Customer Service RIP – Update

A while back I posted a rant about customer service in general, and about my problems with a particular telescope manufacturer specifically (Celestron). In fairness to Celestron, I think I should post an update on the situation. I did finally receive a response (to my emails) from Celestron customer support, though it did take a couple of weeks. After a number of exchanges over another couple of weeks, I also managed to convince them to pay for the shipping to return the item, and to ship the repaired/replaced item back to me. The item in question is now in transit back to Celestron. I will post another update when I know the final result of the exchange.

Microsoft Silverlight « Josh Anderson’s Blog

 Microsoft Silverlight « Josh Anderson’s Blog

I always find the predominant attitude in the software and Internet world amusing – it is important to have alternatives, unless they come from Microsoft!

Also, the installation model for Silverlight is not all that different from Flash – if you go to a site that uses Flash, and you do not have it installed, it asks you to install it.

BTW – given the market share enjoyed by both Opera and Safari, it is fairly generous that any effort is made to support them at all.

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

More stupidity – Soviet Microsoft: Stockholm Syndrome Among Unswitchable Windows User?

 

Soviet Microsoft: Stockholm Syndrome Among Unswitchable Windows Users

This crap is getting ridiculous. First Microsoft is the Soviet Union, and now anyone who does not agree with the “Microsoft is an evil empire” crowd and switch to inferior desktop environments such as Linux, or closed, over-priced systems like Mac (both of which I like in the right context, and both of which I have developed software on) is obviously mentally impaired and suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

People, get a freaking life. This is bloody software, nothing more. If you like it, buy it and use it. If you don’t like it, DON’T. Either way, stop playing amateur psychologist, political analyst, or whatever else you are playing, and please, please, please STFU. 

Confessions of an airline executive – CNN.com

Confessions of an airline executive – CNN.com

This is an interesting article. unfortunately it does not address the main outstanding question I have – why does the airline industry (and this includes not just the airlines, but the airport authorities, government agencies and all others involved in this continuously worsening mess) believe that it is acceptable to provide atrocious customer service, disrespect their customers, and generally perform badly in all aspects of their operations, and yet feel they should stay in business. Quite honestly, most business that were run this badly would be dead in months.

As a side note, a couple of weeks ago I had written a post (more of a rant than a post) about my recent experiences flying. I saved it, but did not post it, as I was not online (I was on a plane). Unfortunately it seemed to disappear from my saved drafts. I took this a s I sign that I should not post it! To summarize, though, I was on my 4th trip in two weeks – one to Toronto, and three to other endpoints, but going through Toronto. So, a total of 14 flights. The “on time” performance on these 14 flights was somewhat less than 50% (and this is considering anything within an hour of on time as “on time”). What was disturbing to me was that none of the delays were due to whether, air traffic congestion, or any cause “outside of the airline’s control”. In all cases, the cause airline mismanagement. For example, 2 cases of “the plane is not working”, because the flight segments between Toronto and Moncton are all crappy, old, small planes. Another case, we could not leave Moncton because the incoming plane from Toronto had not arrived. Why? Because no ground crew had been assigned in Toronto to the departure gate, and so they could not load the plane. Yet another case, we sat on the plane for 45 minutes after having landed at Toronto because no ground crew was available at our gate (what, they were not expecting us?).

All of this reflects the fact that this airline (and almost all others with whom I have travelled in the last 5 years) accept that lousy service and disrespect for passengers and their time should be the norm. And they will continue to think this way as long as it costs them more to fix the problem than accept it.

So, how do we make it cost them more to be incompetent? Well, how about every time they are late due to their own incompetence, everyone on the flight gets a partial refund. Say, $50/half hour delay? Make it cost them money, and they will fix the problem. 

Of course, this will only partially address the problem, since we still have to deal with airports, security, and other aspects of the experience which are designed without any consideration for the customer.

CANOE — CNEWS – Canada: Kids book removed from schools

CANOE — CNEWS – Canada: Kids book removed from schools

This article is interesting to me, but not so much because of parents concerns leading to the book being pull from shelves. I mean, the entire point of religious schools (Catholic or otherwise) is to shelter kids from content they feel is “non-whatever-religion-they-follow”. What I find comical is the last line:

“…by British author Philip Pullman, an admitted atheist.”

An admitted atheist?!?!?!

The writer makes it sound like it is some sort of crime or deviant mental state, like an “admitted axe murderer” or an “admitted child molester”.

Atheism is a valid belief (not a lack of belief, as some would try to imply). Would any journalist worth reading say someone was an “admitted Catholic”? or an “admitted Jew”? Would they get away with saying it?

(December 20, 2009: note that the above link is broken – Canoe.ca does not seem to have maintained the article)

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Beta versus VHS all over again

What a sense of déjà vu. Over the last few days, I have been looking at buying a replacement for the DVD player in my home entertainment system. The one I have is quite old, and was never really all that good to begin with.

Being a geek and a gadget freak, I am of course looking at upgrading to a new high definition player. As many, if not all, of you know there are currently two competing, entirely incompatible format for high definition DVDs.

Now, I am not in much of a position to argue the detailed technical merits of the two formats, nor do I have any interest whatsoever in being in such a position.

What strikes me here is that, once again, we have an industry showing a complete lack of respect for its customers, encouraging a large number to invest in a technology which not survive. Then, anyone who has invested in the losing technology will not only have to invest in new hardware, but will potentially have to invest in replacement copies of any media which have been purchased in that format. What a windfall for the media owners – almost like they could have planned it that way, if one believed they were smart enough.

Really, I think this whole business of an industry which cannot get its act together to agree on a single high definition DVD format is absurd, and shows that this industry cannot learns from its mistakes.

Can I do anything about this stupidity? Probably not. The only option I have right now is the same one all of us have – i choose not to spend one thin dime on this crap until the industry gets it head out of its, well, you know.

Get with it people.

Five easy ways to fail?

Ok, so I just read Five easy ways to fail, which itself is just a quote from his article on Inc. Magazine. While I usually find Joel’s stuff intelligent, even when I do not agree with it, and I actually agree with much of the article, the piece quoted on his blog is one of the most mind-numbingly stupid statements I have ever heard outside of a political speech.

“Even though a bad team of developers tends to be the No. 1 cause of software project failures…”

I have never seen any statistics which support this statement. In 20+ years, I have never been part of a project (either as a member or as an observer) which would support this statement. I have been involved in projects where stellar teams overcame bad management, bad scheduling and many other common obstacles, but never have I seen a well-managed, well-thought-out project fail because the programmers just were not smart enough. I would challenge Joel to provide any evidence to support this.

Then again, I have never seen anyone stupid enough to have hired an entire team of stupid people, and then been stupid enough to keep them. If this is the case, you have a much more serious problem than dumb programmers.

Also, while it would be nice to have the luxury of hiring only exactly the developers who fit your profile, that is a luxury most of us do not have (see my previous post on hiring). The reality is that you are almost always going to have a distribution of talents on your team – you are going to have stars, you are going to have duds, and you are going to have everything in between. I am always guided by an article I read in Harvard Business Review many years ago, where the late Bill Walsh talked about building great teams. The basic idea was that in any team of ten people, you are typically going have 2 people who are so good, they are going to over-achieve no matter what you do. You will also likely have 2 people who will under-achieve no matter what. The six in the middle may under-achieve or over-achieve, depending upon how they are led. And the deciding factor as to whether you have a stellar team, or a failing team, depends upon how those six in the middle are guided/managed/coached/led.

To say that most projects fail because the team is not competent is not statistically supported, is overly general in the extreme, and smacks of the kind of statement bad managers make to cover the fact that they are bad managers.

DesktopLinux.com takes a swipe at Vista to promote Linux

Looking at DesktopLinux.com takes a swipe at Vista to promote Linux, and the referenced article, I wholeheartedly agree with Loren on this, though I do not seem to have the willpower to resist commenting on this stuff. I have said it before, and I will say it again – the Linux community has to shut up about Vista, and about Microsoft in general. It hurts them, more than helping them. The kind of drivel in the DesktopLinux.com post just makes Linux evangelists sound like babbling morons. It really hurts any chance Linux has of being taken seriously.

It is also interesting to see the Linux community so excited by how much progress they are making on the desktop – as reflected by the number of diggs a statistic like Linux bypasses Windows 98 in use. Wow – Linux is outperforming a no-longer-supported OS. And they are up to 1.34%. And Windows XP only has 83%! Even the much hated Windows Vista has more than twice the desktop presence of Linux.

Face it folks, at the moment, Linux is nothing but a novelty on the desktop. In the real world, it is meaningless. Hopefully, in the future, it will become a real contender. But please, until it does, stop pretending.

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