent me a paper invoice through the mail, and I then heard nothing about my order.

Eventually after much fuss my sister ended up with two coffee shipments. The first one had temporarily disappeared and the second one got sent by Batdorf and Bronson to make up for the first one. Most of the shrieking and hair pulling was my fault. I'm like that sometimes. I could have been avoided it if Batdorf and Bronson had simply sent me a UPS tracking number. Which they did on the second, free order. For some reason. Maybe to kiss and make up. But though I'll buy coffee from them as long as I live here I'll never order online from them again as long as I live, period.

Chocosphere is kind of the opposite in most every way. They have a pretty crappy web site, like late 1990s, but it works. It's easy to use. Smooth. The site may look amateurish but its processes are great. They even have a temperature range option so chocolate orders don't melt en route. You can say "ship no matter what", "ship only below x degrees", or let them decide. They care.

I got immediate email confirmation following my order.

When the order shipped I got another email with a UPS tracking number. I let my sister know when to look for her package. When it arrived she was right there. Then I got another email from Chocosphere confirming that my order had arrived. I already knew that, but I felt even better about the company. It was obvious that they cared about what was happening, and what I thought.

I don't have enough money to keep ordering chocolate, unless I want to blow all I have and die in a diabetic coma. I'll have to think this through. It might be worth developing diabetes so I can die in a pile of chocolate wrappers. But only the good chocolate. And I'll buy it from Chocosphere.

It's kind of funny overall. The good, responsible and reliable businesses like Chocosphere are easy to forget about. You order a product, you get it, you forget.

Dealing with an inept system such as Batdorf and Bronson had (here's hoping they've fixed it) makes you obsess. You want to keep poking your finger into the wound. You want to keep proving it's really as bad as that, because you have trouble believing that it is. You begin muttering to yourself, then waving your arms and having screaming arguments with yourself. Even in public. You can get to a point where it's the only important thing in life.

This is a lot like any other job performance. Do your job throughly and well, get it done the first time, have it stay done, and you become invisible.

If your work blows up, creates all kinds of havoc, those are the people who stick in your mind. All too often they get thought of as smarter and more valuable, for a while at least, because they are obviously doing harder work. If not then it wouldn't blow up, would it? Sometimes they can keep doing that for years.

With an online business life isn't quite so mellow. They can't be the boss's pet, or get second or third chances, because they're basically vending machines. Pull the lever, lose your money, and that's it, baby.

Which is why I wrote my email to the folks at ZaReason. They're better than that. They sent me a good product at a good price. They already have a good reputation, and some really happy customers. They deserve a friendly heads-up. They're just a little too close to the edge right now, when a simple automated email or two could guarantee that even if something goes horribly wrong during order fulfillment, they will stay on the bright side of the line.

There's nothing better after all than dealing with people who try hard, get it as right as they can, and then follow through gracefully when the monkeys get to wrenching around. As they do from time to time.

With ZaReason I'll order again, as soon as I need a Linux laptop. You betcha. And I hope they listen to me too. Because I'm on their side.


Batdorf and Bronson. In Olympia, WA. Home of great coffee.
Chocosphere. In Portland, OR.
Customer Service, Where Ha' Ye Gone?
Shuttle KPC.
Tom's Hardware, "First Look: Shuttle's Bargain KPC"
Tom's Hardware, "Shuttle's New $99 KPC Review"


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