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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My new toy

Well, over the last month I have acquired a new toy – a telescope. This is the first scope I have owned in many years (since the 70s actually), and the first one I have used since my university days of the early 1980’s. Needless to say, things have change significantly in that time. I actually spent a considerable length of time debating what I actually wanted to buy – a large Dobsonian vs a small portable refractor which would be great for imaging vs. a fancy computerized Schmidt Cassegrain (or similar).

Instead of going through all my internal debates, I will just jump to the end result. I ended up buying a Celestron CPC 1100, which is an 11 inch, fork-mounted, computerized Schmidt Cassegrain, and is pictured below. I purchased the scope from Astromechanics in Barrie, ON. Despite some adventures with the shipping company, who “misplaced” the tripod for a few days, I must say dealing with Dave with Astromechanics has been a pleasure.

 telescope3 The telescope itself is, to say the least, really cool. As an astronomer/physicist-turned-software guy, there are many things on this scope to draw my attention. Mechanically, the scope, mount, and tripod are all very good. I have not seen any marks or blemishes, everything fits together cleanly, and is extremely steady.

The optics seem extremely good as well. Last night was my first real night of observing. The sky was very transparent, but there was a fair amount of instability in the atmosphere (really only noticeable when looking at the moon and Saturn, though). I was very impressed with the views. My first target was M42 (the Great Nebula in Orion). While I have seen this many, many times before, it remains one of my favourites, and was no disappointment in my new scope. Using a Baader Planetarium Hyperion 21 mm eyepiece (giving a magnification of 133x and a field of view of about half a degree), the view was breathtaking. A great deal of detail was visible, with tendrils and wisps extending pretty much across the field.

Observing Saturn next, I was impressed with the detail which could be seen in the rings during occasional moments of steadiness, along with hints of detail on Saturn’s cloud tops.

I also spent quite a bit of time looking at various open clusters (M36, M37, M38, M41). I could sit and stare all night at this sparkling collections (except of course I was freezing various body parts off!).

What impresses me most right now, though, is the alignment and GoTo software in this scope. For those not familiar with these products, this is a truly amazing piece of programming. All you have to do it level the tripod, set up the scope, wait for it to lock on the GPS signals, then point it at any three bright objects (stars, planets, or the moon), and the telescope figures out all the details it needs to be able to automatically go to any of ~40K objects in its database. The first couple of nights I was out, my tripod was still missing, so I had the scope set up on a folding portable workbench. I could not level it very well, and used three stars in the same part of the sky for alignment. Even with this, the go to consistently centred all of the objects I selected. Having now set the scope up on its tripod, and used stars more “distributed” around the sky to align, go to seems to be perfect. I have yet to see any problems, hiccups or glitches (and those of you who know me, know I can break almost any computer!).

Given the amount of stuff out there which you have to fight with to make work, it is refreshing to use something that just works!

Over the next few months, I hope to get into doing some imaging. I will post the results if I am in any way successful.