customer service

  • Acer Aspire 5102WLMiMy first employer after I moved to Ohio was Micro Center, “The Computer Superstore”, where I worked the sales floor in first the accessories, then the software and finally the peripherals department. It’s been nearly twelve years since I moved on from the store, but Micro Center has remained my primary destination when I want to purchase computer equipment. I know several of the people who work there and I trust them to know what they’re talking about and not feed me a load of crap; unlike some other computer retailers, I don’t immediately feel like I know more than the sales associate when the conversation begins. I have nothing but positive things to say about the staff at the local Micro Center, particularly the handful of people who I know from my days roaming the sales floor.

    I wish I could say the same about the people who service their extended warranties.

    When we purchased Laura’s computer two years ago, we also purchased a three-year Micro Center Protection Plan, which includes (per the information card we received):

    • Priority repairs for carry-in service.
    • 24-hour, 7-day Toll-Free Technical Hardware Support.
    • No deductibles, no hidden charges, no out of pocket expenses.
    • Power Surge Protection.
    • No Lemon Guarantee.

    When the laptop died recently, I was pretty pleased that we’d spent the extra money on the Protection Plan. I dug up the information card, Laura found the receipt for her computer, and she called the Toll Free number for service.

    That’s when the trouble started.

    After running her through some troubleshooting that resulted in a still-dead laptop, 1I strongly suspected a dead motherboard after my own attempts to revive the thing were unsuccessful. The unit would power on, but performed no POST and did not boot to the operating system. the Customer Service Representative informed Laura that someone would be contacting her in two business days about arranging for repairs.

    Wait. What? Two business days to arrange for repairs? Where is that in the features of the Protection Plan?

    Several days later—there was a weekend between the two business days plus a couple of extra business days on the other end of the weekend, which I assume were thrown in at no extra charge—Laura received a call to inform her that a box was on its way; a box into which her laptop should be packed and shipped away for service. I cannot begin to speculate why it took nearly a week to arrange to have the box shipped, except to say that perhaps the one-size-fits-all foam insert was hand-made in Guatemala, or perhaps the shipping label that appeared to be computer-generated was, in fact, drawn by an eyeless Mole-man in the deep recesses of an underground cave where the light of the sun dares not venture.

    After retrieving all of Laura’s documents from the laptop’s hard drive 2Courtesy of an IDE/SATA-to-USB adapter I purchased specifically for the task from, you guessed it, Micro Center. I packed the laptop into the box, along with the power adapter and the system restore discs, and Laura shipped it to Micro Medics, the company that would be performing the repair.

    To their credit, the response from Micro Medics was very quick: the motherboard was damaged due to a power surge 3Hey, our Protection Plan covers that! Right? Right? and the unit was beyond repair. Micro Medics was kind enough to dispose of the laptop (read: part it out for other repairs) and offered to ship the hard drive back to us. They also informed Laura that someone from Micro Center would be contacting her about a “buyout”.

    The hard drive arrived in the mail on Monday. Micro Center did not call.

    March went out like a lamb on Tuesday. Micro Center did not call.

    April Fooled us on Wednesday. Micro Center did not call.

    Nothing at all interesting happened on Thursday. Not even a call from Micro Center.

    Around the world, corporate drones thanked their maker(s) in unison that it was Friday. Micro Center did not call.

    This afternoon, I decided that perhaps Micro Center needed a gentle reminder, so I called the Toll Free customer service line, waded through the automated menu, and was connected to a customer service representative who informed me of two things:

    1. The matter is now in the hands of the claims department.
    2. The claims department is not open on the weekend. 4So much for 24-hour, 7-day support.

    Now, I will admit that once these facts were conveyed to me I became a little irate. Two business days (that turned into more like four) to arrange service was annoying, but five-plus business days without a call after the laptop was declared unrepairable really got under my skin. So, I let the CSR know. And I wasn’t particularly kind or gracious about it. I understand that she was—to the limits of her capacity—trying to provide assistance. But I didn’t care. I let her know that the process was pathetic, the delays were unacceptable, and I wasn’t anything approaching pleased about it. She was more gracious than I, and I give her credit for maintaining a professional demeanor. I was nowhere near as scathing (or foul-mouthed) as I could have been (or wanted to be), but I lost my temper and she did not stoop to my level at any point. She informed me that she would send an e-mail to the claims department and that we would receive a call first thing Monday morning, asked me if there was anything else she could do, and bade me good day.

    And now we wait to see what will happen on Monday morning. Given the level of attention and concern Micro Center has afforded the matter thus far, I fear that the “buyout” amount they’ll offer for the laptop will barely cover the price we paid for the Protection Plan in the first place.

    What’s truly sad about this whole experience is how poorly it reflects on Micro Center. I’ve always been very happy with the sales and service in-store. As I mentioned previously, I know several people who still work there, and I trust them to be straight with me. When Laura was looking for a laptop, there was never any question about where we’d go to buy it. When my mother was looking for a laptop, she made a special trip here from the Upper Peninsula so we could go to Micro Center together and buy one. When my mother’s laptop turned out to be a lemon, Micro Center replaced it; granted, I had to ruffle a feather or two to convince them not to ship it away for service, but in the end they replaced it, going out of their way to make me a satisfied customer. That’s what I like about the store: they know how to make their customers happy, and they’ll go out of their way to do so; I experienced that time and again when I was working there. It’s too bad that spirit doesn’t extend to their Protection Plan services.

    UPDATE: I was not particularly surprised that the Micro Center Protection Plan claims department didn’t call on Monday. Disappointing follow-up has been pretty much par for the course upon which we unfortunately find ourselves. I resisted the temptation to call and raise another ruckus, as I don’t think I would have been able to display even a modicum of poise at that point. 5I wasn’t surprised, but I was very, very irritated. I opted to let it go and give them another day, and they finally called sometime Tuesday afternoon (or perhaps it was late morning). I wasn’t home when they called, so I have no idea whether the claims representative was at all contrite, but I have my doubts.

    The matter has been resolved to Laura’s satisfaction. We’ve been issued what amounts to a Micro Center store credit for nearly the entire base value of the laptop when it was purchased, and we’ll put that toward the purchase of a new laptop. As with all things computeralogical, advances have been made in the past two years, and a laptop with specifications similar to Laura’s Acer Aspire currently fetches about half of what we paid for it in January of 2007. The upshot is that Laura will be able to get a better laptop for the same amount of money.

    I fully expected that whatever settlement we received from the Protection Plan would be in the form of a Micro Center store credit. After all, why send us elsewhere for a new laptop? I’m pleasantly surprised at the amount of the credit, as my biggest fear was that we’d get some manner of depreciated value that wouldn’t be nearly enough to purchase a replacement.

    I’m pleased with the end result (I’ll be more pleased when Laura has her own computer again), but I still feel the process is abominable. The delays—all on the part of the Micro Center Protection Plan organization; Micro Medics was very efficient—were ridiculous. Laura has been without a laptop for several weeks, and the matter—even accounting for shipping the laptop away to Micro Medics—shouldn’t have taken more than a week and a half: overnight us a box, we ship to Micro Medics, they diagnose (this took all of three business days, including shipping) and report back to the claims department, claims department contacts us with the settlement. Done. Instead, we got…well, you know what we got: jerked around for a couple of weeks.

    I should note that I’m perfectly content to go back to Micro Center for the replacement laptop. As I mentioned before, I’ve always been happy with the local store and the people who work there. And, given the trouble Laura had with her Acer Aspire, I’ll probably recommend that we purchase another Protection Plan. Ultimately, it appears to have been a wise investment, even if actually using it was nothing but a pain in the ass.

    1 I strongly suspected a dead motherboard after my own attempts to revive the thing were unsuccessful. The unit would power on, but performed no POST and did not boot to the operating system.
    2 Courtesy of an IDE/SATA-to-USB adapter I purchased specifically for the task from, you guessed it, Micro Center.
    3 Hey, our Protection Plan covers that! Right? Right?
    4 So much for 24-hour, 7-day support.
    5 I wasn’t surprised, but I was very, very irritated.
  • HOW-TO: Provide Poor Customer Service


    Motorola W385Laura got a new cell phone for her birthday and I, gadget geek that I am, was browsing through the various menus and options when I noticed that the phone was in roaming mode. In fact, the phone seemed to always be in roaming mode, regardless of where we were: at home, at Laura’s mother’s house, or 50 feet from the Verizon store where we picked up the phone a week ago. Concerned that Laura might be racking up a mountain of roaming charges, I suggested we return to the Verizon store and inquire about the matter. Laura hadn’t gotten a stunning impression of the Verizon representative in the Willoughby store, so we decided to go to the Mentor store this morning.

    The store was, much to our surprise, at least three times bigger than the one nearest our house, and at least 20 times busier. On our way to the Customer Service counter, we were advised that we would have to check in at the kiosk near the door and wait to be served. I explained the issue to the greeter and she advised me to select “Technical Support” as my service request, though I was fairly certain there was nothing wrong with the phone itself. The technician we talked to a few minutes later seemed to confirm my suspicions, but she ushered us to the technicians’ counter nonetheless.

    When we arrived at the counter, two other customers were engaged with technicians. On our right, a customer was questioning a 15-cent text message charge on his phone, a phone that—to his knowledge—did not have text messaging capabilities. After a lengthy call with the Customer Care center, the technician informed the customer that the text message did not originate from Verizon. The customer agreed to pay the charge, but asked that text messaging be disabled on his account to prevent further unwanted charges, something the technician—had she been paying attention to his original request—could likely have accomplished in five minutes and without needing to involve Customer Care.

    The customer ultimately left the store satisfied, but I was utterly floored to hear the technician immediately begin bad-mouthing him once he was gone, completely unmindful that Laura and I and two other customers could hear everything she said. Yes, the amount of the charge in question was small, but the customer’s primary concern was that he was seeing unexpected charges and wanted to ensure that it didn’t happen in the future. Nonetheless, the technician openly mocked his concern over what she clearly felt was an insignificant charge to anyone who might care to listen, and several who might not. Laura and I have both worked in customer service and we were equally appalled by this attitude. While those comments may be acceptable in a break room surrounded by co-workers and well away from customers, they certainly have no place at the service counter.

    Speaking of the break room, that’s where the cookies that the technicians were only too happy to munch on while at the counter belonged, too. As Laura commented, “I can’t imagine there’s anything in the Verizon customer service manual that says it’s okay for employees to eat cookies at the counter.” Yet the package was there, and passing employees as well as those serving customers seemed to have no compunctions whatsoever when it came to popping one into their mouth while customers watched from across the counter.

    Meanwhile, on our left, another customer was seeking technical assistance because the screen on his phone had stopped functioning. He could still make and receive calls, so it was clear that the only issue was the non-functional screen. The tech informed him that because his phone was “so thin”, it could only store about 40 text messages; he had clearly overloaded the phone’s memory and the screen had “crashed out”. Never mind that the customer had recently checked the memory of the phone and found that he had plenty of free space, or that he had deleted all of his text messages prior to the screen failure; the thin phone had very obviously crashed out and would have to be replaced—at cost to the customer.

    Let’s be realistic: we live in an age where even the most simplistic of phones takes photos, plays MP3 files, and can download games, ringtones and other whizbangery over the air. Even Laura’s Motorola W385—the cheapest, bottom-of-the-barrel cell phone Verizon would sell us—has all of those functions and more. To assert that there is a 40-message cap on storing text message is not just patently absurd, it insults the customer’s intelligence. To his credit, the fellow did make a half-hearted attempt to call bullshit, but the technician again insisted that this incredibly thin phone simply couldn’t handle the sheer volume of text messages he was attempting to store. Even if this were a real capacity limit, to suggest that the display would simply stop working as opposed to, say, prompting the user to delete some old messages is ludicrous.

    Alas, we weren’t faring much better ourselves. Rather than attempt to check the details of Laura’s service plan or in any way determine why the phone was constantly in roaming mode, our technician immediately declared that the phone would need to be replaced. Disappearing into the back room, she returned a moment later with a brand new Motorola W385 and proceeded to transfer Laura’s account and contact list. Imagine my complete lack of surprise when, 10 minutes later, a frown creased the technician’s forehead. After fiddling with the phone for a few more minutes, the technician announced that the new phone was displaying the same oddity as the “old” one: the icon indicating roaming mode appeared in the status bar.

    Having clearly reached the limitations of her technical prowess, the technician enlisted the aid of a customer service representative at another counter. This representative accomplished in two short minutes what the technician could not in fifteen: she checked the status of Laura’s account and verified that no roaming charges had been incurred. She assured us that Laura would incur no actual roaming charges while in the state of Ohio and also advised us to monitor the monthly statements; any roaming charges could be credited after a call to customer service. While it wasn’t the resolution we were hoping for, it was nice to encounter a competent, professional customer service representative after having been surrounded by the exact opposite ever since we first set foot in the store.