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Posts Tagged ‘Customer Service’

Its been a while since I was making any serious amount of money online. I used to have several dedicated web and database servers housed at various data centers across the country. At one time, I was planning to build a huge network that was geographically distributed across the world. I turned out the lights of my last few remaining websites last year, when I let my last server go – it was in Los Angles, hosted at OC3 Networks. If you know anything about porn, you know thats where most of the sites are hosted. Ilan Mishan hosted just about everyone who was anyone in that industry, and despite the fact that some folks did not like him, he always struck me as someone who was honest and easy to deal with and the service was top notch, except for some problems with the IPs being blacklisted by the spamming places alot.

Its been difficult to find webhosts that would tolerate me. Many years ago, I was sued by one of my webhosts after I said some unflattering things about their service. A non-disclosure agreement prohibits me from talking about that incident. A favorite tactic of corporate America these days is to threaten the webhost of anyone who says anything they don’t like with a lawsuit if they don’t silence their customers, and most webhosting companies out of fear, ignorance or laziness – or a combination of all three – cave in and shut off the customer’s account even though the customer is not doing anything illegal.

After some searching, I found this company NFSN, Inc. that was offering hosting services under the name Nearly Free Speech. My hardware and bandwidth requirements are nowhere near what they used to be as I don’t need an entire cluster of boxes to myself anymore. After looking into the pricing of this place, which offers a very reasonable pay as you go approach to all services, they also offer something more important: management that knows how to handle legal threats and respond to frivolous ones by… doing nothing.

Have to say that after using their services for a week now, they are a company fit to serve up my shit. I may start working on some of my more controversial projects and getting them online.

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So tonight I took Oklahoma’s Most Beautiful Boy to Mickey Mantle Steakhouse in Bricktown. To cut right to the chase, it was a disaster of a dining experience.

Ratings (Key)

Overall: 1.50
Presentation: 0.75
Taste: 2.50
Service Quality: 1.00
Service Promptness: 1.25
Service Accuracy: 2.50
Menu Selection: 3.00
Menu Clarity: 2.75
Value: 1.50
Queer Friendly: 2.50
Hot Staff: 0.75

Lets be clear from the get go that this was not a date, Oklahoma’s Most Beautiful Boy has a husband and despite the fact that I find him extremely attractive (which he knows) this is a friends night out and nothing more. I enjoy his company a lot and so I don’t mind spending a little money on him as one might spend on a boyfriend. Many people don’t understand the dynamics of the relationship and mistake it for, well, whatever. As he often points out, its hard to find a “complete package” of beauty and brains in Oklahoma City. While it was not a date, we do go to nice places and I do expect the same level of service I would expect on a date, after all, it’s not any cheaper because it isn’t a date and I expect to get alot of the same things out of it most people expect on a date, like the ability to talk one on one.

To put it bluntly, the atmosphere, presentation of the food, service and the arrival of the check made me want to vomit. For starters, the place bills itself as a top of the line steakhouse. Its nothing of the sort. Undoubtedly the most over-rated restaurant I have ever had the misfortune of dining in. I wound up leaving $170 on the table for a meal that wasn’t worth $70, this includes the customary tip of 20% which was left out of respect to my dining guest and my desire not to raise a stink right then and there not because it was earned. If I were dining alone, I would not only have not left a tip, but I would have left an address to mail the refund check to and I would have taken the manager back into the kitchen and shown him how to make food presentable before it hits the table.

The atmosphere reminds me of a nice Dennys on the good side of town. People sit right on top of you, so there is no privacy (which makes talking about blowjobs, anal sex and who has a nice penis over dinner and wine without offending neighboring tables difficult) and there is nothing in the place to buffer the sound, so its like sitting in an echo chamber. Here is a hint, fancy restaurant designers: people go to nice restaurants to relax, unwind and enjoy peace and quiet. They also go to talk to the person they are taking out to dinner, to enjoy their company and enjoy being with them. None of these was possible, and I often had to ask Oklahoma’s Most Beautiful Boy to repeat himself, much to his annoyance. I couldn’t hear him over the clatter and roar of the restaurant. If I want to hear everyone yap about their lives, I can go to Applebees or TGI Friday and pay $40 for two including drinks.

The presentation of the food was awful, save the cheesecake which we both agreed was attractively presented. When it arrived, Oklahoma’s Most Beautiful Boy remarked “Wow, I think this is the most attractive thing to come to the table yet”.  I had to agree. Hindsight being 20/20, I should have snapped a picture of it with my iPhone, because the presentation on the desert really was well done. Ironically, it was also the cheapest thing on the ticket and probably the only item not prepared in the restaurant.

His Shrimp Fettuccine Alfredo was presented with a touch of class – with four shrimp set at compass points on the rim of the plate and the pasta piled in the center – but it still was not what you’d expect to have gotten for the price. It looked like an Olive Garden specialty. My Surf and Turf was just thrown on the plate with no particular attempt to make it attractive. Neither dish was garnished. Every chef knows that presentation is one of the most important aspects of the dining experience and they made little effort to do so much as throw some parsley at these dishes.

The service was for shit, I have gotten better service at sit down burger places. The server filled the drinks a total of three times, often left them unfilled for a long period of time. The server made an awkward show of reaching across my face and over my plate to remove my lobster tail from its shell without asking me if I’d like it de-shelled. Prior to that, some guy who was not even our waiter walked by and took my shrimp cocktail off the table without a word – and without noticing we were not done with it as there was still a jumbo shrimp clinging to the side. Before I could object after a moment of speechlessness and shock, he was already half way back to the kitchen. A few minutes later, he returned to apologize for taking it, saying he didn’t see the shrimp there and gave me the cocktail back. Never offered to make me another one, or asked me if I wanted it back.

This incident was probably the biggest screw-up of the evening here. Proper procedure in what is supposed to be a high-class restaurant dictates then when you fuck up and snatch someone’s food off their table and don’t realize they weren’t done until you get back to the wash pit, you don’t bring the same thing back to them without offering to make them a new one. First off, it was your error and the establishment should eat the cost. Second, you have just had your grubby little hands all over my food, to bring it back to me and suggest that I eat it is an insult. Finally, you took my food back to the wash pit. How unappetizing is it for you to bring me something from the trash can to consume? Give me a break. Never mind the fact that the kid clearly doesn’t know the first thing about waiting tables in a decent restaurant, if he did he would have asked before reaching to the middle of the table while we are talking to ask if we were done with that dish. Heck, the even do this at family restaurants!

Finally, we get to the bill. Before the check arrived, I asked Oklahoma’s Most Beautiful Boy what the check would be. I wasn’t adding it up and my surf and turf was a  market price item, so the price wasn’t in the menu. He guessed about $80 and I concurred. I felt that was about what it was worth, sort of. When the check arrived for $141.75, we both exhaled at about the same time and said words to the effect of “no way, not worth it”. They charged $75.95 for my surf n turf, and I must say that while the lobster tail was good size, the turf portion of my dinner was barely larger than a business card. I don’t believe it was a 7 oz filet, even if that’s the precooked weight. We both agreed that it wasn’t a $75 plate. Of course, presentation goes along way to making a diner feel like they got a good value

The bottom line: Mickey Mantle is an overpriced steakhouse that touts its ritzy location on the Bricktown canal to the hilt, charges way too much for what they deliver and is extremely over rated. I don’t mind paying for quality, but when you are gonna stick a bill for $170 (including 20% tip) on my table over a diner for two that didn’t even include drinks (Oklahoma’s Most Beautiful Boy rarely drinks), you had better be doing something doing something exceptional to earn your asking prices. At the very least, give me competent service from a wait staff that acts like they have worked in a world-class restaurant before. These hacks were a complete disgrace to the profession. Its clear that the management does not provide training and has terrible hiring procedures.

Now, lest this review find its way to the wait staff who served us this evening, I want them to know that I don’t blame them for the awful experience. I blame their boss. Its clear they were doing the best they could with what they were given. They were polite and caring, but are clearly just ignorant of the proper way to wait tables. The responsibility for that, my friends, rests solely with the management, as it is the management who is ultimately responsible for the performance of the wait staff or lack of it. Oklahoma’s Most Beautiful Boy owns several businesses and while I don’t always agree with his business decisions, there is one thing about his approach to business that is spot on and that is that management is always responsible for the success or failure of the business and satisfaction of the customers. Knowing that, he often chooses to manage everything himself rather than delegate that to anyone else.

The buck stops with the management, period. All failure or success in a business, regardless of who actually screwed up or did good, is a product of the management and therefore they are directly responsible for it. This is something that Mickey Mantle could apply to its business methods. Start taking responsibility for its staff and get them on par with other area restaurants, because this one is far below par to say the least.

I am printing a copy of this blog post (along with a cover letter) and mailing it to the owners of the restaurant with a copy of my receipt along with an address of where they can send me a refund check. The experience was that awful. I wouldn’t recommend Mickey Mantle Steakhouse if it was the last restaurant in Oklahoma City unless they had a dollar menu, because they don’t deliver much above fast-food levels of service.

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Most anyone who knows me is well-aware of my love for United Parcel Service. Usually, you are better off driving to pick something up than have it delivered by these guys.

So today, UPS comes by to deliver my order from American Notary Suppply. I recently formed two new corporations and thus ordered two new Corporate Seals. They were supposed to be delivered yesterday – on Friday. So when I heard the knock at the door at around 4 PM – I was not at all surprised. When I got to the door, I was surprised to see a little note hanging on my door indicating that they were “trying to deliver” a box but no one was home and the parcel was signature required so it could not be left at the door step.

It was a maximum of 30 seconds from the time of the knock to the time I opened the door. But the UPS guy was already gone. I could hear the truck roaring out of our driveway and I thought about chasing after it, then I noticed how it was 107° F here and decided against it. He must have had the note all ready to go and used a stick to knock on the door from his truck.

So in the end, I am left with two choices: wait until Monday for them to deliver again what they should have delivered on Friday, or have it held and make the 40-mile trip up to the package center to retrive my package. Neither of which was very appealing. So I did the third option, and that was call Customer Disservice and unload my frustration on them. Of course, they would not make the driver come back and service the customer like he should have to begin with and despite the fact that they were “sorry for the inconvienence”, I’m still screwed. And UPS still sucks.

While DHL cannot follow instructions 9 time out of 10 and the post office always messes some aspect of a transaction up (usually the part about being nice to the customer at the window – thier clerks are so rude its not even funny) both are better options than UPS.

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Customer service in the United States is dead. Has been for a long time, actually. But its just recently that the corpse has started to rot and really foul up the air. You see, companies still talk about customer service and pretend like they still provide it. They even have departments dedicated to it. But they don’t provide it, nor offer it or even really know what it is.

Providing customer service involves first the ability to provide customer service and second giving a damn about your job enough to provide it. Lets face it, some people are simply too stupid to provide customer service. No, I am not being cruel here, this is a proven fact. People that cannot perform basic mathematical computations involving addition and subtraction of whole numbers fall into this category. I have had cashiers try to tell me that I was wrong about how much change I should get back because the register tells them I am supposed to get a certain amount back.

Other people simply are too stupid to learn their job to begin with. This type is most commonly encountered as the moron who cannot perform basic tasks of his job like checking out a customer, making a sandwich with a special grill order (no lettuce, no tomato, extra onion) or processing a return with any degree of efficiency or competency. Often this goes with a remark about how the register (a computer) is ‘being difficult’ or ‘stupid’ (the last one always tests my self control) when we all know that computers are not humans. They don’t make mistakes, they don’t get angry and they don’t have varying degrees of intelligence. They do exactly what they are programed to based on the commands of the operator.

Then there is this category of folks who simply don’t give a damn about their jobs. And this is a really big group of people. Which I sort of understand, in fact. Companies today discard employees like used condoms. When they are no longer needed, they get pulled off and thrown into a rubbish pile. Way back when, employees used to work for the same company for a lifetime and companies rewarded that loyalty by investing in the employee beyond just giving his or her hourly pay. They don’t do that anymore and so I really don’t blame employees for having no loyalty to their employers these days. Whats that old saying my old man used to tell me? “You reap what you sow.” or something like that.

On the other hand, if you take a job you should at least do it correctly with a marginal amount of pride for the product of your work: be it tangible or otherwise. That means, if you work at fast food place, you should try to get orders correctly entered and prepared, fully cooked and served promptly. If your job is to answer phones and help customers understand their bill, you ought to know how to look up the bill, how to read whats on the screen and how to tell a customer what it says. And you should also know tell when a bill was not correctly generated, charges not properly applied and have the sense to know not to blame the customer or try to lie your way out of it while at the same time knowing how to remedy the situation.

Below, I am going to share two three recent experiences with two companies and explain exactly how they are textbook examples of how customer service is completely dead. Not just dead, but now a rotting, stinking, festering corpse with maggots all over it. Someone ought to have the decency to throw away rotten things when they begin to stink.

One day, I bought a printer from Office Max. I paid for it in cash – $499 plus tax. Later in the day, I went to Cost-Co and found another printer that was cheaper and better. I took the unopened printer from Office Max (with receipt) back to the store the very next day to return it.

Imagine my surprise when I got to the counter to do the return and the cashier called the manager over, who came out and politely explained he would not be giving me my money back because his store has a $200 limit on cash refunds. Normally that would be OK, stores have all kinds of policies (and as required by law) they usually have a sign by the register or on the back of the receipt telling of their return policy.

There were no signs on the register, but this was the policy as printed on the back of the receipt:

“If you aren’t satisfied with your purchase, simply return it in the complete and original packaging (together with all accessories and manuals) with your original sales receipt within 30 days of the date of purchase. We will gladly replace or repair the item, or refund your money. Electronic Items, Digital Cameras, Computers, PDAs and Business Machines must be returned within 14 days of purchase.

OfficeMax will not accept returns of opened Computers, PDAs, Digital Cameras or Software packages unless defective. These items that are defective may be exchanged for the identical item only.”

The receipt then goes on to explain the rebate policy. Notice how there is nothing mentioned about this supposed cash limit policy. My options – so I was told – were to take my refund on a gift card (store credit – not redeemable for cash) or a check mailed from their corporate office in 7 to 14 days. I got myself quite worked up about it but the manager pretty much said he didn’t care how much complaining I did, he wasn’t changing his mind. He also told me he had enough money to do the return in the store, but this policy prevented him from doing it and by golly, he was not going to override the policy! I asked him if I could take 7 to 14 days to pay for my future purchases and he did not see the humor in that.

I got the number for the corporate office and took my refund on a gift card. And as soon as I got to the parking lot, I got on the phone and started complaining. After talking to several people (who all said that there was no such policy after I pointed out that it wasn’t posted anywhere) I got to the regional manager who explained that this store had made its own policy and that stores were allowed to do this. I pointed out that the supposed policy was not disclosed anywhere and he finally passed me up to some sort of director of retail operations.

This person seemed to have no authority, as she listened to the entire story and then told me she needed to research it and call me back. I told her that I knew what happened at this point, since I have been here with AT&T several times. The part where the supervisor takes your number and will call you back never happens. Its just a way of getting rid of a problem customer. She swore up and down she would call me back, gave me this song and dance about how her word was her bond and on and on. I told her I have heard all this before.

She promised again and then we disconnected. I knew what the score was, so I took my gift card to another Office Max and blew it on some nice stuff that I really didn’t need, but just looking at the card made me angry. Two days later, she did call back – which surprised me. But when she told me why she was calling – to let me know that she was still looking into it – I knew had it right the first time. I was dealing with someone with little to no authority who was not even good at wearing her seemingly important title well. I told her to call me back when she had an answer.

Nearly a week later, the store manager of the Office Max called and left a message on my cell phone’s voice mail that I could bring my gift card back for cash now, if I wanted. The lady at the corporate office never did call back with a final answer as she promised she would. Not that I was surprised, promising a call back is the tool of an incompetent middle management asshole who wants to get rid of a whiny customer that s/he doesn’t feel like dealing with at the moment.

I didn’t bother to return the manager’s call – what was the point? Office Max lost me as a customer due to their completely incompetent handling of the situation. I now do all my office supply shopping at Staples. At least they spell out their return policy honestly on the back of the receipt.

In this instance, the failure of customer service was just simple stupidity coupled with dishonesty. Someone made a dishonest and incorrect statement (the store manager who professed the cash limit policy that did not exist) and when confronted with the customer’s complaint and researching the issue and then funding that no policy existed – no one was willing to admit that the mistake occurred or correct the situation. They instead wanted to play hot potato and pass the angry customer around until someone was willing to take the responsibility for being wrong and be the fall guy.

I have a multi-year contract with Sprint for wireless service. One day, I went to one of their stores and added a second phone and line to my service. I also bought a Motorola Bluetooth headset for $199. It was the latest one, supposed to be the best out. I was told it had a 30 day return policy on it if I did not like it. Charges for both were billed to my Sprint account. Several days later, I returned the Bluetooth Headset because everyone I called told me they couldn’t hear me – just like all the other headsets I have bought.

The return went fine, but the credit never showed up on my account. So when I got a bill from Sprint for over $600 (there were some other upgrades done to other phones between the bill getting cut and my return) and the credit for the return wasn’t there, I called and complained. I spent nearly two hours on the phone explaining first to a customer service representative and later to that rep’s supervisor why I was not going to pay a $600 bill that should only be $400 because they did not feel like posting a credit to my account. They, of course, charged my account for my purchases immediately.

Around and around we went and I never did get a solution to that issue. I wound up paying the bill but vowed to make up for it later on down the road.

In the instance of Sprint, we simply have a combination of I-don’t-give-a-damn employees working for an I-don’t-give-a-damn company coupled with people who are too stupid to be customer service representatives in the first place. They could not understand for the life of them why I might be unhappy with the situation they had put me in.

Last time I got sweet talked when it came to contract renewal time. In 2010, I will not be so understanding and will very likely take my business elsewhere to someone who appreciates it more. If such an entity even exists, most wireless companies are rumored to have horrible customer service. But in 2002, Sprint won two JD Power & Associates awards for customer service excellence. When we talk about wireless service and awards for good customer service, we may as well say ‘Congradulations, you’re service stinks the least out of all the turds on this pig farm’.

Recently, I went to send a money transfer via Western Union while away from home. I used their website and it’s Agent Location feature to find the closest place to send from quickly – or so I thought. I put in my zip code 60515 (where I was at the time) and it came back and told me that the closest place was right across the street – a check cashing place called The Currency Exchange. The website said the place was open until 9 PM. Great, since it was currently 8:10 PM and it would be one less thing to deal with the next day.

So I grabbed my post it note with my recipient’s information and drove across the street (stopping first for a bite to eat at Burger King) and then parked in front of The Currency Exchange. Only when I got there, The Currency Exchange did not appear to be open. That was because they weren’t open, they closed at 8 PM.

When I got back to my hotel room, I called Western Union and informed them of the oversight. The representative, after I got done telling her about the error on the website said in a completely calm manner “I’m not sure I understand what you want me to do about it.” When I suggested that the transfer me to a supervisor after several more attempts to reach her tiny little brain, the supervisor was no better telling me that she did not have access to the people who maintain the website and instead suggested I send an e-mail using the form on the site.

I did go and send the e-mail. And if you go and pull up the hours for The Currency Exchange, you’ll still be told it closes at 9 PM.

Finally here we have a case of stupidity, lack of pride in a job, failure to learn job and to top it all off a healthy dose of zero initiative to provide customer service. When a customer tells you about incorrect information on your website or elsewhere, thank them for bringing it to your attention and then pass the report on to the proper people who can correct it. If you don’t know who to report it to, find out. But at Western Union, apparently this is all too much to understand.

These three experiences, which have all occured within the last 30 days, have proven to me that customer service is dead. Surely you have had other experiences on your own that lead you to the same conclusion. Its a sick joke that companies continue to banter around. Economists keep whining about the downturn in the economy and bitch about how consumers aren’t spending as much as they used to. Gee, it couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that companies treat them like shit, could it?

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