Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Buck? What Buck?

America needs you, Harry Truman. More specifically, customer service in America needs you. You with your funny single-letter middle name and all.

I am going to my college homecoming weekend at the end of the month and I was checking out the official alumni hotel on Expedia. As I drilled down further into the hotel details, I noticed something wasn't quite right. The "nearby attractions" and driving directions from the airport were for a completely different location. It was for the same hotel chain, just 20 miles away. Luckily I know the area well enough, and I didn't really need the directions or other information. I did, however, think that it would be a good thing to let Expedia know about this. Somebody might get confused. So I used their little online form and sent a brief note outlining the problem.

Here is the the gist of their response:
We apologize for the confusion. The hotel provides for any information on the site directly.

In other words: "Hey! Not our fault! Thank you, come again!"

And yes the website I was looking at for the hotel information said Expedia.com at the top. I don't care where the information comes from. Just fix it.

Here is the proper response "Thank you for letting us know of this error, we will contact the hotel to get the correct information and have it updated within three days."

A couple years ago, I had some kind of problem with the photo processing desk at the nearby Target store. I don't recall specifically what the issue was, but I was bothered enough to go to the Target website and lodge a complaint.

The response that time was "the photo kiosks are operated by a different company. Thank you for shopping at Target!"

Ummm, yeah, the photo kiosk is inside the Target. Various special offers for the photo kiosk are published in the Target weekly ad. There is no tape on the floor (a la Les Nessman) indicating "You are now leaving Target and entering some other company."

Damn, people. Take some responsibility.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Like no other?

I never thought I'd be praising Sony in this space, and yet here I am to do just that. At least a little bit.

I have had a love/hate relationship with Sony for several years now. I got hooked on their electronics a long time ago, for better or worse, and that led me to having way too many items in my house with that nameplate. TV(s), VCR(s), audio equipment, digital camera(s), computer(s) etc. Although I've never had any quality issues with the equipment, I have been quite frustrated with some of their marketing practices, I was dismayed at the whole "rootkit" fiasco, and I think the whole PS3 thing is a joke.

In any event, when I wanted a new notebook computer two years ago, I quickly decided on a Sony VAIO S150. I love it, it's light, has a great display, does the things I want it to do. Except that a couple months ago it started being balky about booting up. Press the power key, watch a couple lights turn on, wait to see if something would happen. If nothing happened, then press and hold the power key until it turned off and try again. It was getting to the point where it would take five or six or seven tries before it would boot up. The warranty was over, but I'd bought it using an American Express card, so their Buyer's Assurance program was in effect. I filed a claim, then started to go through the process of creating a repair ticket with Sony via their website. That was a bit of a hassle, but I finally got through it all. Before I left their site that evening though, I decided to look around a little bit and lo and behold, I found an announcement that "certain" models of the S series had a motherboard problem that might manifest itself as refusing to boot up. Hmmmmm. Since I'd registered my purchase with them back in 2004, I certainly wish they'd notified me of this, rather than having me stumble across it almost by accident. I called the number listed in the announcement, the guy took my information, confirmed the problem and said they'd send me a box in which to return my PC for service.

That was a Friday night. I spent some time over the weekend backing up everything, since they had GREAT BIG disclaimers everywhere about doing so. When I got home from work on Monday, FedEx had delivered a box to me - well actually an unconstructed box with unconstructed inserts. I spent some time putting it all together, packed up my precious S150 and took it all to the nearby FedEx/Kinko's. My timing was bad, I didn't get there until about half an hour after the cutoff, so it didn't leave town till Tuesday. For the next two days, I pressed the "track shipment" button on the FedEx website like a lab rat on cocaine. After I knew it had gotten to San Diego, I tried to keep tabs on it via the Sony site. That was a little less informative, although I did get an email on Friday morning saying "Sony Service has received your product for repair." At least I knew it was "in the system."

To my great surprise, I then received an email from FedEx on Saturday, telling me that a package was being shipped to me, with an anticipated delivery of this past Tuesday (stupid holiday!). Although that email from Sony had indicated that they would send me periodic updates on the status of the repair, I'd gotten nothing more from them. I more than half expected to get the box on Tuesday with some lame excuse about not filling out the paperwork properly or some such.

Eventually, the long weekend ended, my long day at work on Tuesday ended and I got home to find a delivery slip on my door, noting that an in-person signature was required. I had anticipated that. Lucky for me, it also said I could pick up the box at the FedEx facility after 7:00 PM. W00T! I had to kill an hour and a half . . . but I drove the ten miles to the depot and got my package. I got it home, took out my PC, pressed the power button and it worked. And it has been working all week, so I guess it really is fixed.

The whole thing took a week. It might have been less if I'd managed to get the box out earlier on that Monday.

So, major kudos for the actual repair process. Slightly less kudo-fu for the lack of notification of the recall.

No, this doesn't mean I'm a total Sony fanboy again. Far from it. But I've heard so many horror stories of other computer repairs (yes, I'm looking at you, Apple), that I certainly can't complain.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Hello, Dwell Magazine? Roll yourself up and ...

. . . stick yourself up your ass.

What is it with magazines? For years, they've been marketing themselves via the old "free trial issue" gambit. For years, I've been taking those free trial issues and writing "cancel" on the invoices. That usually works, but of course there is the odd exception like the lunkheads at Consumer Reports.

A little while ago, I got another of these offers from Dwell magazine. It seemed interesting enough, so I requested my free issue. In late July or early August, I received, on the same day, the current (at that time) issue, plus the one that came before. OK, trick number one with these guys. Assuming I sign up for the full subscription, they're going to say they already sent me two issues, even though one of them was out-of-date.

Now, in this case, I actually enjoyed the magazine enough that I decided to go ahead and pay for the subscription. I don't yet have the cancelled check in front of me, but I know it cleared my bank on 8/21, and from a phone call earlier today, I know that they processed it on 8/17.

Today I get a letter, dated 8/17, telling me that my subscription "remains unpaid after three months." WTF? I didn't even know what Dwell was three months ago, I've only received two issues (one of them outdated, as mentioned above), so they must have some interesting calendars there at subscription HQ. This letter goes on to blather about their "good faith" and how they offered me this "grace period." In other words, they pretty much am saying I'm a lousy deadbeat.

I immediately checked my bank account online and saw when the check had cleared, then I called the number on the letter. The young woman on the phone tells me my payment had been received on 8/17 (same day this letter was generated) and wants to get by with just the old "they must have crossed in the mail." I'm not buying it. First of all, even at their worst, it doesn't take two weeks for the post office to deliver mail. Second of all, I don't like the tone of this letter. I tell her to cancel my subscription and refund my money. She starts to tell me something about when the next issue will arrive, so I have to cut her off and repeat myself. Then she says I'll still receive the November issue (WTF?) and get a pro-rated refund after that. Not acceptable. She says there's nothing she can do, it's up to "the refund department." Not acceptable. She finally gets a "supervisor" on the line, who promises me he'll take care of things, but I guess I'll just have to wait and see.

Do I get to send a letter to them in two weeks impugning their integrity?

Here's the thing. I know these magazines are using some subscription service place. I know that it's in Harlan, Iowa, because that's where the payments all go to. These are the same people that were "handling" the Consumer Reports subscription. Some dickweed with an MBA is probably crafting these letters, and providing scripts for the phone reps.

The problem for all these magazines is that they keep this all transparent. They oursource this "service" to Chuckleheads, Inc, Harlan, IA 51593, and allow the magazine name to be used. So who do I get pissed at? Dwell. Consumer Reports. Whoever.

This letter was signed by a "George Frost, Business Manager." I went to the Dwell website and of course there is no sign that such a person exists. Dickweed MBA probably decided it was an authoritative sounding name and title to put at the bottom the letter.

Look, I work for an outsourcing company, but I am quite careful to never imply that I represent Large Insurance Company, Inc. My mom was always big on the saying "a person is known by the company he keeps." I'd have to say that a company is known by the people it keeps, directly or not.

It's just as well, I don't need any more extra paper coming into the house anyway.