Customer Service RIP


We all live this every day.

We go to the airport – wait in ridiculous lines, get strip searched at security, sit and wait for flights that are late for no reason.

We go to the bank – and if we want to speak to an actual person, wait in another ridiculous line, and charged outrageous service charges for the privilege. Or we can bank at a machine, or online, and get charged ever bigger service charges.

Our phone company, our doctor, our government. Everywhere we turn, customer service has gone downhill. And the sad thing is, no matter how bad the service is now, you know it will be worse next year, and the year after, and the year after.

Do these organizations purposely set out to suck? No – I would be willing to bet that every organization you deal with (even the government) claims to have a policy which puts customer service first. When was the last time you heard a company openly declare “We don’t give a crap about our customers – so there!”

Often the only refuge from bad customer service is with expensive, luxury items – most companies which supply these goods go out of their way to provide outstanding service. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

This brings me to the trigger for today’s rant. A company called Celestron. Celestron makes telescope, and has for a long time. In fact, they are one of the primary manufacturers of telescopes for amateur astronomers in the world. While these telescopes are not expensive on the scale of a yacht or a Mercedes, I would definitely classify it as an expensive, luxury item.

A couple of months back, I purchased a fairly expensive telescope from Celestron. Quite honestly, I am thrilled with the telescope. Optically and mechanically it is everything I wanted. I have so far enjoyed every minute of using it.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for one of the accessories I ordered with it. This item is a PowerTank, basically a wrapper around a car battery to allow me to power the telescope in remote locations. This item did not arrive with my telescope – in fact I only received it this week. It also arrived broken. Doesn’t work. No signs of life. Nothing.

So, I contact the dealer who sold it to me, and he contacts Celestron. Celestron tells him that I have to contact Celestron directly. This is where the real fun begins. Firstly, Celestron – a world-wide vendor of a luxury item, and a market leader – has no toll free support number. I have to call them long distance in California. Second, no one answers. I have tried twice now to call through, and both times have spent well over half an hour on hold (on long distance, listening to a polite lady’s voice tell me that someone will be with me “momentarily”. I tried using the eMail support form on their web site, with no response at all after 2 days.

I also note that, according to the documentation that came with this door-stop I now own, that if I wish to make a warranty claim, that I must pay for return shipping on the item. This means that if I want to get it replaced, I will need to pay more in shipping than the item cost in the first place!

Fortunately, the dealer who sold me the item (Astromechanics in Barrie, ON) has offered to make things right. Thanks, Dave. 

The long and short of this is, that despite the fact that I am overwhelmingly pleased with my new telescope (heaven help me if I ever need support on that), I will never buy anything from Celestron again, and would strongly recommend to anyone who asks that they not either. So, Celestron, you have lost at least one customer.

The real irony here is that I chose Celestron over Meade (the market share leader) because of horror stories about Meade’s customer service.

So this is the sorry state of our society. For the most part, customer service no longer exists (except occasionally in small, independent companies like AstroMechanics). For me, this is one of the reasons that the economy is where it is – because this poor customer service is reflective of poor management in general. And for companies that lose customers and fail because of it – can’t happen fast enough for me!

NOTE (May 28, 2008): I want to make sure that it is absolutely clear that my concern is with Celestron, not with the vendor who sold me the PowerTank, telescope, etc. AstroMechanics has been extremely helpful and responsive, and my experience with them has been great. – fgy

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About

I have been working in the world of technology for 25-odd years. I am an entrepreneur and consultant, focused on software solutions, social networking, and innovation processes. Currently, I am a Principal Consultant with T4G Limited, specializing in Portal Technologies (including SharePoint), software/systems development, service oriented architectures, and many other things which I will probably not remember until I need to use them. Prior to that, I was VP of Technology at Whitehill Technologies, Inc., where I spent almost 9 years helping to grow the company from a start-up to one of the most successful private software companies in Canada. Prior to that I worked on internet conferencing using early VoIP, and on large military communications projects. Before even that, I worked in satellite control, and remote sensing. Going way back to university, my focus was on theoretical physics and astrophysics. Currently my interests revolve around most aspects of software development, from technologies to management, and in the area of defining sustainable, repeatable processes for innovation within technology organizations. I also have a particular interest in Tablet PC technologies – I have been using one for several years, and I love it. On the personal side, I still have a strong interest in all aspects of science, especially physical sciences, as well as philosophy and comparative religion. In addition, I am into music, playing guitar (badly, I am sorry to say), and reading almost anything I can lay my hands on. I am also a member of the IEEE/IEEE Computer Society, and of the Association for Computing Machinery.

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Posted in Rant
4 comments on “Customer Service RIP
  1. jerry says:

    I purchased a few years ago a celestron astromaster 130 telescope from quality cameras in sydney nova scotia. About a year after purchase I broke a plastic support arm for the tripod. After contacting celestron in california (no toll free number)they still have not sent the part and have long sense forgotten about me.As for “quality cameras” they forgot to but not before letting me know about celestron’s poor customer service,oh and by the way they still deal with celestron,go figure.

  2. […] Service RIP – Update A while back I posted a rant about customer service in general, and about my problems with a particular telescope manufacturer […]

  3. Fred says:

    I agree, Micah. Steve and I discussed this many times, and I think the attention to customer service I think was one of the things which contributed greatly to Whitehill’s success.

    I have always viewed good customer service the same way I view quality – it is something you do because it is the right way to do things, not because there is a tangible ROI attached to it (which there definitely is).

  4. Micah Peterson says:

    I always appreciated Steve Palmer’s statement that at Whitehill, customer support was not an expense, but a revenue generator. J. Jaffe has been making some book sales cash on this premise, mainly that word of mouth experience with customer support is now what is driving marketing and sales. “customer service is the new media department”

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