• 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.

  • HOW-TO: Read WIRED Magazine


    Due to an unfortunate subscription renewal incident and a rift in the space-time continuum, I have been subscribed to WIRED magazine since three seconds after the universe was created. Though it has not been scientifically confirmed, I have long suspected that the stacks of back issues in my garage are the cause of Earth’s axial wobble.

    My subscription expires in February of 2008, so I thought it was high time I passed on a few tips to help future generations of WIRED subscribers.

    The first thing you will notice about WIRED magazine is that it is shipped to you in a condom. Initially, I suspected that this was mandated the U.S. Postal Service (or perhaps the World Health Organization) to prevent the transmission of disease, but the shipping condom—which appears to be a simple plastic bag but is actually a +3 Bag of Holding—has another, more sinister purpose: to temporarily shunt the bulk of the advertisements contained between the magazine’s covers into another dimension.

    When removing the plastic wrapper, be sure to take the appropriate safety precautions: you may want to wear gloves and safety glasses, and for God’s sake don’t do it around children or small animals. If at all possible, place the magazine in a protective vault and use robotic manipulator arms to remove the shipping bag; this will reduce the risk of severe paper cuts as a portion of the three hundred reduced-rate business reply mail subscription inserts escape from betwixt the magazine’s glossy pages. These inserts should be burned immediately, lest anyone lacking sufficient willpower be tempted to renew your subscription at the low, low rate of just 17 cents per issue. This is the last thing you want, as your ultimate goal should be to reduce the number of issues of WIRED entering your home to zero.

    Once the magazine has been removed from the plastic wrapper, grip it by the spine (bend at the knees), hold it over the nearest trash receptacle and give it a firm shake. 1A better approach may be to simply drop the magazine at this point and be done with it, but someone paid for this thing and you should read it on principle. This should dislodge most (but not all; never all) of the remaining subscription inserts.

    Now look at the cover. It is very likely bright and colorful and holds the promise of a plethora of interesting, insightful and oh-so-geeky articles. The November 2007 issue, for example, sports a busty, pink-haired cartoon pseudo-schoolgirl and threatens that “Manga Conquers America”. Above the lass’ gravity-defying coiff is another headline: “Cannonball Run! Coast to Coast in 32 Hours!” Finally, off to the right: “Plus cloned meat, space hotels & the world’s best conspiracy theories”. Wow, that’s a lot of content!

    Your first inclination might be to flip open the cover and consult the magazine’s table of contents, maybe to locate that story about the cloned meat. Don’t. It’s a trap.

    Yes, WIRED has a TOC, but you’ve got to flip through eighteen pages of advertisements for vodka, cell phones, menswear, luxury cars and inkjet printers to find it. Even if you’re willing to do that, you’re quickly going to discover why consulting this ostensibly handy guide is pretty much useless: roughly eleven-fifteenths of the pages in WIRED magazine aren’t numbered. Those first eighteen pages of ads aren’t, nor is the six-page Zune ad. Oh, and that fold-out Porsche ad on page 60 counts as seven pages even though it’s only two pages when you’re flipping through the magazine. Trying to apply logic and reason to utilizing the Table of Contents is like attempting to push Jell-O uphill with a steamroller.

    The trick to navigating WIRED is understanding that four-fifths of the articles you want to read are in the last third of the magazine. Of the five cover stories in the November 2007 issue, only one (“The Best Conspiracy Theories”) is found before page 190. So here’s what you do: use the inserts, Luke. You might think that you successfully removed all of those pesky advertising inserts, but those were just the loose ones; there are plenty of WIRED subscription cards, fold-out vodka ads and stiff, cardstock cigarette ads welded to the magazine’s spine, and these will guide you to the hidden treasure. Simply riffle through the magazine, back-to-front, until you find one of these inserts, then open the magazine to that page. 2Do not try to remove the insert at this time. At best, you’ll be able to tear about 80% of the blasted thing out and be left with a ragged piece of cardstock that will annoy the hell out of … Continue reading

    Now begin paging through the magazine as normal. Remember this tip for finding what you want: if it looks like an article, it’s probably a “special advertising section”; if it looks like an ad, but you’re not quite sure what for, you’ve found actual content. Only the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant are more elusive discoveries, so give yourself a pat on the back. Well done!

    When you have finished reading the articles (and yes, some of them are worth reading), be sure to properly dispose of the magazine. The stacks of back issues in my garage are ultimately destined for recycling, 3Provided they don’t collapse in on themselves and form a singularity. but you may be tempted to pass the issue on to a friend or take it to work. While both options may seem charitable and generous, I would encourage you to reconsider. You simply do not want to be liable for the multitude of injuries or awkward situations that could result from passing the magazine on to a friend or co-worker. The risk of hernia or ruptured vertebrae alone is significant, but there are other, subtler things to consider; the scented cologne inserts, for example (the November 2007 issue is mercifully free of these) will have your office or cubicle smelling like Christian Dior’s prom night. No, it’s best to just dispose of the thing and be done with it.

    This concludes my guide to reading WIRED magazine. Next time, I’ll cover a less painful topic: home dentistry.

    1 A better approach may be to simply drop the magazine at this point and be done with it, but someone paid for this thing and you should read it on principle.
    2 Do not try to remove the insert at this time. At best, you’ll be able to tear about 80% of the blasted thing out and be left with a ragged piece of cardstock that will annoy the hell out of you. At worst, you’ll wind up ripping the ad out, along with part of the ten adjacent magazine pages on either side.
    3 Provided they don’t collapse in on themselves and form a singularity.