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Hits and Misses of Customer Service

Back in TidBITS-262, we said that we don’t make a habit of passing along the many and varied tales of customer service TidBITS readers send to us. However, lots of people wrote in to say that they liked the article, and we can occasionally be accused of playing to the masses. So, we’re doing it again.

When you read these notes, please bear a few things in mind. First, even the best customer service department stumbles occasionally. Maybe a representative is coming down with the flu, or maybe the company’s phone system has been hit by a power failure – these things happen. Conversely, even the worst department can sometimes do the right thing by their customers, thanks perhaps to a lone dedicated individual. In short, these comments should not be taken as representative of a company’s customer service in general; rather, they should be seen as what they are, individual experiences of individual people.

Kathryn Cramer <[email protected]> writes:

Computer Era advertised a PowerBook 520c 4/160 for under $2,000 in the New York Times Science section (March 28th, 1995). Over the phone, Computer Era assured me that they had five of the models in stock. I met with their salesman the next morning. He spent 35 minutes trying to sell me a memory upgrade for the 520c at twice the price listed in any of the major catalogs, with an installation fee a full nine times the amount I paid to have the same upgrade done on my current PowerBook. The total, with sales tax would easily have come to in excess of $3,200 for a 520c with 12 MB of internal memory and a 160 MB hard drive!

The salesman said many things that were not true, most interesting among them his claim that RAM Doubler damages the logic board of PowerBooks. When I told him it worked great on my 145B, he said that this was a special problem for the 500 series and that they had people coming in all the time to have their logic boards replaced at a cost of $2,000, and that this repair was not covered by the warranty. In the end, I left with my certified check still in my purse and without a new PowerBook for the simple reason that they did not actually have it in stock.

I called Connectix tech support as soon as I got home. They assured me that there was no such problem with RAM Doubler, but said that they had heard this rumor once before but had not previously been aware of its origins. They were most grateful to be told.

Nitya Nadesan <[email protected]> writes:

I recently called the 800 number for my Word 6.0.1 update. The operator was courteous and took my information in about three minutes. I was told to expect the update in four to six weeks. It arrived in a little over a week by Airborne Express overnight service. When I opened the box I was further pleasantly surprised by a letter apologizing for any inconvenience plus a $25 coupon good toward the purchase of any Microsoft product.

Blair Barret <[email protected]> writes:

I have an antique Mac Plus (which I should replace, but I just can’t bring myself to buy that Power Mac) for which I ordered an accelerator card (yes, they still make them) from Micro Mac Technologies. It took three phone calls to finally get the card (they lost the order twice). The board they sent was a basic accelerator that clips to the 68000 chip in the machine. I thought it was pretty nifty at the time, and was also under the impression that there were no other accelerator cards available for the Plus.

I also ordered Connectix’s Compact Virtual from Micro Mac and tried to install it on my system. I immediately had problems, as it told me my system software (7.1.1 with the update) was corrupted. Panic-stricken, I ran to my local computer emporium and purchased System 7.5 (the version of System 7.0.1 I downloaded from Apple wouldn’t install properly for some strange reason) but still no luck. I then called Connectix and was informed I would just have to find 7.0.1 because the version of Compact Virtual would not work with 7.5, and the upgrade version would not work with my accelerator. After installing 7.0.1 on my hard drive (I now had three versions of System software installed!), I tried to boot the system only to get an "unimplemented trap" error which corrected itself when I disabled the accelerator.

During troubleshooting, I found in the supplemental manual that my accelerator was not compatible with 7.0.1. (The accelerator worked great under 7.5, but had no memory left.) After spending about 30 minutes on the phone with the manager of the sales department at Micro Mac, then another 15 minutes with tech support, I was told I had the wrong accelerator for what I wanted to do (run PageMaker). They said I needed to order a different one, which was not offered to me in my initial order! Furthermore, I was told they would "credit" me less than what I had paid for my original accelerator to upgrade! I ordered the upgraded accelerator, but I am not happy with the terms, since they did not give me enough information on my initial order for me to make a proper buying decision. I’m a customer service rep myself, would have lost my job on the spot if I treated any of my customers the way I was treated by Micro Mac.

Rob Reiter <[email protected]> writes:

I bought a 2 GB hard disk from Spin Peripherals and thought they sent the wrong mounting bracket for my Quadra 950. I called, explained, and had a new bracket air freighted to me the next day at no charge. However, the new bracket was the same as the old one – the error had been mine. But then, when I hooked up the drive it didn’t work. Another call this time, on a Friday. From my description, they agreed it sounded like a bad drive. I received a new one the following Tuesday. When it didn’t work either, I began to suspect the trouble was, again, me. It was, but the drive’s manual (from DEC) wasn’t too clear, so I felt halfway off the hook. My second call to Spin Tech support cleared up the problem and I got the drive working.

All in all, I thought Spin’s service and speediness was outstanding and I wrote them to let them know (and to thank them for not putting me through voice-mail hell to get that help!).

Alun Severn <[email protected]> writes:

At Christmas 1994 I bought an Internet package through Demon Internet, a U.K. service provider. Part of the package was the Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh. After two weeks of use, the spine split and pages started falling out. Having worked for twenty years in the book trade, I handle books reasonably carefully: I knew this was poor and told Hayden Books so via email message to a U.S. address. I had a very apologetic reply the following day and – less than seven working days later – a replacement copy was delivered to my door.

Jack Machiela <[email protected]> writes:

I can confirm the user-friendliness at Hayden Books – recently I received from a friend a copy of one of their books, the Mac-3D Workshop, but unfortunately my dog got to the accompanying CD-ROM before I did. I mailed them regarding purchasing another copy of the CD, and instead received the latest version (a complete revision) of the book including the new CD, with an email message saying "No payment required, just tell all your friends how wonderful we are." Needless to say, I have been doing nothing else since…

[We’re including this note not just because Hayden did the right thing in this case, but to point out an interesting problem with book-and-disk products. Many book companies – Hayden included – don’t track their disks separately from their books due to accounting problems with tracking not only a book, but also the one or sometimes more disks that come with it. Thus, if someone gets a bad disk and needs a replacement, the book companies often send the customer an entire new book along with it. – Geoff]

Rob Mincey <[email protected]> writes:

As a Christmas gift in 1993, I received Symantec’s Think C 6.0. A good bit of time passed, and I began to see mentions of Think C 7.0 in the MACDEV echo on FidoNet. Out of curiosity, I looked on America Online and discovered the 6.0 to 7.0 upgrade. I found it strange that I had not received notice from Symantec about a major version update. I downloaded the files and attempted to update the software on my drive. Everything upgraded correctly except the Project Manager. After several clean installs of Think C 6.0, I called Symantec’s support BBS. I received a message from tech support to the effect of "we’ve already discussed how to fix your problem." No solution, though. Luckily, someone on the FidoNet MACDEV echo pointed me in the right direction.

I received similar treatment concerning the release of Norton Utilities for Macintosh 3.0. I did not receive an upgrade notice until well after it had shipped. Had I not noticed it in mail order catalogs, I never would have known about it.

Enter Metrowerks. I received the Bronze edition of CodeWarrior 4.0 in December of 1994 as a Christmas gift. Two weeks later, I saw an ad for 5.0 in a mail-order catalog. Curious, I sent an email message to the Metrowerks support staff. They assured me I would receive my upgrade soon. Within a week, the upgrade was at my door. This was not an upgrade notice, but a full-fledged upgrade CD-ROM. Metrowerks updates their software three times yearly, and every customer is entitled to one year’s worth of upgrades. Additional upgrades may be purchased at a nominal fee. I find it a joy to support companies who value their customers, and I refuse to support those firms who ignore their greatest assets – their customers.

[Metrowerks handles updates to its CodeWarrior development environment as a subscription service: purchasing CodeWarrior also buys you a one-year subscription to updates released in January, May, and September of each year. Several readers have also written to praise Metrowerks’ responsiveness and support via the Internet and Usenet newsgroups. -Geoff]

James W. Gruener <[email protected]> writes:

I purchased a SyQuest 270 MB drive from APS in mid-January. Though it was their policy not to send drives without cartridges (they didn’t have any in stock), I twisted the salesman’s arm and I received my drive in two days via UPS ground. Two weeks later, when I hadn’t heard from APS and still didn’t have the cartridge that was promised to me, I called their customer service number. "I’m sorry, but our records show that the drive was shipped with a cartridge." I expected that. What I didn’t expect was the friendly offer to investigate the matter and return my call with the result. By 10:00 A.M. the next day, a cartridge was delivered to me by Airborne Express. Although APS failed to initially send me the cartridge, the resolution was fast and complete.

[The more cynical among you may have noticed that several of the stories above relate to our sponsors – rest assured that we aren’t stacking the deck. We tend to hear more about the companies that sponsor TidBITS for obvious reasons, and frankly, although we never pretend that our sponsors are perfect, we do feel that they are good companies who try to provide excellent customer service. -Adam]

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