Category Archives: Thoughts On (e)Commerce

Bad Customer Service

A while ago I ordered a bar code scanner on Amazon for a project I’m working on. I did a bit of researched and picked one that seemed to have a lot of features and a reasonable price. After my research I ordered the Adesso NUSCAN 2100U Document Barcode Scanner and set about waiting.

Adesso NUSCAN 2100U
Amazon in their usual fashion delivered about 3 days early and I eagerly plugged it into my laptop and clicked the trigger while aiming it at a barcode (crazy right). Nothing happened. Note how I didn’t mention reading the instructions. Those instructions consisted of an oversize sheet of paper with French on one side and English on the other, folded into the size of a CD insert. Remember those?

Well, it didn’t work. It booped when I plugged it in and my Mac made some noises. I used the configuration options on the sheet and it made some more noises, but when I opened a text document and scanned a barcode, nothing output. I played for a while, then tried it on Windows and it worked just fine. At least I knew the scanner did work.

I played around a bit more, printed out pages of instructions & configurations from the online manual and still nothing worked. So I did the last thing a “technical guy” wants to do and went to the support system and filed a ticket. I might not have done this had I known I was in for some bad customer service. I say “this scanner” which is vague here, but their help system recorded the scanner, serial number and other details when I started the ticket.

Bad Customer Service Begins

A day or two later, I got a reply. It’s not much of a reply and it’s pretty unclear, so I wrote back asking for clarification. That was February 5, 2014.

Then nothing happened, so I added to the ticket twice more hoping to spur action. The first block is theirs, the rest mine.

Bad Customer Service from

Then I kind of forgot about it until today when I thought to check again. And lo and behold there was a reply and I was happy. Until I read it. The internet carries no sense of tone or emotion, but I felt this reply was full of both.


With this reply, THEY closed the ticket. While this was going on, I opened another ticket since this was was getting no action and referred to this ticket. They deleted the other one. I also emailed their support directly and got no response (except maybe this reply).

To be fair, despite the bad customer service, this reply DID solve my issue, and for that I am grateful. The scanner works perfectly and I can test it on my project tomorrow.

Coincidentally, at Casting Workbook we’re reviewing how we handle customer service replies so this type of thing is top of mind right now.

If I were in charge of customer service at and reviewed this conversation, I would take the agent responsible aside and have a serious conversation with them about how to work WITH customers who are having trouble. For all they knew, this was a test unit for a 20,000 piece order (I wish).

Hopefully someone there will see this, as they don’t seem to have joined the social media age yet. They do have a media & PR email address, maybe I’ll send this blog to them. Threaten them with the 2 or 3 people who might actually read this. Right.

Freelance Camp 2012

Today I went to Freelance Camp 2012 at The Network Hub in New Westminster, primarily to do some networking, learn some new stuff and try something different.

First, thank you! to the organizers. You guys did a fantastic job of making the day awesome! Easy registration, check in, lunch, prizes … Literally everything rocked. The price was great since it included lunch and the proceeds go to charity. Way to go!

I attended two sessions on mobile websites and mobile marketing, learned how to help clients understand the price of your services and their project, the importance of blogging for business and how to generate content, how Macs are awesome (this I knew) and did some chair yoga (ouch). Also had a nice lunch of molettes at Pamola bakery.

This all took place inside the River Market at New Westminster Quay, a place Chris and I visited and hated a few years ago. The Quay has put a TON of work into renovating and updating the entire space, and brought in some amazing restaurants and a few stores.

Perhaps the coolest place of all is Vancouver Circus School! It looks incredible and is super busy all day! There was a small group of women having part of their “stagette” there and others talking about a birthday.

But I digress.

All in all it was a great day of learning and exploration. I also rediscovered the Quay here and hope to come back to check it out along with the rest of New West’s changes.






Competitive Analysis

So, for a little over a year I’ve been working on a new WordPress plugin. A full-fledged management system for an industry that currently has about 3 or 4 major competitors.

This has been a big project, and I’d say I’m 80% of the way to being able to release something preliminary. I get sidetracked a lot and after working all day on code, I just plain don’t feel like coding when I come home. Plus there’s more fun stuff to do.

Part of what I’ve been doing when I don’t feel like coding is the competitive analysis portion. It’s a little late in the game – you should do this up front, and I did – but it keeps my mind occupied.

I have about 500 screen shots fo their systems, 40 Google documents listing features of each component including all the announcements of new features. I read their support forums, industry forums, magazines & newsletters looking for trends, patterns and unmet needs.

Here’s how the competition stacks up as I see them:

  • Competitor A – Nicely done interface, solid set of features, industry experience, attractive site, outdated demos, incomplete help. I’m paying a small amount for access to this site and their active user forum. The staff and users are active on the forum, but the site owner’s idea of customer service attitude is more attitude than service.
  • Competitor B – Ok interface (a little tight & terse), hard to navigate, solid set of features, broad appeal. Open demo site with all features. Help system is under a different company name, loads slowly, and isn’t terribly helpful.
  • Competitor C – Antiquated interface (the 90s called), I couldn’t figure out where to start, or add new stuff, layout is a single column of links, primary website hides more than it sells, help is not helpful. Well, I did figure out kind of how to add stuff.

In short, not only is the project fascinating to me (and extremely challenging), but there’s plenty of room in this market. Comp A claims to have 15,000 clients and Comps B and C would seem to have both plenty of clients and some money in their pockets (although C should spend it on programming, not advertising). My own scans of site lists shows a number of WordPress installs, but not a huge number.

Oh, and Competitor A runs ads every month (for the last 2 years it seems) in an industry print (and online) magazine. The ad is nice looking and appropriate, but the site they advertise (not their main site which is odd) actually has no content on it. It has a header and a menu, like it was meant to be a demo site, and yet there’s nothing  here! It’s a HUGE waste and makes them look bad, I think.

This is an industry where the companies spend hundreds of dollars a month, and carry huge investments in inventory. The competitors services are all fully hosted, and pricing varies. Comp A has packages ranging from $10 – $50 per month (mainly about capacity for storing the number of items) and Comp C is a $99/year. Comp B is a mystery. Their site doesn’t disclose pricing (so far as I’ve found) until after you join. And I don’t need/want to do that just yet. Apparently Comp B offers their site for “free” if you join one of their other services, starting at $12 per month. They all offer “widgets” and things you can include in your site that links back to theirs. If you don’t pay for a premium option, you get a url like – which looks a little sad. I see why they do it for the upgrade.

My plan? In an ideal world, I’ll sell the plugin for $150 – $250 with lifetime upgrades and support. Perhaps selling additional modules, installation & configuration services. I may have to go higher. Also, turn it into a hosted service like the others do, running on WordPress multi-site and partnering with a web designer/firm to offer solid templates, and refer work. And everyone gets a domain. Subdomains like these guys use are as useful & professional as a email address.

This is a grand dream, and it’s going to take a while to get there. But I’ve put this out there for a few reasons.

Mainly, just to vent about how crappy these other guys seem to be. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all doing many, many things right and have pretty good word of mouth and awareness. But there are gaps. I’ll have gaps when I launch too and that’s ok.

Secondly, by putting it out there, my friends and family know about it and can call me to task on it when necessary. Yes, I’m a procrastinator, but that’s for a future post.

The wrong way to provide good customer service – part 2

So, as you’ll recall, last time we left off having sent an email to our flooring company with a list of issues we had with their installation. I also listed 2 simple things that could have prevented this from being a problem.

I also promised to show you the response to my email. Well, here it is:

Hi Jeff how are you? Sorry for the inconvience. Thank you for letting us know.
For the dust there is nothing that we can do about that because we cannot control it.   I can have someone and come out and clean up the glue.  As for the baseboards we can have a painter come out and paint, fill and caulk them  and take carre of the drywall for $350.00. The reason why there is a cost for that is because the estimate does not include painting,filling and caulking. One the painter goes there  I will ask him to take care of the drywal. Let me know when you want me to have someone come out and  clean up the glue.
Thank you, have a great day

First, let me give them credit for replying quickly. They have my money, the job is done, and this is certainly not a big deal to them, but they took the time to send a reply. Regardless of my reaction to receiving it, they did reply.

In my opinion, the person who wrote this email entirely missed my point but more about that in a minute.

What really annoys me about this reply isn’t just that he missed my point, it’s that they tried to sell me something more! If a customer is annoyed with your business, don’t quote them prices on more services, because they WILL NOT BUY. Now, I’m not saying that clarifying that I didn’t order the baseboard package and thus there would be an extra charge is wrong. It’s not and should be done tactfully. I’m saying that NOW is the wrong time to quote me dollar figures.

So, back to the point. Or the missing of the point.

What the author of this email really screws up is that they don’t take responsibility, acknowledge the problems or offer any kind of sign that they truly get what’s wrong here. It’s not the dust. It’s not the damage to the baseboards, hell it’s not even the bag of garbage left behind.

It’s the feeling. I don’t feel that I was heard and I don’t feel that the installer cared about my home while it was entrusted to him. “Thanks for letting us know.” is a useless sentence right up there with “how are you” and “have a great day.” After that, he blows me off and tries to sell me $350 worth of services. I wonder how often that works.

Jeff, how would you have handled this?

Glad you asked, Jeff, because I have an answer for you.

First, this goes WAY back, IMHO. Like I said in the other post, Educate Your Customers and Hire Good Staff. You’d be amazed what those 2 things will do. We wouldn’t be here if those 2 things were done.

I imagine I’m sitting at my desk, my computer goes DING! and I see I have a new email. The subject starts with “Unhappy with job completion…” which, to a customer focused company is code for “We can learn something now.”

I read the email carefully, trying not to get personal or emotional, probably 2 or 3 times to suss out what the real problem is.

  • Is the customer upset about the price? Nope. No mention of money anywhere.
  • Do they want something for free? Nope. Not asking for anything specific.
  • Are they unhappy with their floors? Nope, in fact they are quite happy.
  • Did the installer do something wrong? Yep. That’s mentioned several times.

Ok, so the installer made the customer upset somehow. How did they do it? Well, that’s easy – there’s a list. Read it over, consider what normally happens after a job is complete and decide if the customer is bat-shit crazy or not. It happens.

At this point, I decide these are low-level problems just the kind I’m supposed to take care of, so I do. I send back an email to the customer listing what I can do for them (remove glue & putty, hey that’s easy) and have an estimator or supervisor go and take a look at the baseboard problem. Did the installer really do more damage than was necessary?

Those 2 actions solve ALL of the actual problems listed. That was easy, too easy. Now what? Did I miss something?

Nope, the rest is stuff the home-owner has taken care of by now. I doubt they waited 4 days to clean the sawdust in the bathroom. But it shouldn’t have happened and it’s left our customer with a bad taste in their mouth. So I add some TRUTHFUL things to the email about how it’s not supposed to happen and our installer has a good record etc. and acknowledge that it was our fault. Then hit send.

20 – 30 minutes later, I call the customer on the phone and repeat everything I said in the email. I do not leave it in a voice-mail. If I have to leave voice-mail, it’s a sincere apology that I’ve missed them, and that I want to speak to them about their complaints to address them.

When I speak to the customer, I’m genuine in my concern and attempts to fix things. I nail down a time for the cleanup and/or inspection and make sure the person I dispatch is THE BEST possible person, even if it means sending the boss.

Since I can’t do anything about the mess the customer has already had to clean up, I use petty cash or whatever to purchase a gift card for a restaurant or something I think the customer would like, and send it with the service call. $25 should cover it depending on the situation, but here it’s plenty.


Let’s see how hard this was to prevent.

  • Educate the customer
  • Hire good staff.

Let’s see how hard it was to deal with after.

  • Find the real problems (dirty mess, damage, residue)
  • Fix the ones you can (remove residue, check for excessive damage)
  • Patch the wound (personal call, gift card)

This presumes an atmosphere and culture of customer-centric thinking. This isn’t about scrambling to safe face for the company or kissing ass for the sake of it. It’s about addressing a problem within the organization (prevention) and satisfying a customer when it’s possible.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on this. I’m not a pro, but I’ve been providing customer service in every job since my first paper-route over 30 years ago. I’ve made my share of mistakes in this time but like to think I’ve learned something too.

The wrong way to provide good customer service

This is the post I’ve been talking about and it’s here because of a bad customer service experience that could have been prevented by the vendor in about 10 minutes.

Chris and I decided to get our carpets replaced with laminate after 4 years of living in this condo. So we made a few calls, talked to some people, and settled on a company to both provide the floor and do the work.

The deal was this:

  • The company was to supply underlay to meet our condo spec and the flooring itself
  • They would also:
    •  remove and dispose of the carpet
    • lift and re-install (not replace) the existing baseboards
    • lift and re-install the closet doors & track
    • remove and dispose of the electric fireplace

All of which they did, 100%.

Chris met with their rep for the original estimate, drove to Burnaby with the deposit and arranged everything. Yes, he’s good like that.

This is around the time of the core mistake in their customer service plan (if they have one) – Customer Education.

Having any kind of renovation done comes with some side-effects. For the floors, the big one is dust/dirt. Tearing up the old carpet and cutting the flooring are messy jobs. Ages old dust & contaminants are kicked up, carpet fibers go flying and a ton of saw dust is created. It’s at this early point – say during the estimating process – that you would want to educate your customer about what they should expect, so nobody is surprised later on.

“Say Chris, since you’ve never been through a reno before, let me tell you what happens and a bit about what to expect.”

  • Along with moving everything off the areas to be floored, cover important belongings with drop-cloths to avoid dust (Better yet, provide drop cloths or tarps to the installers)
  • Expect dust, we do our best, but since we have to cut inside the condo, there’s going to be a lot of dust and it gets everywhere.
  • Since we’re not replacing or repairing the baseboards, expect some minor damage to them in the course of removal
  • Here’s the installer’s phone number so you can touch base 2/3 of the way through the job

And two-to-five minutes later we’re done with that. Maybe longer if the customer has questions – which they should!

Second “mistake” – Hire good staff who care about the entire process and the customers.

Let’s assume that the customer is educated about what to expect. That means you have to deliver on those promises, which means having smart, dedicated staff doing the work. It means everyone respecting that the customer has given over not just money, but trust to you and they expect to be treated well.

Specifically for us – returning the home to owner in the condition in which it was left or agreed to.

What we got that was outside the expected:

  • Purple putty on the wall near the entrance
  • Baseboard split in two
  • Baseboards damaged by removal
  • Bathroom used as a workroom – dust, dirt and chunks of wood on the floor & in the mats
  • A huge bag of garbage because the installer could “only take one bag away”
  • Glue spots on the tile
  • Glue and/or putty smears in about 8-10 places on the wood floor
  • Curtains left stained & puddled in dust
  • Floors barely swept of dust

We’re not unreasonable. We expected sawdust in a lot of places and that we’d have to sweep & Swiffer and wash some windows etc. In fact, we haven’t complained about that part at all. We figure some of that comes with the territory.

The list above, we felt, shouldn’t happen in a normal installation where the company cares about their customers.

But it happened. So? How do we deal with this and what do we do next.

First – We took a lot of pictures right away. Just in case.

Second – We sent the company an email and offered them the chance to fix things.

Here’s the email:

Hi guys:

First, let me say that we are very, very happy with the installation of our new laminate floors. I think they’ve changed the way our home looks and feels. Thank you for getting them done, basically the day after we confirmed our order! Very quick service.
Unfortunately, there’s a downside that was unexpected.
Rami (I think that was his name) seemed somewhat unconcerned with the details of the way he finished his job. Below are list of surprises, and you should find several photographs attached as well.
  1. Immediately upon entering the condo, there are several pieces of putty on the wall
  2. Dried glue on the tile near the front door
  3. Putty or glue smears on the floor in several places
  4. Garbage, chunks of floor and general mess in the bathroom, where no work was expected to take place. Our toothbrushes were covered in dust, and the bathtub was full as well
  5. Broken baseboard and hole in the drywall where he could clearly see an unpainted screw had been used, but he still used a crowbar, causing the damage pictured
  6. Baseboards damaged across the tops
  7. Baseboards with nails pointed down, laid across mattresses (no damage, but shows a lack of care)
  8. A bag of garbage was left, the installer said he could only take away 1 bag, the other was ours to deal with
  9. Bedroom curtains were left puddling in dust, leaving the bottom 3-4 inches filthy and discolored
We expected some dust & cleanup when we came home, but the state in which the house was left was much worse than we imagined, and that actual damage done was more than a little shocking.
If any of this is considered “Normal”, perhaps advising the customer what to expect before the commit to the job, would help. Providing drop-cloths or plastic tarps to installers to cover belongings, or mention at the start of the job “You might want to cover anything that’s important” etc.
We returned home to check in at 1:30pm and the installer was nowhere to be found. Our condo was locked up and quiet. At this point, it appeared that all the carpet & underlay had been removed and taken away. The installer indicated at the beginning of the day, that he would be done about 3:30pm. We tried calling him several times, but he never answered his phone. A webcam we had on a counter, but not monitoring the house, provided audio that indicated he was here working (hammering etc) and we could hear his phone loudly ringing.
Generally, although the installer did a decent job installing the floors, it seems he lacks the general care to finish his job thoroughly and professionally. We did ask that he stay and finish rather than returning the next day as we were told it was a one-day job and we couldn’t be here the next day. He ended up leaving at about 6:30, having started at 10:30. Most of the issues above could have been easily resolved with a bit more ongoing care, and 10 minutes of cleanup at the end.
These issues may seem small to you, but your response to these issues will color our conversations and recommendations with friends and co-workers. We hope that you can help us get some of these problems cleared up.
So, quick recap if you’re still with me. Chris and I aren’t happy with the way the final details of the job were handled, and it basically comes down to the installer not caring about his work, and the company not educating the customer.
Quick fixes – Educate the customer, Help your installers care.
So, how DID they respond to our letter? That’s the key here isn’t it – and you can probably guess by the title how it went.
Stay tuned.