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Chase Bank Loses Customer’s … No, Not Money, Just Email

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words – so here’s my 2k-word essay, straight from Chase Online:

OK, that should be easy, let’s click to get that email:

Oops – dear Chase, where’s my message?

Of course on the week when the IMF and the US Senate gets hacked, GoDaddy goes down (did they forget to renew their domain?), I should not complain.  After all, it’s not my money they’ve lost. (?)

 

 

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eBay is a Dangerous Place for Sellers

SonyPRS505.jpg

Sony PRS 505Bias warning: I am the “suffering party” in this story, so am obviously biased.  But I let the facts speak for themselves, and you draw your own conclusions…

The day the new Kindle was announced I sold my trusted old Sony e-Reader on eBay.  To my surprise it got bought within an hour of listing it, with the Buy Now option. I figured this was urgent for the buyer, so I did what good sellers do: rushed to ship it the same day.  What a mistake… I should have lazily sat on it…Sad smile

Apparently it wasn’t that urgent for the buyer.   After repeated delivery attempts by UPS, he asked them to hold for pickup, then for a later delivery date.  11 days later, as shown by UPS tracking they shipped it back to me.   Buyer emailed me, asking to ship it back to him.  I did better: attempted to intercept the shipment, turn it back to him while it was still in NJ, close to him. I also asked buyer to pay for the extra UPS charge, which he refused.  He holds UPS responsible, claiming them negligent. ( An interesting term to use, if I may add… doesn’t negligence start by not asking the seller to delay shipment when you just bought a $159 item and don’t plan to be at home for weeks?). Then buyer did not respond for 3 days, by which time it was too late to turn the shipment around, it was well on its way back to California.  I called UPS, of course they claimed to have played by the book, and any additional shipment would have to be paid for again.

The package back here felt like a hot potato: it was no longer mine, I wanted to send it back to the buyer, but at his cost, which was the original term of the sale.   I’ve never been in a situation like this, me wanting to close the loop, the buyer apparently not caring too much – he would take days to respond to my emails.  We reached a stalemate:

  • He maintained it was all UPS’s fault and would not pay any more for shipping
  • I maintained I had not been part of communication between UPS and him, if he thinks UPS was wrong, he should not try to hold me accountable

sutton assholeIn hindsight, it was a stupid situation, I should have paid, not because he was right, but just to get him out of my life – this hassle was already costing me more than $20.  (Those who read Bob Sutton’s No Asshole Rule know what I mean.)

I wanted to break out of the loop of redundant emails.  I wanted to bring the case to eBay’s Resolution Center – but was surprised to find that it was only available to Buyers, not Sellers.   Then I sought contact to eBay – no way, Jose!  It’s close to impossible to find either a phone number or chat link to eBay support. eBay Twitter team got back to me though, and in the meantime I found an outside link, which I share now, since it can come handy to anyone.   eBay Customer Support reaffirmed that I was right:

me: do you have access to UPS tracking info or should i paste here?
eBay: You can paste it here. Has he file any case yet?
me: no, he has not filed. frankly, i am sick of being threatened and i wanted to open a case but discovered sellers can not.
eBay: That is correct in this case seller’s cannot file a case but in this situation you as a seller already did your part we just need the tracking.
me: so should i just wait till ha pays the new shipment? i mean it is his item now but sits here in a box
eBay:  Yes…Ok I have noted the tracking number & if he files a case just respond with the tracking number so our Resolutions team can see it. Like I said you did your part as a seller.

(Obviously this is a shortened version of the full transcript which I have on file)

Finally the buyer opened a Resolution Center case. What followed was a repeat of the previous week’s email exchange: we said all the relevant facts in the first email exchange, but he kept on topping it with new emails,  repeating the same few (irrelevant lines).  Buyer actually had one final proposal: I should ship by US Mail, instead of UPS and he would pay on receipt.  But given all that happened and how he misrepresented the case, the last thing I wanted to do was set myself up for another loss, by picking a less trackable carrier and opening up the chance for another “not received” claim, so I refused.  After several more email rounds reality  hit me:  his strategy was to bury the facts in all the rubbish email so deep that the eBay reviewer won’t dig down multiple layers.  So I sopped responding, finally asking him to stop the email-bombs and just escalate to eBay finally.  It was obvious that we were not adding any value, and any further rounds would only further cloud the facts.  Finally I found an obscure link that allowed me, the seller to escalate the case, and that’s what I did.   End the email flood, let eBay decide.

rubber stampThe result shocked me.  eBay fully refunded the buyer, closed the case, without any explanation whatsoever.   Now, of course I am shocked, since I am involved… but as a reminder, eBay has previously acknowledged that:

  • - I did everything I was supposed to, as Seller
  • -  Buyer did not, and had no case

Talk about case, the very title of the case is fraudulant: “Item not received”  – or I guess technically it is correct, since it does not say “not sent” .. just “not received”, whether it was in buyer’s intention or notSad smile

I am deeply disappointed.  Perhaps naively, but I expected a reasonably unbiased review of the case.  eBay is a market, and as such it needs both buyers and sellers.  But now I am led to believe their Resolution Center process is nothing more than a rubberstamp for buyers.

Now I am at a financial loss in a number of ways:

  • lost the original purchase price
  • market conditions changed (new readers appeared on the market, mine is less sellable
  • I had to pay for the original and return shipment

To top it all, buyer is now out defaming me with a bogus eBay feedback:

tried to cheat me out of my money ebay stoppeTo d him the worst seller. bad ebayer

Ouch.

Conclusions:

  • Buyers: A deal is not a deal. If you have buyers’ remorse, just don’t accept delivery, then file an “Item not received” claim, eBay will side with you
  • Sellers: You’re at risk.  Check out Craigslist.
  • Myself: Wise up.  Read Bob Sutton’s book again.

Update: Buyer’s account is no longer active with eBay.  Why am I not surprised?  But I am stuck with the defaming feedback, and simply don’t have the time to start with eBay beaurocracy again:-(

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About that Second “S” in SaaS – Awesome Service

pressharbor ”There is an app for that” – say the Apple commercials.  “There is a plugin for that” – was my conclusion, while lookin for the rigth tools to move the Enterprise Irregulars blog to WordPress a few months ago.  Seriously.  The WordPress ecosystem is simply amazing, things that a few years ago required messing with code are now a click away: – modern themes are no longer just pretty layouts, but perform quite a bit of processing, and whatever they don’t have – well, there is a plugin for that.:-)

Such is the power of Open Source and a thriving ecosystem. But all this openness and richness of choice comes with a price: it takes a lot of digging, testing, and even more luck to find the right ones that actually deliver what they claim without messing up your theme and other plugins.  And even if you find the right ones, they all come out with new releases from time to time, and every single update, be it WordPress itself, the theme, the plugins is a hidden trap. Things can stop mysteriously overnight – as they did over @ Enterprise Irregulars a week ago, when I was alerted that our feed was all blank. The EI blog is based on the powerful but rather complex Hybrid News Theme with 21 active plugins which work in concert to aggregate the writing of 40+ authors.  And sometimes one little wheel gets stuck – what happens next is what separates good hosts from poor ones.  Or should I say, separates simple hosts from service providers. Service, as the second S in SaaS. :-)

Normally the choice is simple: you either use WordPress.com – free, powerful, great platform, with preset choices for themes, widgets..etc – or opt for self-hosting in the Open World – with all the power to install whatever you want, but also out in the wild alone in a complex world.  (Geez, where did I hear that last… ahh, the great  iPhone vs. Android debate, perhaps? :-) )   Now, back to hosts: I’ve been blessed with a smaller, but amazingly good host providing extraordinary, personalized service for five years now. Owner and jack-of-all-trades John Keegan helped my with the old (dying) Blogware platform, then through the migration of my personal blog to WordPress, and ever since – so moving EI to Pressharbor was a no-brainer.

So last Sunday (yes, a SUNDAY) I turned to John again… he dug into the problem, and soon found that a rogue plugin attached custom enclosure fields to some posts, with garbled content that Feedburner choked on, wiping out our RSS feed. John then got on Skype and held my hand step by step removing the erroneous fields, until the feed got cleared up.  Sounds easy enough… in hindsight.   It would have taken me hours / days of research and frustration to restore the lost functionality.   It’s not the first time and likely not the last I received support way beyond what can be expected of a regular web hosting company.  Help with security, performance, database tuning should be standard (is it?)  but detailed plugin-level help?  No way.  How about WordPress upgrades?  I don’t even  know what they are.  In fact I got upgraded to WP 3.0 while writing this post. Not amongst the first .. only after thorough testing did  Pressharbor upgrade all of us, centrally.  I’m lucky enough to have the best of both world – the power of Open Source and great, personalized support.  A big, capital S – the second S in Software as a Service.

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The Citi Never Sleeps. (Really?)

citi.png

citi

Dear …,

As the Citibank Branch Manager in Los Altos, I want to thank you for being a customer, and to let you know we are more committed than ever to improve our service for you…

 

Dear…,

Thanks for the "personal" attention.  I’ve also received voicemail messages from your branch. 
Too bad Citi has been unable to discover that I moved to Pleasanton a good 5 years ago – my Citi profile is updated, I personally dropped by the closest brunch in Dublin – what does it take for Citi to change my "home branch"?

Best regards,

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Dell Sales Support Chat

<SOAP-ENV:Envelope>
<SOAP-ENV:Header/>

<SOAP-ENV:Body>

<SOAP-ENV:Fault>
<faultcode>SOAP-ENV:Server</faultcode>

<faultstring>
Unable to Connect to Talisma Server at 143.166.82.76
</faultstring>

<detail>

<e:faultdetails>

<message>
Fail to receive through socket – [10054: WSAECONNRESET]
</message>
<errorcode>99999</errorcode>
</e:faultdetails>
</detail>
</SOAP-ENV:Fault>
</SOAP-ENV:Body>
</SOAP-ENV:Envelope>

No kidding.. and this is SALES (?), not even tech support.

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Now We Know Why The City Never Sleeps

citilog

Now we know why The Citi Never Sleeps: they are busy censoring their customers. If you are a Citibank customer and they dislike your blog, you may just get in trouble.  (Disclosure: I do have a Citi account… so am taking a risk by writing this post.)

That’s just what happened to fabulis, a social network for gay men. Someone at Citi read their blog, decided that “content was not in compliance with Citibank’s standard policies” and froze their business account without advance warning.   Fabulis Founder Jason Goldberg says:

for the life of us we can’t find anything “objectionable” on our blog besides some good humor, some business insights, and some touching coming out stories from some great and fabulis gay people.

fabulis-underwear Some speculate it’s images like that of this underwear with fabulis printed on it.  If you ask me, these are not the most fabulis [sic] briefs, but who cares?

In fact it really doesn’t matter whether the fabulis blog has any “objectionable” material or not.  Since when is it the business of a bank to read and censor their Client’s writing?

I’m pinching myself, thinking it’s a bad dream.  But it’s not.  This happened in the United Sates in 2010.

Something tells me within hours as management wakes up, Citi will be bending over backwards to dig themselves out of this huge PR nighmare – the damage is done, repairs will be costly.

In the meantime, enjoy Fabulis (almost) by Amanda Lear.

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Comcast Data Usage Meter: What’s to Celebrate About Being a Year Late?

I admit I’m baffled.  If a major service provider imposes consumption caps without providing a way to measure consumption, then promises a metering tool and fails to deliver for a year, than what exactly is the reason to celebrate when finally they start limited testing a year late?

But that’s exactly what’s happening: Comcast keeps promise, launches data usage meter says ZDNet and some others -  GigaOM calls it a step in the right direction.

Yeah… a right step. Long overdue.  I said over a year ago it was ridiculous to introduce the cap without a way of measuring it, and that the few tools available were largely inaccurate.

It’s not that Comcast had no way of measuring consumption – otherwise how would they shut down the “guilty” accounts?  No, it took them over a year to develop a tool to present the data – and even now it’s at limited pilot stage in Portland.

Not that such delays are unusual for Comcast. Does anyone recall the first promise of Tivo-driven Comcast DVR’s?  Was it two or three years ago?  I’m still waiting.

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Amazon, the World’s Default Shopping Destination (or is it Zamazon now?)

Capture Recently I wrote about PaaS by Amazon – an no, as much as we like thinking of Amazon as the the key Cloud Computing infrastructure provider, it wasn’t about Platform as a Service.  It was about Pasta as a Service.  Yes, I am buying Al Dente Carba-Nada as a subscription.

After all, before it become the uber-cloud-provider, Amazon started in retail – actually, as the company that revolutionized retail forever.

Do you know how many product search / comparison engines there are today?   I don’t.   A few years ago if I wanted to find something online, I probably used those comparison engines – then a funny thing happened.  I noticed that I would end up @ Amazon – direct or via a Marketplace vendor – anyway. Might as well stop wasting time…  nowadays I will still research major electronics, but for less than $100 purchases I will simply jump to Amazon.  They do not always have the best price, but often enough, and the convenience of shopping from a trusted source, safe delivery and excellent service (no-questions-asked refund when my netbook developed a problem)  makes it a no-brainer.

We’re also converting our real-world shopping to Amazon: would you spend a few hours driving around looking for a stupid little spare part, or just order it online, even if shipping makes it a few bucks more expensive?  (i.e. is two hours of your time worth $5?)  I’m clearly not the only one: the UPS truck, formerly rarely seen in residential areas makes its stops in my street every day now.  But back to Amazon, here’s a trick to save on shipping: a lot of products are eligible for Free Super Saver shipping when you spent $25. How many times did you search for a penny-item to buy when your total came to $24.19?   Add the non-immediate purchases to your “shopping list”, then bundle them with a larger purchase next time.

Another option to get free delivery and shave off an additional 15%: Subscribe and Save.  Who would have thought one day we’d be subscribing to groceries?   But it makes sense when it comes to regularly consumed items. I have subscriptions for tea,  sunscreen and several other products that are not easy to find in regular stores, I am using regularly, and the subscription price is favorable @ Amazon.  Subscription does not mean hard commitment: you can adjust the frequency of delivery, skip individual shipments, request immediate shipment and even cancel without any penalty (phone companies better pay attention!).

In short, Amazon has become my default vendor by good price and convenience.  With a few exceptions, and shoes were on of them – until today.  Zappos is (has been?) arguably the world’s best online source to buy shoes.

But it’s not primarily a shoe-seller.  It’s the Ultimate Customer Service company.  Shopping at Zappos means a few things:

  • best price (or close to it)
  • easy sizing
  • crowdsourced feedback
  • painless, no-hassles, free returns (two-way postage included)

In other words not only they have the largest inventory of shoes (the choice is actually overwhelming) they invented the formula for risk free, convenient shopping  – why even get in the car and go to shoe stores?

Well, now it’s all part of Amazon in a transaction just shy of $1 Billion.  Zappos CEO Toni Hsieh assured his employees and customers he would continue to run Zappos as it is.   I believe him – for now, since once again, Zappos is all about service.  They have a better model than Amazon, and would quickly lose customers if Amazon fully integrated them, applying their own (otherwise outstanding, just not Zappos-level) return policies.  And it’s not like there’s nowhere else to run: my personal favorite has been ShoeBuy, which may be a Zappos copy-cat, but it perfected the art: same service principles, and often slightly lower prices.

If Zappos blinks and becomes too Amazon-ized, ShoeBuy will thrive.  Otherwise they better watch out.  And oh..hm… I don’t want to be in the shoes (pun intended) of many current shoe-sellers on Amazon.

Related posts:

(Cross-posted @ CloudAve)

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The New Lenovo: Nice Hardware, Dumb Support

Lenovo, home of the (formerly IBM) Thinkpad’s is not exactly known as a price leader: those Thinkpads have a great reputation and a matching price-tag.  But times are changing, and Lenovo is becoming budget-friendly: the recently announced Ideapad U series, the G550, and the all-in-one Ideacentre are all “cool” computers with an attractive price.  For all my love of Netbooks I admit I got tempted to get my hands on a new Ideapad U350 – basically somewhere in between a superslim notebook and a netbook, for $599 – not a bad price.

And of course getting the free Windows 7 upgrade put me at ease that I won’t be stuck in Vista prison for long…  but wait!  How will I install the upgrade?  Lenovo says:

Each upgrade kit will be mailed separately and contain:

  • Windows 7 Certificate of Authenticity
  • Windows 7 OS Upgrade DVD
  • Lenovo Drivers / Apps DVD1
  • Instructions on how to upgrade the operating system

But there’s a small problem: this unit does not have an optical drive at all – which is all fine with me, in fact I’ve removed it from another, heavier laptop: all I need is a lightweight, portable productivity tool, won’t be watching DVD’s.   Still, the prospect of installing DVD-based software without a DVD-drive is not that heart-warming, so I fired up this email inquiry to Lenovo (after some struggle to find an address):

To: websales@lenovo.com
Date: 07/18/09 10:04
Subject: Windows 7 upgrade for Ideapad U350
I’m considering a U350, but wonder how the upgrade to Win7 will take place since these units don’t have an optical drive. If the upgrade is done via download, does that mean Vista has to remain operational and I can’t get a a ‘clean’ Win7 install?
Thanks a lot,
Zoli

Today I received the following non-response:

Dear Zoli,
Thank you for contacting Lenovo, the makers of ThinkPad and ThinkCentre products.
I understand that you want to know if you can place an order for a U350 and want to know about the Windows 7 upgrade. You also want to know how to upgrade since these computers does not have an optical drive. I request you to please contact our Sales Department to get accurate information about the upgrade and to get help in placing an order,
If you have further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us at 866-42-THINK (84465) option number 2. We will be happy to assist at that time.
Once again, thank you for contacting Lenovo.

What load of crap!  Why should I call Sales Department?  Doesn’t his email address read Websales?  Customer Service 101: respond at the channel you were contacted at.   And it’s not like I am asking for a very difficult, individualized answer: in fact my question is so obvious it should have been answered as part of the Win& FAQ @  Lenovo’s website.

Serious loss of credibility… what kind of support can I expect when I have real problems?

(Cross-posted from CloudAve)

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The $199 Palm Pre that’s Really $299

…And I am not even talking about TCO, calculating life-time cost with subscription.  No, just plain simply purchase price, with a dirty industry trick: rebates.

The long expected Palm Pre will be available from Spring on Jun 6th, at $199 with qualifying data plan, and after a $100 rebate.   And therein lies the rub – it will cost $299 for many.

Fellow Enterprise Irregular Winnie Mirchandani has a long-going series on business processes that badly need “angioplasty“.  Processing rebates is certainly a most convoluted process – unfortunately often by design.  Why?  It’s simple, 40% of rebates never get redeemed, says Business Week:

The industry’s open secret is that fully 40% of all rebates never get redeemed because consumers fail to apply for them or their applications are rejected, estimates Peter S. Kastner, a director of consulting firm Vericours Inc. That translates into more than $2 billion of extra revenue for retailers and their suppliers each year. What rebates do is get consumers to focus on the discounted price of a product, then buy it at full price. "The game is obviously that anything less than 100% redemption is free money," says Paula Rosenblum, director of retail research at consulting firm Aberdeen Group Inc.

What this old article fails to point out is that it’s often not the consumer’s fault who forget to send in rebates.  Sure, we’re sometimes lazy to do the paperwork for a $5 discount, but you would dot it for $100, wouldn’t you?  Yet it’s often the ugliness of the rebate process with built-in traps (did you cut out the UPC code from the right corner on the box, did you circle the right amount..etc), or just the ignorance of the rebate processing company (yes, that is a thriving business  in itself) that robs you of your rebate check.  And don’t for a minute think it’s only from Tiger Direct and other retailers who thrive on the rebate-scam.  Brand-name trusted vendors aren’t any better.  Since we’re discussing the Palm here, here’s my rebate experience from Handspring (the former Pal-spinoff that later reunited with the parent) from a few years ago:

Sent in not only paperwork, but an actual, working older Palm III as trade-in unit (This condition was so ridiculous, later Handspring changed it to providing serial no’s of the trade-ins.)  The $100 rebate never arrived, not even after numerous phone-calls and emails.  They demanded copies of everything, which I sent – but how do you copy the trade-in unit?  My loss:  $100 rebate, $50 trade-in value for the old Palm (that’s what it sold on eBay at the time), postage and about a full day of my time fighting the bureaucracy.

Did that stop my from buying Handspring / Palm products?  Not when they were the only game in time, so I bought two more Treo’s.  But guess what: Palms are not the only choice if you want a smart phone, and obviously I am still not a Palm-fan…

Back to the angioplasty, one way to streamline rebate processing is to make it an all-online process, removing the intentional hurdles.  I can’t see why in the 21st century this is such a big deal. Costco sets a positive example, with simple online rebate entry, prompt payment, and online audit available for years.

But the real angioplasty would be to kill the the whole process.  Forget rebates, it’s time for true transparency: call it what it is, $299 or $199, if you want to promote your product, provide a temporary discount, but forget rebates, which are just a Big Fat Lie.

(Cross-posted from CloudAve. To stay abreast of news, analysis and just plain opinion on Cloud Computing, SaaS, Business grab the CloudAve Feed here.)