Customer Service from a Sandwich Perspective

Bell peppers don’t belong on a meatball sandwich.

No, don’t bother arguing. This is non-negotiable.

A meatball sandwich–a proper meatball sandwich–has but four components: a solid roll (and no, not Dutch Crunch) that can absorb liquid without falling apart, tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and meatballs.

Anything else distracts from pure appreciation of the star of the dish; a well-spiced meatball is a thing of purity and beauty. And bell peppers are a wishy-washy, waxy substitute for food, barely a step up from lettuce on the “why would you want to eat that on a sandwich” ladder.

Not that I’m trying to convince you about any of this. It’s not the point. Today.

I bring up the subject of the meatball sandwich because it was recently the catalyst for a lesson in customer service done both poorly and well.

There’s a localish pizza chain around here, Me-n-Ed’s, that does a quite good meatball sandwich*. They use well-toasted focaccia, the meatballs have flavor, and the sauce-to-cheese-to-meat ratio is darn near perfect. And then they spoil the sandwich by adding those darn peppers.

* They do add onions, but I can live with that. Onions, unlike bell peppers, are actual food. Interestingly, now that I look at the online menu, it appears that not all the locations have the meatball sandwich. Nice that they allow some local variations instead of enforcing a single menu across all locations.

Fortunately, experience has shown that they’re quite willing to let you customize your order; omitting the peppers doesn’t even cost extra.

We usually phone in our order, then drive over and pick it up. This weekend, with all the rain, we thought we’d try ordering online for delivery. It didn’t go well.

The online order system is provided by something called Intouch is, to put it bluntly, out of touch.

First, the site doesn’t work in Firefox. Windows close without saving data–including the registration window closing if you try to select anything other than “Mobile” as the type of phone. Granted, Firefox is only the fourth most popular browser out there, but why would you do so little testing that you prevent 5% of your potential customers from becoming actual customers?

So I switched to Chrome, registered, and signed in.

Strike One: I registered using the same phone number I’ve given them in the past when making a phone order, but there was no indication that I had a history with them. No saved credit card information, no previous orders, nothing to show there’s any communication between the online and offline systems.

Strike Two: Each sandwich has an “Add to cart” and a “Customize” button. But clicking either one takes you to a page where you select whether you’re making a delivery, take out, or dine in order. If that choice needs to be made before you can order, maybe ask for it before you display the menu? Otherwise you’re yanking your customers from one mental workflow to another.

Strike Three: Once I was able to customize my sandwiches–NO PEPPERS!–and add them to the cart, they displayed as non-customized. Clicking the Edit button showed the customization, but by that point, I’d lost faith that my order would be processed properly.

Contrast with the telephone order process:

“Hi, I’d like to place an order for pick up.”

“Can I have your phone number, please?”

I gave my number, he asked if I was Casey, and when I said yes, he said “Last time you ordered two meatball sandwiches, no bell peppers. Would you like the same thing?”

I confirmed that that was what I wanted, and he said they’d be ready in twenty minutes.

Took less than a minute from when I picked up the phone to when I put it down, and I had complete faith that I’d get the food the way I wanted it.

As I said, there’s a lesson there.

Clearly, whoever designed the phone order system was thinking about it from the customer’s perspective: “How do we make this fast and easy?”

By contrast, whoever designed the online system approached it from the perspective of and the developers: “How do we deploy the system quickly and start making money?”

I know which system I’ll be using in the future. And saving the online order surcharge means I can give the guys at the store a bigger tip. That’s the real win of a properly designed, customer focused system.

How Not to Do Customer Service

Number 31415926 in an infinite series.

As I write this Monday evening, the GoComics website is down. It was down when I tried to read my usual morning batch of strips on Saturday morning. It has not come back up. So it’s been down continuously for at least 60 hours.

The website simply says “The requested service is temporarily unavailable. It is either overloaded or under maintenance. Please try later.”

Not exactly helpful or informative.

In the early going, whoever was running their Twitter account tried to lighten things up by tweeting comics. However, a small, apparently random selection–although several of the later selections referenced people or things being broken. Hmm.

Finally, Sunday evening–48 hours into the outage–they posted an official statement.

Since then, the account has been silent. Reports are that their communication on Facebook is identical.

Granted, lack of access to comic strips is a first world problem.

But the people being inconvenienced are, one way or another*, paying customers.

* Some of us paying with actual currency, some by being exposed to advertising (while being tormented with repeated demands that we fork over the aforesaid currency).

And the only reason they can get away with ignoring paying customers is because they’re a monopoly. Some of the strips show up on the websites of newspapers that run the strips in their print editions. But no newspaper carries all of the hundreds of GoComics strips; some of them are even online-only, making them totally inaccessible during this outage.

And every moment that passes without an update, or even a “Geez, folks, we’re really sorry. We screwed up big time,” makes the pool of ill will deeper. Darker. Colder.

Never underestimate the ire of a Garfield fan denied their fix.

Late update just before posting: GoComics is back up today. I didn’t get a chance to check it last night, but it was down Tuesday morning, so the outage lasted 72 hours or more.

The Twitter account? Still no new posts. So much for status updates. So much for belated redemption. So much for actually appreciating your customers.

Dropping the Ball

A quick lesson in how not to communicate with your customers.

I’m surprised to realize I’ve never done a blog post about Dropbox.

Since I work on three different computers (desktop, laptop, and tablet), I need to be sure I have the latest version of all of my files on each. Dropbox makes it mindlessly easy. Install the software on each machine, and once past the initial download, it all Just Works. Make a change on one machine, and it gets copied to the others. No network? No problem. As soon as you’re back on line, all the changes get shared around. And if disaster strikes (this is earthquake–and wildfire–country) Dropbox works as an off-site backup too.

It was great when Dad and I were writing The RagTime Traveler, too. Dropbox lets you share specific folders and files with other users. We shared a working folder, and everything he wrote, I got within seconds and visa-versa. No more emailing files back and forth, making changes and then discovering we’d edited the wrong version.

And, best of all, Dropbox supports Linux. The only one of the big names to do so. (Digression: it still seems odd that there’s no Linux client for Google Drive, despite Google’s use of Linux throughout the company, and early promises that one would be coming “soon”. It’s not like Google never puts money into economically unsupportable projects.)

Granted, the support has been somewhat half-hearted. Many system configurations were officially unsupported. But for the most part, they worked. They still do. But.

Here’s where we come to the “How Not To” part of the discussion.

Apparently, Dropbox has had a change of heart. On Friday, I got a warning message from Dropbox on my desktop machine (the Linux one). “Dropbox will stop syncing in November.” No explanation, no specific date, no web link for further information. Also no similar message on the laptop or tablet.

Naturally, I went online. Nothing on Dropbox’s website. So I sent a message to their Twitter support address*. That’s the one that promises “quick replies”. Four days later, nothing. Not even crickets.

* Twitter’s got to be good for something, right?

So I looked further. Used my awesome Google skills, well-trained by years of digging for odd bits of information to surprise and delight readers. (Ahem. Sorry.) Anyway, it turns out I’m not the only one who got the message. I know, what a surprise, huh? There’s a long thread on Dropbox’s support forum. Long, because of Dropbox’s response to the initial question.

Okay, I need to digress again. If you know what a file system is, you can skip the next couple of paragraphs.

Greatly oversimplified, a file system is the way your operating system lays out your data on a disk. Could be a hard drive, a floppy (if you’ve got a really old computer), thumb drive, whatever. There’s more than just raw data, of course. There are indexes to allow the computer to find the files, and there’s provision for some information about the files. For example, every file system keeps track of when files were created and/or changed. On systems that support multiple users–and yes, that includes Windows–the file system will also track who owns which files.

Every operating system supports multiple file systems. Windows, for example, mostly uses NTFS, but it also supports the older FAT file system and a recent variant, exFAT. Different file systems work best under different conditions–and of course every OS manufacturer wants their own FS to work best with their OS. So file systems proliferate.

End of digression. Let’s move on.

Dropbox’s official response to the user who asked about the warning message was to sacrifice Jay. Jay is a “Community Moderator,” someone who helps keep Dropbox’s support forum on track. Jay was given the delightful job of telling the world that as of November 7, the company is going to disable their own product on non-supported file systems.

On Windows, that means NTFS only. Which is actually the status quo; you haven’t been able to use Dropbox for Windows on anything but NTFS for years. Two file systems, HFS+ and APFS, are supported on Macs. Since those are Apple’s own file systems, and probably 99% of Macs use one or the other, again, it’s no big deal.

But then we come to Linux, where exactly one file system is supported: Ext4. And that’s a big problem for Linux users. Because Linux users are long-accustomed to tweaking their systems to maximize performance. And so there are many, many supported file systems on Linux. At least two of which are arguably more popular than Dropbox’s choice.

Even if a Linux user is running Ext4, if they’ve turned on the file system’s encryption functionality, Dropbox won’t sync it after November 6.

Having delivered this bombshell–that Dropbox is not only throwing Linux users off their system, but forcing them to decrypt their computers if they want to stay–Jay disappeared.

There has still been no official word from Dropbox about the reason for the change (the technical explanation Jay gave in his message is complete nonsense, leading many to believe it’s a cover for the first step in dropping Linux support entirely). The support site has been quietly updated with the same word Jay gave, complete with the same nonsensical reason.

Now, you may be asking why it matters. After all, Linux users are a small fraction of computer users. Why should Dropbox support them.

And to some extent that’s true. Dropbox doesn’t have to support Linux. But changing the status quo is risky. Linux users are, for the most part, more technically oriented than the average computer user. They’re often the people who keep corporate computers running. And, as the comments on the support thread show, many of them were instrumental in their companies’ decision to go with Dropbox as their cloud storage provider.

By changing from a “use at your own risk” approach to “do it our way or beat it” without an announcement and with no willingness to engage the community, Dropbox has changed all of those promoter-users into ex-customers. Telling those who might otherwise stick it out that they can’t encrypt their computers (and let us not forget that many companies require all laptops to be encrypted) ups the pain.

Losing one Linux user’s ten bucks a month won’t hurt Dropbox. Losing his employer’s two thousand dollars a month (assuming one hundred corporate users) will hurt, especially when multiplied by a few hundred companies.

One has to wonder about the timing of this action as well. Thursday, the day the Dropbox software started warning users about the shutdown, is also the day Chief Operating Officer Dennis Woodside announced he was stepping down, effective September 4.

That announcement cost Dropbox ten percent of its stock value.

An interesting coincidence, no?

Has Dropbox learned anything from the furor they’re facing in the press? Say, to engage their customers and get buy in before making significant changes?

Don’t make me laugh.

I’m Not Touching You

If you missed the alerts for the first six parts of this series, please check your spam folder… No, not really, but it is tempting.

Corporate over-communication is getting to be quite the fad. Consider these two examples, which occurred within a week.

We have a home alarm system. When it triggers, the alarm company first tries to contact us at our home phone number. If we don’t answer, they also try a cell phone, a mobile email address, and a text message. Only if all contacts fail do they pass the alert to the police or fire department. This is good–it only adds a couple of minutes to the response time, and it cuts down on false alerts, which can be very expensive.


We had a false alarm recently. The trigger was a sensor falling off one of the doors. No harm, no foul; the system worked as intended: I spoke to the alarm company, the police didn’t come to the house, and I set up a service call to have the sensor remounted.

The false alarm happened on a Friday, in the evening. When I made the appointment for the service call, the representative first offered Saturday, “between noon and five”. Well, we had plans for Saturday afternoon, so that wouldn’t work, and we settled on Monday afternoon. A few minutes later, I got an email confirming the appointment.

That’s when everything went off the rails, thanks to the alarm company’s zealous need to stay in touch.

Over the next few minutes, I got two more identical emails. Probably a hiccup in their email system. At least, I hope so. I deleted the extras and went on with my day.

Saturday morning, a few minutes before eight, we were woken up by the phone. Caller ID said it was the alarm company. We hadn’t set the alarm when we went to bed–no sensor–so we knew it wasn’t a break-in alert. So we went back to sleep. Or tried to. Shortly after I pulled the covers over my eyes, my cell phone rang.

You guessed it. The alarm company, calling a number they’re only supposed to use for an alert.

“Hi, this is [name] with [company]. We have a technician in your area who can come fulfill your service request today between eight and noon.”

The conversation went downhill from there.

Note, by the way, that the window had changed from afternoon to morning. If morning was an option, shouldn’t the original representative I spoke to have offered it? But I digress.

And yes, the caller had left a message on our answering machine before calling my cell phone.

Saturday afternoon, I got an email urging me to upgrade the alarm system to their latest system which has an all-new app for iOS and Android. You all know my feelings about apps that let you arm and disarm alarm systems from anywhere. Trashed the email.

Sunday brought a reminder email about Monday’s service appointment.

Monday, a few minutes before noon, I got a phone call from the technician. “I’m on my way, I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes.” Hopefully he wasn’t actually on his way; I’d hate for him to risk getting into an accident because he was calling ahead while driving.

And, about two minutes after that, I got an email informing me that the tech was on his way. (Excuse me, I just checked: it says “on their way”. Kudos to the company for not making gender assumptions in their annoyingly redundant messages.)

So that’s four emails and three phone calls for one appointment. I was about one contact away from telling the tech to rip out the system, take it back to headquarters, and shove it up the rear end of the executive in charge of customer service.

Oddly, now that the appointment is over, there’s been complete silence. Not a single phone call or email begging me to take their customer satisfaction survey. Though it wouldn’t surprise me if one came in somewhere down the road; some companies seem to wait for months before sending those out, perhaps in the hope that you’ll forget just how horrible the service was.

Another example.

My doctor gave me a referral to a clinic I’ve never dealt with before*. When I called to make an appointment, I had my choice between two days away, two months away, or three months away. For obvious reasons, I took the first option, and set up the appointment for just over 49 hours in the future.

* This is for a minor, but annoying condition. Nothing life-threatening. No need to express concern, but thanks in advance.

One hour later, I got an automated phone call to confirm the appointment. No problem, that’s standard practice these days.

Then I got an email confirming the appointment again and including paperwork I was supposed to fill out and bring with me. Again, fine. I’d rather fill out the forms at home than on the Group W bench at the office.

This was accompanied by a separate email urging me to set up an account on their “patient portal”. This would, it said, allow me to send secure messages to my “care team” at any time; view my bills, test results, and appointment details; and schedule “visits”.

I ignored it. I don’t plan to be a regular client, thanks.

Then I got another email asking me to click a link to confirm my appointment. Didn’t I just do that on the phone? Oh, well. I clicked the link.

Then came another email, this one demanding that I set up the portal account and offering the ability to fill out forms online. Fine. If I can fill out this five page questionnaire online, it’ll be easier for everyone. I won’t have to carry it with me, and the doctor won’t have to read my handwriting.

I signed up. Noticed that my address was wrong*, so I fixed it and went looking for the form. Surprise! It’s not in the system.

* This is not uncommon. There are two cities sharing our zip code, so any business that uses the Post Office’s zip-to-city database gets it wrong.

Logged off in disgust, just in time to get two more emails. One informing me that my portal password had been changed and urging me to call the office if I hadn’t made the change. And one to “confirm the recent changes made to your profile”.

Mind you, I didn’t change the password, I set it up. But that’s a grammatical quibble. The profile change message, however, is more annoying. It doesn’t give any clue what has changed. I presume it’s regarding the address change. But since it doesn’t give any information, I can’t tell if it’s alerting me to the change I just made, to their system reverting the change because the city I entered doesn’t match their database, or some other change.

At this point, I’ve spent as much time dealing with the emails as I expect to spend at the appointment–and that’s still almost thirty hours away. Plenty of time for another half-dozen messages.

What gives the alarm company the ability to use contact information I gave them for one purpose for something else entirely? Is it really that hard for the clinic (or, more likely, their outsourced techies) to get their phone and email systems talking to each other and to merge portal notifications that happen within a short amount of time into a single contact?

[Shrug] You tell me: am I overly sensitive, or are these companies overly aggressive?

Either way, don’t expect anything to change. There’s no economic impetus. Emails are effectively free, after all, but it would cost money to reprogram the systems.

Back to the Basics

First, a belated apology to Jackie on behalf of the Mariners, who swept her beloved Orioles in a four game series at the end of June. I know she was disappointed, but in the Ms’ defense, they needed the victories a lot more than the Os did.

Which isn’t much of an apology, I realize. But it’s sure in line with baseball tradition, where the “apology” for nailing a batter in the ribs with a fastball is often, “He deserved it.”

But I digress slightly. Despite a recent absence of hitting–especially with runners in scoring position–the Mariners are still 23 games over .500, only three games out of first in their division, and holding a solid (if hardly impregnable) six game lead over Oakland in the Wild Card race. They’re on pace to win 101 games, which is pretty good for a team few expected to win 90.

So, sorry Jackie–but would you please ask your guys to beat the Yankees a few more times this year? Thanks, much obliged.

Moving on.

We went to our annual minor league game last week. The last couple of years we went to Sacramento for a AAA game, but this year the schedule worked out better to go back to our previous stomping grounds, San Jose.

The San Jose Giants are a Class A Advanced league team. The quality of play is not, to put it politely, at anything close to a major league level. The odds say that the majority of the players we saw will never get more than a cup of coffee, if that much.


We had good seats–not that any of the seats in a 4,000 seat facility are bad.

And when you sit that close to the action, you really get a sense of how good that so-called bad play is in reality. When someone hits that proverbial screaming line drive, you can hear it scream. And when it knocks the third baseman on his ass, you understand why he didn’t catch it in a very visceral way. One you’ll never get watching, say Nolan Arenado, from the third deck of a 50,000 seat park.

Which is not to say you forgive that third baseman, of course.

Still, A-class baseball is an entertaining way to spend an afternoon or evening, and it’s a damn sight cheaper than the majors.

But be aware that Municipal Stadium does have its quirks. Many parks are afflicted with seagulls that descend on the field after the game, sometimes not waiting for the final out before they come shrieking in, chasing errant french fries. Municipal Stadium has a similar problem.

It’s a self-inflicted problem, of course. What you’re seeing there is the clean-up after a regular promotion. During the game, fans can buy a bag of numbered tennis balls, which they get to throw at targets set up on the field. Get a ball into a bucket or plastic ring and win a prize: leftover bobbleheads from earlier promotions, for example. Though, to be fair, the day we were there, three people won tickets to a San Francisco Giants game. That attempt at balance isn’t quite fair, though: big winners aren’t all that common, and three winners at one game was an all-time record.

We had a good time–and that’s without figuring in the post-game fireworks show. It was short and didn’t have many large, spectacular blooms, but the launch point in center field, less than 100 yards away, and the heavy emphasis on rapid-fire curtains and streams of sparks more than made up for the limitations.

Moving on.

If we believe the commissioner, the biggest problem facing professional baseball right now is pace of play. Based on the game in San Jose, I think he’s got the wrong end of the rope. It’s not really about speeding up the game. That’s just one approach to the real problem: keeping fans actively involved and interested.

Maybe we don’t really need pitch clocks or electronic umpires*. Maybe what we need is something a bit different.

* We don’t. Nobody who’s seen the home crowd react to their cleanup hitter strike out looking at a pitch three feet outside would ever say getting balls and strikes right is the best way to keep fans involved in the game.

Hey, Commissioner Manfred, how about reintroducing the beer batter at the major league level?

For the uninitiated, one player on the visiting team is designated the “beer batter”. If he strikes out, beer is half-priced for a period of time, typically fifteen minutes or for the next half-inning. And, boy howdy, do the spectators cheer when the beer batter swings and misses.

Sure, there are issue to be worked out. Nobody’s going to want to sell those $12 craft beers for $6. But the mass-market beers shouldn’t be a problem, especially if you limit sales to a subset of the concession stands. And most, if not all, parks halt beer sales after the seventh inning, and half-priced soda isn’t going to satisfy anyone when the beer batter comes up in the eighth or ninth. Maybe a deal on beer-battered corn dogs?

But the beer batter is only an example. Give the fans a specific thing to root for that has a direct payout to them, and they’ll engage. Case in point: if an Oakland player hits a home run, everyone in a single section of seats gets a free pizza. But fans can’t cheer for that. Homers can happen at any time, and the section isn’t announced until after the hit. How about changing it up a bit: if the ninth batter hits a home run, everyone gets pizza?

You’ll have fans screaming for guys with a lifetime .200 average to swing for the fences, and crying in mass agony when his fly ball dies on the warning track–and if he bunts, well…!

Sure, it might be a little pricey for the Giants when MadBum is pitching, but that’s what corporate sponsors are for, right?

Call it unenlightened self-interest. It’s not as obnoxious as the increasingly ridiculous between-innings antics most parks have turned to, and it’ll work just as well to keep fans in the stadium.

And it’s certainly more true to baseball tradition than putting free runners on base in extra innings.

Customer Dissatisfaction

We’ve officially become cord-cutters.

No, we haven’t dropped our land line. Cell service around here has improved over the past few years, but it’s still spotty enough that we’re not ready to depend only on that.

TV, though, is another matter. Strictly speaking, we haven’t been corded in more than a decade: we’ve been getting our television service from Dish. And, quite honestly, we’ve been happy with the service–and the customer service. Our only complaint has been with the cost; the add-on fees for equipment rental, insurance, and a bunch of things I couldn’t begin to explain came to almost as much as the actual service.

A couple of months ago, we decided that the amount of TV we watched wasn’t worth the amount we were paying, so we switched to Sling. I’ll have more to say about Sling another day; for the moment, I’ll just note that we’re okay with the decision. Note, by the way, that Sling is owned by Dish; we didn’t change corporate overlords.

What I do want to talk about is the process of canceling the satellite service, because it’s an impressive example of what I’m calling “Customer Retention by Intimidation”.

The saga begins with a phone call to Dish Customer Service. You can’t cancel online. There’s no way to deselect all of the programming packages on your account, and the only pages on the website I could find regarding service cancellation were related to moving to a new house, i.e. canceling at one location and starting at a new one.

Nor does the phone menu have a choice for cancellation. So I chose the “other” option and wound up talking to a gent who identified himself as Anthony. He did not, by the way, have an Indian accent, and his word choices when he went off-script suggested American English was his native language.

When I explained that I wanted to cancel the service because I wasn’t watching enough TV to justify the price, he immediately offered me a “customer retention” package at half the cost. Of course, the additional fees wouldn’t have changed, so it would only have represented a twenty-five percent reduction in the total cost. It also would have trimmed my channels by two-thirds, and the cuts would have included the Giants’ games. I turned down the offer.

The next offer was for a fifteen dollar a month discount for two years. That would have let us keep the ballgames, but we would have saved even less money. No thanks.

Somewhere around that point, I mentioned that I was moving to “your Sling subsidiary”. That got me an obviously scripted warning that net neutrality was doomed and I might not be so happy with Sling when my ISP started charging me more. Which was, honestly, something we considered, but I told Anthony I’d worry about it if and when.

We were about fifteen minutes into the call, and I said, “Look, I’m not going to change my mind. Go ahead and check off all the boxes showing you tried to convince me, and if anyone asks, I’ll swear you made the offers, okay?”

Either Anthony was a bored as I was, or he’d run out of inducements, because he moved on to the mechanical details of canceling the service. He reminded me that the hardware was leased, and I’d have to ship it all back. “We’ll send you boxes. It’ll take seven to ten days and you’ll get an email when they go out.” And then he walked me through what needed to be sent back–including something he called the “LNBF”. That, it turns out, is part of the roof-mounted equipment.

“Climbing on the roof isn’t part of my skill set,” I said.

“Fair enough. I’ll see if my supervisor will waive that return,” he replied and put me on hold for five minutes. When he came back, he said the supervisor had agreed. Hooray.

After again offering me the fifteen dollar discount, Anthony processed the cancellation, told me what the final bill would be, and reminded me again that if I didn’t return the equipment within thirty days, they’d charge me several hundred dollars. “Oh, and when you ship it, let us know–just give us the last four digits of the tracking number–and we’ll credit you for the return charges.”

Total time of call, thirty-eight minutes. Five on hold while Anthony spoke to the supervisor, about the same covering the equipment return process, two minutes for the net neutrality warning, and the rest trying to persuade me to accept one of the retention offers.

Half an hour later, I got an email telling me the service “will be cancelled effective” that day and reminding me about the return fee I’d just been charged. I checked, and the service had already been shut off.

The next day I got a call from Dish Customer Retention. I spent fifteen minutes assuring the caller that yes, Anthony had offered me the customer retention package and the two-year discount, and that yes, I was still determined to leave. The call ended with another warning about the multi-hundred dollar charge I’d be facing if I didn’t return their gear within thirty days.

A few minutes later, I got an email asking me to take a customer service survey about my talk with Anthony.

The next day, I got a follow-up email, again asking me to rate Anthony’s performance.

A week after the initial call, I got yet another email informing me that “You have disconnected” the service and “A return kit…will be shipped” and that I had to return “your equipment”* “within the next 30 days” or be charged. Note that “will”. A week after the service was turned off, they still hadn’t sent the box. When exactly did the thirty days start: when I canceled, when they said the box would be shipped, when they actually shipped it, or when UPS delivered it? I still don’t know.

* If it’s my equipment, why are they demanding I return it? And why were they charging me rental fees for more than a decade if it was mine? Poor wording by some corporate flunky.

Included in the box was a letter assuring me Dish was “willing to do ALMOST ANYTHING to get you back.” Apparently, “almost anything” means “give you the same fifteen dollar a month discount you’ve already turned down three times”.

Anthony had said the box would arrive in seven to ten days, and, sure enough, they showed up ten days after I spoke to him. I loaded the equipment and took the box down to UPS the next day. Let them worry about the thirty day deadline.

Then came the fun of letting Dish know I’d shipped “my” equipment. Dish Customer Service does not have an email address. All of the emails I’d gotten were from accounts that don’t accept incoming mail. I wasn’t going to call and get stuck with another round of discount offers. I finally used the online chat function.

Marlon seemed puzzled about what I wanted, and warned me that I needed to return the equipment within thirty days. To his credit, he didn’t try to sell me on the discount offer, and once I explained that I’d already shipped the equipment, he processed the credit for the return fee. “It’ll take seven business days to get to your credit card company.”

The next day and the day after that, I got emails asking me to take the customer satisfaction survey for my “experience” with Marlon.

Two days after the last email–four days after I spoke to Marlon–I got an automated call from Dish telling me the credit had been processed and to allow five business days for it to get to my bank. (It took four calendar days to get to the bank and be posted to my account. Clearly my credit card company is more efficient than Dish believed possible.)

This kind of foot-dragging, intimidation, and relentless hounding must work. They wouldn’t spend money doing it if it didn’t work.

And the tactic is spreading. Case in point: we get a daily call from the American Red Cross asking for blood, money, or both. We’ve told them repeatedly that we’re not going to donate and asked them multiple times to stop calling, but the calls continue.

It’s counter-intuitive that you might be able to annoy people into donating time, flesh, and funds, but again, it must work, because they wouldn’t keep paying if it didn’t.

I’d start a campaign against such annoyance tactics, but how would I fund it? Repeatedly call people until they toss me money to make me go away?


I need to close out a few open issues from recent blog posts, so it’s time for a Short Attention Span Theater.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a poor QA/good customer service issue I had with the Project Fi Travel Trolley.

I’m pleased to report that Swyft customer support came through with the promised travel socks. And they’re just as silly as we had hoped.

Let’s be clear: these aren’t the full height compression socks designed to prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis. These are ankle socks. But they have little rubberized bumps on the underside to prevent slippage when you take your shoes off to go through the TSA’s scanners. If you follow the often-quoted advice to take off your shoes on the plane and walk up and down the aisle a couple of times during the flight, they should be fine for that. They even seem rugged enough to wear to bed so you can stagger into the bathroom in the middle of the night without having to hunt for slippers.

Most importantly, though, they’re black, they’re fuzzy–kind of snuggly, in fact–and they’ve got a Project Fi logo on the side. Amusing. And I intend to wear them next time I fly.

And I will test the Travel Trolley again.

Moving on.

Last Thursday, I mused a little about the Mariners’ attempt to get above .500 for the first time this year.

Not only did they win Thursday night behind rookie Andrew Moore, but they also won Friday behind veteran Felix Hernandez.

Friday, they also sent Moore back to the minors. Weird game, baseball.

No, it wasn’t because they were displeased with his performance. Whoever made up the schedule decided the Ms needed two days off this week. Never mind that the All-Star Break is less than two weeks away and will bring almost everyone in the league a four-day holiday.

But with both Monday and Thursday off, the Ms didn’t really need five starting pitchers, so Moore went down to AAA. Chances are he’ll be back with the Mariners sooner rather than later.

But I digress. After that victory Friday the Ms were two games over .500. Celebrations ensued.

Saturday and Sunday, they lost to Houston, the team with the best record in baseball. Tuesday and Wednesday, they lost to Philadelphia, the team with the worst record in baseball.

Just like that, they’re back in familiar territory, two games short of respectability.

But that’s the Mariners for you. Ever since Houston came over from the National League, the Mariners have had trouble beating them. And losses breed.

Even with the losses, though, the Mariners are still only three games out of the Wild Card. Of course, the are eight other teams at three games out or less, so it’s a bit of an uphill climb.

Based on their performance so far this season, I expect the Mariners to bounce around .500 for the next few weeks, until they go to Houston July 17. That’ll put them in a short decline. They’ll recover and get back to .500 or a bit more in August, make a serious run at the Wild Card–and then go into a nose dive when the Astros come to Seattle September 4.

Because Mariners.

Moving on.

Apple is promoting the new iPad Pro it introduced earlier this month. The commercials are in heavy rotation during baseball games.

That’s expected. What isn’t is how stereotyped the ads are. The emo girl who hates everything. The power addict who literally explodes with pleasure. The ghost of a dead laptop.

Really, Apple? If you can’t give us a revolutionary computer–and let’s face it, the iPad Pro may be a heck of a good computer, but it’s neither years ahead of the competition nor unique–can’t you at least give us a revolutionary ad or two? One that doesn’t rely on the same easy compartmentalization we’ve seen in the media for far too long?

Shut Up!

Today you get a double post. First, a helping of corporate advice followed by a related WQTS.

Everybody seems to have a story about corporate under-communication. It could be the company that sets five hour windows for appointments, then fails to show up at all. It might be the company that promises a call-back and is never heard from again. Or perhaps it’s the company whose product includes a “quick start” guide and invites you to download the full manual from their website–but then doesn’t put the manual on the site. Fun, huh?

Today, however, I have a different kind of story. This is a tale of corporate over-communication.

When we moved into our current house, we decided to skip Comcast for our TV service, largely because of the sort of under-communication mentioned above. Instead, we went with Dish TV (aka Dish Network, aka Echostar). Yeah, the number two satellite service. On the whole, it’s worked out well, and under-communication has not been a problem. Quite the contrary.

Last week, I visited their website to check whether our current tier of service included a channel I wanted, so I decided to upgrade to the next tier. While I was at it, I realized that upgrading to the current generation of receivers would simplify the setup and not cost the proverbial arm and leg, so I decided to do that too.

Step 1: Log into the customer site and make the programming change. Before I could do anything, I was prompted to make sure my contact information was correct. Fair enough, it’s been over a year since I logged in. Sure enough, the contact information still included my old work phone number. I deleted it and hit save. “Please supply the required information,” said the site. Apparently Dish believes that everyone has at least two phone numbers. I don’t anymore–or at least, I don’t have two I’m willing to give them. They’ve got no need for my cell number, thank you very much. So I tried my usual favorite fake numbers: 000-000-0000, 999-999-9999, and 123-456-7890 and all were rejected. Plan B: I entered my home number twice. That got the reject message as well, but it was saved, which allowed me to cancel the update and continue with my change. Why possible reason could Dish have to contact me that they need a primary and a backup phone number? Bad sign.

Step 2: Call customer service to make an appointment for the receiver swap. That went smoothly. I got an appointment for Monday, and as expected, I was given a five hour window (12 to 5). What I didn’t expect was that the rep told me I would receive a phone call on the day of the appointment with an updated, smaller window. Very nice. A few minutes later, I got an email confirmation of my requested receiver change and the appointment time.

Step 3: Sunday afternoon I got a automated phone call from Dish. Weren’t they supposed to call me Monday? This was a courtesy reminder that I had an appointment “between twelve and five tomorrow.” The computer also asked me to “ensure that someone 18 years of age or older will be home for the entire appointment and to secure any pets to avoid contact with the technician.” Oh really? Is he allergic? More likely they’re worried about him tripping over one–or letting one escape. Five minutes later, I got an email with exactly the same message.

Step 4: At 10:00 Monday, I got another automated call. This one informed me that I had an appointment “today between twelve and five”, that the estimated arrival time was “between 1:00 and 2:15”, and that I should ensure that someone 18 years… Yep, same message about having someone responsible there and that the pets were locked up. Five minutes later, I got an email with the same information.

Step 5: At 10:34, the phone rang again. Dish’s computer was calling to let me know that the estimated arrival time had changed, and was now “between 11:30 and 12:30”. And, of course, that I should… well, you know the drill. This time the email arrived while I was still on the phone.

Step 6: At 12:36, I got another call. “Hi, this is {name deleted to preserve his anonymity} with Dish. I’m just a couple of miles away. Do you still want me to come do your installation?” I suppressed my immediate sarcastic response that the need had passed, and assured him that I would be delighted to see him. “OK, great! I’ll be there in a few minutes. Is someone 18 years of age or older present?” Amazingly enough, he didn’t ask if any pets had been secured. I assured him that I was both present and over 18, and we hung up. Astoundingly, I didn’t get another email confirming his imminent arrival.

Step 7: The technician arrived and did what needed to be done. (For the record, he did a fine job of answering my questions, installing a new dish on the roof, and swapping out the receivers.) As he was leaving, he told me that I would be receiving a call from Dish “sometime in the next day or two” to request me to take a customer satisfaction survey. Sure enough, about ninety minutes after he left, the phone rang. Dish’s computer wanted to know if I could “spare two minutes for a customer satisfaction survey regarding my recent equipment installation.”

So how’s that? A single appointment involved six phone calls–including my original request–and four emails. Each of the calls interrupted my work, and if I were the sort of person who keeps a constant watch on my email, each of those would have been an interruption as well. Scale it back, Dish, scale it back! This could have been done with four calls (my initial call, the day-before reminder, the day-of schedule refinement, and the updated arrival time) and no emails. Or skip the calls and use email if the customer prefers. Put the survey online, and have the technician give the customer a receipt that includes the URL.

I promised you a related WQTS. No, it’s not the business with the website demanding a second phone number. That’s clearly working as designed, and is more a matter of corporate cluelessness than anything else.

No, the WQTS is the phone survey. According to the tech, when the survey was first launched, all of the technicians started getting horrible ratings. It took several weeks before they figured out that people were trying to give high ratings (10), but the system didn’t accept two digit responses, so “10”s were recorded as “1”s. Really? I’m guessing that the survey was “tested” by the developer, who knew that “10” should be entered as “0”. I gathered from the tech that several technicians received warnings and bad performance reviews before the problem was solved. Excuse me. “Solved”.

So how did they fix it? Change the range of responses to 1 through 9? Nope. Change the range to 0 through 9? Nope. The “fix” was to require the techs to warn customers “Do not enter 1 unless you want to say I was awful. Use 0 if you mean 10.” Dish also added a similar warning to the automated introduction to the survey. No reminders during the survey, however.