Customer Service

Last night I saw a very interesting documentary about customer service on CBC, it is also available online here.

The documentary starts by showing how some customers behave badly to those who are there to serve us, and then goes on to show some examples of poor customer service from the corporate side.  Watching this show brought several thoughts to mind.

Firstly, call centres.  The way that many of these are set-up is a recipe for disaster.  The people that you end up talking to do not have the power to do anything, and the whole organization is set-up to prevent you from getting to anyone who can help you.  In this show you see an agent try to deal with an irate man who wants to know when when he will get his computer.  The agent has no information in the system for that account as to when the computer will be ready, and has no way to appease the customer.  She cannot get him to someone who can help, and is left to her own devices to ending the call.  The real problem here is how that computer company structured its' business model for support.  

Like many things in this world it all comes down to money.  Customer support costs money, and a corporations selling goods or services has to divide up the revenue they receive into many different buckets (salaries, cost of materials, profits, customer service).  Those companies with bad customer service have either not charged enough for their product, or have chosen unwisely to underfund customer support.  

We as consumers have a role to play in this as well.  In the PC market, margins are notoriously thin as consumers will quickly move from brand to brand over mere dollars difference.  This leaves little room for the supplier to actually provide decent service. I recently made the switch to Apple, and I can say that I have no intention of switching back to PCs anytime soon.  The reason for this is mainly service.  I have had to have a couple of products that I have purchased repaired or replaced.  In one case under warranty, and in another out of warranty.  The service is stellar.  They listen to your problem, do their own diagnosis and offer a solution.  They do not try to minimize the problem or explain it away.  If you need to get in touch with someone at Apple, it is super easy, by email, phone or in store.  

We can solve the customer service problem by being loyal to the companies who provide great service, and abandoning those that do not.  And yes, great service is not free, but it need not be expensive either.  In the end you do get what you pay for, and some things are to good to be true.  Take into account the price, service, support and reviews.

My experience is that if you pay a lot for something you do not necessarily get value, but if you pay bargain basement prices you are sure to be disappointed. Corners are being cut somewhere to get to that price, and if you cannot figure out where, then be careful!



This week's news about Yahoo's CEO making an 'inadvertent mistake' on his resume has been an interesting read.

The reaction of both Mr.Thompson and the Yahoo board make it appear that they don't or don't want to grasp the seriousness of the issue. The trouble is not whether or not Mr. Thompson needs a computer science degree to run Yahoo. It is about integrity. No one is going to take the misrepresentation on the resume as an inadvertent error. A degree take 3 or 4 years of your life to achieve and a lot of hard work. You are not going to forget that you got a degree or some how imagine that you earned one.

Claiming a degree you have not earned strikes at the heart of a persons integrity. If you are willing to lie on your resume, what else are you going to lie about? Lying on the resume is usually sufficient cause for dismissal, and this should be the case here.

Given the reporting on the subject, I suspect that Mr Thompson added this degree on his resume earlier in his career. Probably not wanting to be caught in a lie he left it there. Even though he may have successfully run Paypal in his tenure there, like plagiarism, claiming a degree one does not have is a very serious ethical problem. Mr. Thompson, needs to step down, remove the CS degree from his resume and look for a new job, standing on his past achievements, not imagined ones. If he was a successful as it appears at running Paypal, he should have no problem finding work.


The Roach Motel Business Model

The one I am referring to, is the model where by a business makes it super easy to sign up and difficult to cancel. Most businesses now make it super simple to enroll. You sign up on the website, and voila you are done. If you need to change your address, credit card number or sign up for more features, again you can do it simply and easily on their website. If however you want to remove services or in any way decrease the amount of money you spend with them there are no visible clues as to how to do it.

For example. I recently subscribed to The Hill Times. It's not a bad paper, but I wasn't reading it enough to justify the cost. Via their website account control panel, I could update my credit card number, update my address, subscribe to other publications, but nowhere to be found was a cancel button or a description about how to cancel. I entered 'cancel' into their search bar and got zero hits. There was no information on their FAQ page about how to cancel. I was left with selecting a phone number off the contact us page, and working my way through to someone who could cancel my account.

Another example, a Rogers sub contractor contacted me last night with what appeared to be a good deal. He said I was paying $17/month for my iPad data plan. There was a new one that was $6 if I used less than 10mb in a month, but would revert to 17 if I used more than 10mb. It seemed like a good deal and I said go for it. Before the call was up, I asked to confirm that the 17/month included taxes ( I pay 15+ tax which is 16.95 ). They told me that it would now be $17 plus tax. So, not a good deal considering most months I would be over 10mb. I asked that I be left on my original plan. They said no problem. A couple hours later I received a confirmation email of my new plan. It has taken me close to an hour on the phone with 5 reps to find out that my SIM cannot be reverted to a pre-paid plan form the new post paid plan. So that brings me back to the point of my post. It was easy for them to convert me from pre-paid to post-paid but they can't go back. As an engineer, I know that this is not a physical impossibility, this is an accounting/IT impossibility. They have designed the system so that you can't go back to a lower cost plan.

You encounter the similar issues with monthly services. When you sign up they will immediately provide you service. But when you try to cancel, they can't possibly stop the service that day and pro-rate you bill. You have to stick it out to the end of the billing cycle. Rather convenient for them.

Not every business is like that. One of the selling points for moving my blog to Squarespace was the fact that they make it easy to cancel, and they allow you to export you data at any time. Without those two selling points I would never have made the jump. In the future I will be looking for the account cancellation link for any new service I may be looking to sign up with.

I assume that businesses think that since they are losing a customer they might as well give up trying, but they seem to forget a customer may eventually come back. To me this roach motel model pretty much ensures that they will lose the business for good.


Microsoft Live Mail & IMAP

I have several email addresses and several devices. I have IMAP set up for every account except for my Live mail account. I went out of my way to set up IMAP everywhere because of the fact that once I read an email on one device, it will get shown as read on all the others. I can also file emails and it will get updated everywhere.

So, the only hold out has Live Mail. I noticed that iOS now updates the read status of Live emails, so I thought that Live Mail must have added IMAP, but when I searched the web I could not find the settings. So, I tried the next best thing, I spied on the web traffic.

I installed Wireshark on my computer and configured the computer to be a wireless hotspot. I the configured the iPod to use the hotspot I just created. This way I could see all of the traffic to and from the iPod. To my surprise, when I looked at the traffic, it just looked like normal https web traffic. As a sanity check, I checked the email on one of my IMAP accounts, and as expected, I could see the IMAP traffic.

So it appears that Live Mail still does not use IMAP. Instead, it looks like There must be some https based protocol for interfacing to the Live Mail servers, and it appears that Apple has implemented this on iOS. So, as a result, I am put of luck when it comes to configuring Postbox to use IMAP on the computer.


Baby Llama at the High Park Zoo

As they frequently do, Sylvia and Emilia went to the High Park zoo. Today they happened upon a very special occasion. They saw a new born Llama. The baby was just 1 hour old. With the budget cuts, the zoo could be closed somewhere around June of this year.

We'll certainly be sad to see it go. Emilia goes to the zoo a lot. We have been there plenty of times as a family, but Sylvia takes her there a lot during the week.