Index ¦ Archives ¦ RSS > Tag: rant

Support Tale

TLDR: Panasonic use an outsourced company for support that is beyond comical. This includes only being able to provide answers they already have, surveys that can't be completed, and general behaviour indistinguishable from gross indifference.

If find it fascinating what companies do these days. They hate their users so much that third parties [1] are hired to deal with them. And you can bet those third parties are used because they are cheap.

Most of them seem to operate by having 10 or so common answers, and pattern match your question to the closest answer, hoping to close the incident as quickly as possible.

Many software companies still think that it’s “economical” to run tech support in Bangalore or the Philippines, or to outsource it to another company altogether. Yes, the cost of a single incident might be $10 instead of $50, but you’re going to have to pay $10 again and again.

Seven steps to remarkable customer service

This is extremely short term thinking. The best customer service is one you don't have to contact because things just work. And when there are calls, actually address the issue so that more calls do not come in. And use this to make your future products better. Better products result in better sales in a good feedback loop. Worse products and blowing your customer interactions is a way to bleed away customer loyalty and future product purchases. Often that forces competing on price due to the lack of other virtues, and isn't particularly profitable or good for the long term.

Panasonic makes many consumer goods, amongst them cameras. I bought a DMC-ZS40 which includes [2] wifi functionality. When connecting to a wifi access point it won't let you enter a space in the password.


Normal text entry screen showing that a space is entered. There are 5 buttons letting you enter a space.


Time to enter the wifi password


All space buttons are disabled and clicking on them has no effect. You may need to click on the image (full size) to see the lighter gray disabled look for the space buttons.

Spaces are perfectly acceptable in wifi passwords. Heck all the domestic access points I have access to use them! Now you know and I know that this is a bug [3]. But rather than being presumptuous I contacted Panasonic support to ask how I enter a space in wifi passwords. Maybe there is some other way in just this case?

I started with online chat. It quickly became clear that the customer service staff do not have access to the cameras, nor had they ever used that model or its similar predecessor. I pointed to the screen shot on page 75 of the manual (warning: PDF) and explained that the spaces worked elsewhere, just not for wifi passwords. I had to repeat this over and over again - I can enter spaces, just not for wifi passwords.

The rep tried everything but didn't really grasp what was going on. And short of some secret setting there is nothing they could do, other than take a lot of time to not address the issue. Eventually they told me to call phone support.

It took 5 phone calls. The calls are answered by an IVR (voice) system that asks which product, then if they recognise right what you want (eg support, buy accessories) and then in support if you want to hear common tips before finally connecting you to a person. Actually just before the human connection they ask if they can call you back for a survey [4]. At no point can you press buttons - you can only proceed by speaking. (You also can't go back.)

#1 I describe the issue to a person who immediately hangs up. My guess is wifi related issues are longer calls and make their stats look worse.

#2 It decided that I was talking about a TV, and then connected me to a number saying it was out of service permanently.

#3 The rep never spoke and I could hear some background talking for about 10 seconds before it got quiet. After trying various things to get attention I hung up.

#4 It decided I wanted to buy parts and insisted on taking me down that road. Yes I did end up swearing at the idiocy.

#5 I got through to a person and did pretty much the same as with the chat person. (Yes they too had no experience/access to the camera or seen its keyboard.) We did the page 75 of the manual thing plus fruitless attempts to enter the space. After 28 minutes they decided that a higher level support person needs to get back to me. I'm not sure if it ever sunk in that I was perfectly able to enter spaces -- just not for wifi passwords.


The next day this arrived

That is cut straight from page 75 of the manual - the same one I kept pointing them to. I am completely mystified as to what the red arrow is pointing to.

Needless to say this has cost Panasonic money and is going to cost them even more as I persevere to get the issue addressed. It didn't have to be this way.

Update: I then tried to use the "email" option where you enter details in a web form and will get a response within two business days. This was so I could link to screenshots to show the problem. I still hadn't got a response 10 days later.

I did another chat where they acknowledged the issue but said there was absolutely nothing that could be done. They refused to actually tell Panasonic about the issue. Insisted I call because they can't take personal information in chats. I pointed out I didn't need to be contacted, they already took my information to initiate the chat, and it is Panasonic who need to be contacted on the issue. The chat transcript they emailed also included a survey link. Clicking the link just resulted in a redirect to the Panasonic US home page.

Figuring that nothing would happen, I did phone call too. After some back and forth, including giving an imgur url verbally they finally came back and told me you can't enter spaces in a wifi password. I had to remind them that was exactly what I had told them. Then I was told the camera was set in stone and could not possibly be changed. I pointed out the firmware version was 1.0 and my previous model had firmware updates, so it was perfectly possible. Eventually the rep said the information would be passed on to Panasonic (yeah right). I got the usual phone call survey afterwards where a few questions in it wouldn't recognise answers.

I am befuddled as to why Accent/Panasonic aren't noticing a lack of survey responses. It is in Accent's interest that negative ones don't get through.

[1]Pansonic is using Accent and none of what is written on the snazzy Accent home page is remotely true from this experience.
[2]For some especially bizarre reason they use USB for charging but the connector on the camera while being the same size as micro-usb is not micro-usb. This means you must use a proprietary Panasonic "USB" cable. This was a really boneheaded decision.
[3]Spaces in wifi password work just fine with Android, iOS, Windows, Linux, Mac, Roku, Apple TV, Nintendo, Samsung Printer. Oh and Panasonic TV and Blu-ray players.
[4]The callback is beyond comical. You are asked to press buttons to rate various things (a scale of 1 to 5 IIRC). But on the third question it wouldn't accept any number I pressed so I had to hang up. Oh and they called 5 times - once per each original call. But I was on the phone with call #5 for several of the callbacks so they went unanswered and there were no retries.

Category: misc – Tags: rant, panasonic

Health Insurance Profit

The dysfunction in the US healthcare system, especially around how everything gets paid for is well known. My health "insurer" [1] Anthem Blue Cross of California, a subsidiary of publicly traded Wellpoint has a new way [2] of bumping their profits.

They aren't allowed to do premium changes targeting individuals, but can do it for groups (eg age ranges, geographical areas). They group people into age ranges (eg 40-44, 45-49). When your age changes into the next range up you get a ~25% premium increase [3]. The clever bit is that they don't actually wait until your birthday and instead increase the premiums near the beginning of the year. Consequently a 39 year old pays the increased premiums of a 40 year old for on average 6 months. Across their customer base this adds up quickly.

California has a regulatory agency Department of Managed Healthcare who are the regulatory agency for my plan, so I submitted a complaint to them. Sadly I got the usual nonsense in return. Like many customer support organisations, they have 10 answers and no matter what the issue the goal is to give you the closest answer to your question no matter how relevant it actually is. The answer to me was about how they aren't a regulator, plans aren't regulated etc, which is rather comical given just how often they describe themselves as exactly that. At this point I give up and pay the penalty for having a birthday late in the year. Score one point for the system.

On the technical side, the DMHC approach is beyond comical. There is lots of use of the word "secure" as in "secure web portal" and "secure email". Their response to me was an email that looked exactly like malicious emails. It was an envelope image with "click here" in the middle, and no other information about sender, why I would want to, or what the heck was going on. It was only by examining the email headers and additional digital sleuthing I was able to work out that it was actually a legitimate email. Clicking the link gave an error while copying and pasting it into the browser worked. It then proceeded to force me to setup a username and password to read the email. I finally got to read the email answering something I didn't ask, and ignoring my actual issue. When I later wanted to reread the answer, reproduce it here etc I couldn't. I kept being told I had to go to my "Inbox" to do so without any indication as to where (or what for that matter) that inbox is. I also noted how several pages had a footer saying Copyright 2011 Microsoft. Nothing says "secure" like "we haven't updated this in many years".

[1]What is provided doesn't really resemble actual insurance, and is closer to a payment and costs obfuscation mechanism.
[2]Compare to the old ways and look at how many times they have been fined.
[3]This is in addition to the historic 22% annual increases.

Category: misc – Tags: rant

Being demanding

A pet peeve is company websites that demand personal details before telling you anything useful. You can't read case studies, get product details or even download SDKs to see if they would fit with your project. They are insisting on something of high value from you - your personal details and the implied access to you that gives. But in return they offer nothing first. You will still be spending your time to determine if what is being offered is what you are looking for, and if it provides value to you.

This is a terrible way to start a relationship. From previous companies I've worked at and from friends, the reported rate of junk information entered is between 40 and 100%. I was even advised by one company to “enter junk, everyone else does”. The usual rationalisation is that it is better to ignore the junk (and annoy the people who had to provide it), than miss a single lead. The latter is measurable but the former not, since you have no idea how many gave up and left for the competition.

Hiding content also prevents indexing by search engines, and people can't link to it. The solution is easy - it is perfectly okay to ask for details (but not require them), and to ensure people can communicate with you once they have found you are a good match. Ironically many of those sites that provide the terrible start to the relationship also make it hard to continue once you know you do want to proceed.

Category: gplus – Tags: rant, registration

Software license agreements


Commercial License Agreement :: AppCode A new Objective-C IDE for iOS and OS X development with a smarter code editor (more)

I bought some software today, and their license agreement contains a rather odious term. They get the right to use your name and similar details including trademarks in marketing without getting permission at the time, or any notification. Fortunately if they do that I have enough counter material that would make them regret it. Oh, they also get to pull the software any time they feel like with no notice period, including remotely disabling it.

I guess most companies are lucky that no one actually reads these agreements since they pretty much consist of a list in legalese of how the company can be hostile to its users.

Category: gplus – Tags: rant

How to be unpleasant to your customers

My local #honda dealer is a case study in how to make life unpleasant for customers. I'm talking about having to get your vehicle periodically serviced, a downside of owning a car. Throughout the years they have changed how you go about scheduling the service and have never made it easy.

The most obvious way of doing this is a form on the web site where you could give your details and pick an available time window. For several years they did have a non-interactive form but cleverly ignored the submissions - you would get no response. When telling them about it the response was that they knew that, but never fixed it. Eventually they replaced it with just sending email. That worked well, although you would get responses in ALL CAPS.

Now they have moved onto their next generation. Ignoring current best practise there is an amazingly unusable Flash app. All the (many) issues with Flash aside, it requires you to pick your vehicle model but leaves out many popular ones including mine! It also looks like it forces you to make yet another username and password and not reuse one of the many you already have (Facebook, Google etc)

There is an email address listed at the side of the service page under "contact us" so I ended up emailing that. The first response took over 3 days, and didn't give me a date and it is now 4 days waiting for the second response. This makes setting up an appointment virtually impossible since your availability windows will have passed.

In a final desperate measure I used the main "contact us" form on the website. That turned out to go to the sales department (despite there being a separate contact for them) who responded with a form letter confirming my interest "in buying a new" (sic) plus daily follow ups about my "research into" (sic). (Yes the sentences end abruptly where some model is presumably supposed to be inserted.) Then some salesman ignored my email address provided, and my customer records, and somehow figured out the unpublished cell phone number of one of my colleagues! (Of course the voicemail he left was bizarre and implied he was one of our customers. When I was able to call back he said he would fix things and would email me when done. That was several days ago and I have heard nothing.)

The lessons for me are obvious. Buy a different car make next time.

The lessons for everyone with a business are simple. Only list ways to contact you that you can actually be contacted by. If your customers persevere and tell you something is broken, fix it or remove it. If you provide email addresses, actually respond in a timely manner. If you have forms then actually try them out. Actually have humans read what customers have submitted - daily automated irrelevant responses will just annoy them further. Simple is fine - the more complicated and convoluted you make something the less likely it is to work, which doesn't benefit anyone except your competitors. If you use Flash you have failed.

I won't detail how unpleasant it can be once you are there for your service, other than it matches the expectations from the above.

Category: gplus – Tags: rant, honda

T-Mobile poor customer service

+T-Mobile have tumbled in customer service and satisfaction ratings and from my own personal experience it is easy to see why. (See post passim for some older material.)

Here is a simple example: go to the website and try to get an individual value plan. Note how it makes you get a SIM card. Tmobile will snail mail the SIM card to you - in my case mailed by them in Texas on a Monday and being received Friday afternoon in California.

Imagine you are tmobile. When would you start charging for service?

1: The day you put the card in the mail 2: The day the customer receives it in the mail 3: When the SIM card is first used on the network

Tmobile's answer is of course (1) even though there is no possible way the customer could have gotten service. Their excuse is that you could have called to use an alternate SIM card, but if that was an option why does the website force you to get a SIM card?

I just finished a call with customer service that took 119 minutes. It took the first 100 minutes or so for the agent to work out what on earth was going on with my bill. It doesn't help that what Tmobile shows customers on their websites is completely different than what it shows agents. She eventually had to hand me over to someone else who could do anything about the errors.

And in the end I did get shafted, but Tmobile has completely drained me. Even the agents were admitting it didn't make sense but kept saying there is nothing they can do.

It is a really strange way to run a business, making customers very aware that everything is rationed (minutes, texts, data) thereby encouraging them to go elsewhere, and then being unable to present meaningful bills, mixed in with hostile policies and unempowered agents for when you do screw up.

Category: gplus – Tags: rant, tmobile

T-Mobile customer service

I have a line on a family cell phone plan and wanted to terminate that in favour of an individual plan (makes development and other stuff easier). This is staying with the same carrier. You can't do it online, so how many phone calls, representatives and being hung up on would you think a business like Tmobile thinks is acceptable? The final count was 5 phone calls, about 90 minutes in total, 7 different representatives, and being hung up on 3 times (they seem to do it when taking you out of hold). Almost half the representatives were barely intelligible and I had to ask them to speak slowly and clearly (and no they weren't in foreign lands). How do phone companies manage to run their businesses so badly? I'm glad the calls were recorded for quality and training, but it would be nice to see some evidence of that actually happening.

The irony is I barely use my phone for cellular services. The carriers make it quite clear that minutes are rationed, texts are rationed and data is rationed. So I avoid the phone in favour of other mediums that aren't rationed, and there are a heck of a lot of better alternatives (eg cellular voice quality is miserable). It is like they don't want to have long term customers! #tmobilefail

Category: gplus – Tags: rant, tmobile

Monoprice lost another sale today



Roger Binns - Google+ - I wanted a cable and monoprice seemed a good choice. Yet… I wanted a cable and monoprice seemed a good choice. Yet they ... (more)

Monoprice lost another sale today, and of course they don't even know. To quote the individual "ordered from amazon, didn't feel like registering to yet another service". I did take this whole issue up with their support who don't care and don't see the problem, and tried to find out if there was anyone higher in the chain I could contact, but didn't find any.

Category: gplus – Tags: rant, registration

This is getting annoying


The $300 Million Button (more)

This is getting annoying. Lulu enters the field as yet another site that refuses point blank to let you buy anything unless you create yet another account with yet another username and yet another password which they call "FREE Membership". Even worse you cannot contact support until after you have done that. Email to bounces. You can purchase from without creating an account so no one else has an excuse.

Even worse you cannot find out if they charge California sales tax. I only purchase from online places that do so that I don't have to go through the whole use tax thing and how vindictive California's Franchise Tax Board is to the self employed.

Category: gplus – Tags: rant, registration

A rant about Gimp

With the exception of cropping, any time I try to do anything with this program I cannot figure out how to do it. So like everyone else I google for answers. And I'll find lots of them because I'm not the first person trying to do whatever it is. Then begins the long march as instructions will differ in the various web pages from each other, corresponding items in my menus will be randomly non-existent or grayed out, and there will be lots of alternate ways of doing the same thing. (My guesses on how to do things don't even intersect with what the various pages say.) I rarely actually manage to achieve what I was trying to do.

Experts seem to love Gimp and the pages indicate that all the functionality is actually there. This is a classic case of a user interface design for experts and completely ignoring the perpetual intermediates.

Gimp is free software (as in freedom and cost) and they don't owe me anything, and you can easily argue the onus is on me to learn. But it is so frustrating knowing that they have all the pieces there - a dash of interaction design will go a long way. "Make the normal things easy and the hard things possible" as the saying goes, but Gimp seem to have done it the other way around.

Category: gplus – Tags: rant, gimp

Contact me