Category Archives: Customer support


Today I had some problems with my Red Sox season ticket account. I filled out and submitted the online tech support form describing the problem. A few hours later, I received an email saying I didn’t provide enough information – they needed my email address.

Not Quite There Yet

I’ve been writing a lot lately about talent management and the importance of having a well-trained, motivated workforce to deliver the “brand promise” and maintain high levels of customer service, even (or especially) during a global recession. In a perfect world, consumers would receive consistently positive service and support across all channels – in a store, on the Web, from the call center, all staffed by helpful employees who are empowered to go off script and help consumers make  informed buying decisions or solve their problems quickly. 

If my current experience with Dell is any indication, we’ve got a long way to go. (Cue the violins.)

I’m shopping for a new desktop for my business. Dell is the only PC maker I’ve found offering free “downgrades” from Vista to Windows XP. I’ve got the model I want – a Vostro 420 Tower – and I’m clicking through their wizard to customize the system (bigger hard drive, etc.). I don’t need a monitor – but there’s only a pick list for different size displays, not for purchasing the system without one. Stuck. OK, let’s try the live chat feature. I fill out my name, type my question, submit – error message. Try again (sometimes technology doesn’t like the apostrophe in my name) – same message. I wait 10 minutes, try one  more time, with less text – same error.

So I clicked around, found an email for sales/pre-sales support, which seemed logical. Sent this email: 

I’ve been trying to customize a Vostro 420 tower, have a question about ordering the system without a monitor, tried to chat 3 times and got this msg:

SOAP-ENV:ServerUnable to Connect to Talisma Server at exceeds maximum size99999

Not efficient!


Rob O’Regan

I received a prompt reply, but not what I was expecting/hoping for: 

Dear Rob O’Regan:

Thank you for choosing Dell. You have reached the Small to Medium Business Online Order Resolution team.  

Whats the question?

Thank you for choosing Dell.


SMB Online Sales

Dell, Inc.

3 issues here – 1) using my full name (smacks of automation or outsourcing), 2) Nice tone! 3) anonymously signed. But hey, at least I got a response, and an offer to help (sort of). So I rephrase the original question: 

The question was whether I can configure the Vostro 420 without a monitor – I don’t get that option when I’m customizing.

Thank you. 

This response took a little longer, but was equally unhelpful: 

Dear Rob O’Regan:

Thank you for choosing Dell. You have reached the Small to Medium Business Online Order Resolution team.  

The system can be configured w/monitor but you will need to configure the lowest starting package.

Thank you for choosing Dell.


SMB Online Sales

Clearly I’m missing the whole satisfying customer experience thing here. Probably my fault.

3/14 update: After being chastised by my buddy David Churbuck, VP of global Web marketing at Lenovo (or whatever his title is now), I bought a Lenovo ThinkCentre A57 Tower – and so far, it runs like a dream. Thanks DC!

Shiny New Store, Same Crappy Service

I’ve never had a problem with the Verizon network, but customer service is another story entirely. They just can’t seem to get their in-store experience right, no matter how hard they try. Earlier this month, a shiny new Verizon store opened a few miles from my house in Londonderry, NH. Today I went in to get my battery checked/replaced, since my phone hasn’t been holding a charge for the past several weeks.

I checked in at the touchscreen kiosk near the entry like a good doobie, registering my information so my name would be entered in the service queue. The names of those who are waiting appear on a couple of flat-screens suspended from the ceilings – much like the merchandise pickup window at Sears. I was No. 1 for tech service – a good sign. Except for the fact that there was no sign of any tech support people – or even a tech support waiting area. Everyone on the floor was focused on sales.

Ten minutes into my wait, a manager-looking type finally made eye contact and said, “I’m sure someone will be with you shortly.” She was mistaken. I waited another 10 minutes before bailing. My name never moved from the queue, and I never saw any tech support geeks. All the displays on the floor were shiny and new, but the service still sucks.

We Care – for the Next Five Days

My Vonage phone crapped out on me again a week or so ago. Had a nice chat with Ezekiel the customer service rep, who troubleshot the problem and determined it was a faulty power adapter (for the second time in six months). He said they would send a replacement “in a few days.” Two days later I received an email asking me to fill out a survey about the experience: “Your feedback … would be extremely helpful in improving the process and providing valuable feedback.”

Well, I wasn’t going to complete a survey until I received the replacement part and made sure it worked. It arrived earlier this week, and the phone is functional again. Cleaning out my inbox today, I came across the survey and decided to click on the link to fill it out – and give Vonage high marks. “We’re sorry,” the web page read, “our records indicate your survey has expired.”

Another lesson in superficial customer care.

Website Asks, Could Second Life Kill off the Call Center? Uh, No

This story on a website called caught my eye for its sheer silliness. The writer posits on how virtual world Second Life could play a role as a virtual waiting room for real-life customer service. The story even quotes a consultant:

In future [sic], the consultants believe call centres could one day ask customers to follow up a phone call with them by moving the query into a virtual world. And hanging around in Second Life is more fun than being stuck on hold. As Claus Nehmzow, member of PA Consulting’s management team points out: “The waiting period can be so much more entertaining than with an IVR system”.

Instead of being placed in a queue to enjoy hold ‘muzak’ when contacting a call centre, virtual world visitors could make more profitable use of their time – talking to other inhabitants, viewing videos, reading information in the environment for example.

And I’m sure customers with real problems to solve or orders to place will eagerly latch onto being shunted to a fake world where they can chat up their issues with an avatar.

This is a textbook case of a journalist desperately seeking a fresh angle for an overexposed topic. Inevitably, the result is an incredibly dumb story.

The Right Way To Do Customer Service

Last night, I cancelled my premium membership to, an executive job site (since I’m not actively looking, I couldn’t justify the $30-per-month fee). Cancelling online was a breeze – one click to get to my account info, one click to cancel, plus a question or two on why I was bailing. No hard push to keep me on board, no making me call a customer-service rep for a cross-sell attempt, just a nice “thank you.” This morning I received an email acknowledgement from a community manager named Kathy Wu confirming the cancellation, with a bonus:

Just a head’s up. Your account was auto-renewed for another 4 weeks last Wednesday. Did you want those extra weeks or had intended to cancel before the renewal took place?

I replied that I did not want the extra four weeks and would they mind crediting my account. A few hours later I received this reply:

Hi Rob,
Thanks for getting back to me.
You’re all set! Please check your next American Express statement to see the $30 refund reflected. You’re now a free, Basic member and won’t be charged again unless you re-upgrade to our Premium level of service.

Proactive, friendly customer service. No muss, no fuss. What a concept! I will certainly use their service again, and I will recommend to my friends and colleagues. This is customer service done right.

User Un-Friendly

Some companies don’t understand the crap they put their customers through. As part of a general tech meltdown I’ve been experiencing lately, an external Maxtor hard drive I used for backup zonked out on me after eight months. Since it was still under warranty, I foraged online for details to return the unit for a replacement. A few clicks on Maxtor led me to Seagate warranty support, because “As of December 9th, 2006 warranty services for all Maxtor products are now fully supported through Seagate’s warranty services.” Forty-five minutes later, following multiple page time-outs and resubmissions of my product information, I was plopped into a return system that was clearly designed for Seagate’s high-volume channel partners and corporate customers.

First I had to verify that the drive was still under warranty. Then I had to request an RMA (return material authorisation <sic>). Then I had to wait for RMA approval (requiring two email confirmations, one that the request had been received, another that it had been approved). Then I had to package and ship the product back – on my own dime of course. I was instructed to closely follow these shipping instructions or risk voiding my warranty:

  • Use original packaging when possible. [I tossed the box long ago.]
  • You can find packaging supplier(s) at our Packaging Information page.
  • Enclose each drive in a SeaShell container or an ESD (electrostatic discharge) bag. If packaging more than one drive, use a separate container for each drive.
  • Enclose the static-protected drive(s) in 2-inch foam rubber in a corrugated box. Multiple drives in a single box must have foam rubber between each drive. DO NOT USE foam packing pellets, bubble wrap, or newspaper.
  • Warranty is void if the SeaShield cover or top cover, or any seal or label is removed or damaged, if it is improperly packaged, or if the drive experiences shock in excess of its Gs rating.

I clicked on another link for “more packing information for consumers and resellers” and was presented with a 15-page PDF with helpful schematics for shipping items such as a 20-pack of 3.5-inch drives “with desiccant and moisture barrier bag” – in other words, nothing remotely resembling my Maxtor external drive. 

Helpful packing schematic 

Dead end. I shoved the drive in a recycled box with some foam padding pulled from my daughter’s recent iPod shipment (another replacement for failed hardware). No electrostatic bag, just taped it up tight and hoped for the best.

A few days passed, and I went back to the site, armed with my RMA, to check on the status. I was routed to a trouble ticket with 49 freakin’ categories – ranging from “ARO credit status” to “qty RUR’d” to “receiving disposition.” [I tried to reproduce it here but couldn’t figure out how to embed a table without blowing out the margins.]

The irony is, I think Seagate actually shipped a replacement. The “ship status” field said “complete” and the “receipt due date” said “2/9/07.” Will be interesting to see what I actually get in return. Perhaps a 20-pack of 3.5-inch drives wrapped in a desiccant and moisture-barrier bag?

Here’s my point: If Seagate wants to play nice in the consumer space, it had better learn the difference between Joe Consumer and Acme OEM.