Tuesday, 23 October 2007

The Importance of Customer Service

Customer Service has been on my mind a lot lately. Not least because I've really been suffering from atrocious customer service over the last couple of days trying to get three basic things sorted out

  • An upgrade to Community Server installed

  • A Microsoft Certification exam booked

  • A watch strap repaired

In all three cases I've wasted far too much time trying to spend money with organisations that seem to have no concept of what customer service means.

Let's start with the first item on my list. Since I am currently taking a few weeks out to get to grips with some new Microsoft technologies (in parallel with updating my Microsoft .NET certifications) it seemed a good time to get my official company web site at irascian.com up to date, at least in the blogging area which is important because it appears on the main home page of the web site.

I think the fact that you're reading this post on a newly created free blog rather than the company web site tells you how quickly things unravelled when I attempted to update the site.

Community Server, the software on which the site is based, is a complex piece of code, and for some reason the blogging component wouldn't accept anything other than very short entries for new blog posts, giving a meaningless "There has been an unexpected problem. Please contact the site owner" screen whenever I tried to post (I AM the owner, dammit!)

Behind the scenes, via special 'Admin' functionality, all problems are supposed to be written to an error log which I can view using a 'Dashboard' web front-end that the software provides. The problem is the error log doesn't show any problems for the specific times I have tried to post new information and had the code fail on me.

Since the software was updated to a new-look 2007 version (along with three updates they've issued since first launched - uho!) and I'd paid up-front for 12 months of upgrades I figured I'd just upgrade the software to the 2007 version, re-customise it and start from scratch, rather than spend hours trying to find out why the wretched software was suddenly proving to be unreliable, where it had been fine before. Time-consuming but easy, or so I naively thought.

The software is written and sold by Telligent and they have an automated email system to quote for an upgrade. Since it's now 18 months since I purchased the software plus upgrades license I found I had to buy an upgrade license. But their online system doesn't show the 18 month old version I currently have so can't sell me an upgrade. It tells me it can email me the cost of an upgrade. More than a week later I'm still waiting for that email!

With no response from the email system I tried emailing the company direct. You can guess what happened! No response. End result: a very dissatisfied customer who has decided to spend no more money with the company, despite the time-consuming pain it will put him through designing a new company web site from scratch. Way to go Telligent!

My chasing up of Microsoft certification has opened up a whole new can of worms, which is the nightmare that is the second bullet-point on my list. The Microsoft certification exams are expensive at over £100 a throw when VAT is added into the mix, but there is currently a promotion on called Second Pass, which runs through to the end of January next year, and enables you to retake an exam free of charge if you fail.

I've never failed an exam yet, but this seemed an inducement to take time out and get on and take the exams, offering free insurance if I pre-registered for this 'Second Pass' offer before booking any exams.

There are various 'self-paced' training kits for these certification exams but I chose Microsoft Press over the other companies because they included a 15% exam discount voucher, included in the form of a scratch card, which is valid until 2011 and significantly reduces the cost of the training kit when compared with rival publishers.

On Friday I tried to book my first exam online and hit two problems.

  1. You can only use one promotion so the reward for purchasing a Microsoft Training Kit is that you can't re-take an exam free of charge. In effect if you choose the re-take option you are paying an increased 15% charge for the exam itself if you were stupid enough to buy the Microsoft Press training kit

  2. When I decided I'd rather save cash than take out the insurance cost of a free re-take I found I couldn't use my voucher because 'it is invalid or has already been used'. This is a voucher number I'd unscratched mere seconds before attempting to book the exam

Prometric who run the Microsoft training centres responded promptly to my queries on this. Microsoft impose the 'only one promotion' rules not them, they write evasively. They are also the people I need to contact about why my voucher number is not usable. Completely ignoring the fact that I'm booking an exam in the UK they advise that I can call a 'toll free number' which of course is only available in the USA. So I have a choice - ignore the 15% discount Microsoft falsely advertised, or run up international phone charges trying to get somebody in Microsoft to explain why a newly purchased book has a voucher that can't be used. Any bets as to whether the costs of calls to clueless individuals on help lines will end up costing more than the 15% discount promised? I've tried approaching those who work in certification via their blogs but needless to say comments are just ignored and I've had no response, even though I've had the satisfaction of posting to warn others that offers are not what they seem!

I won't bore you with the watch details, except to say that three trips into Oxford Street (apparently Seiko can't be telephoned at weekends or over two hour lunch breaks to find out likely costs) eventually culminated in the news that a strap repair for a watch that originally cost £400 will cost close to £150. Needless to say I now walk around without a watch on my arm, and when I do get around to buying a cheap alternative it won't be from H.Samuel jewellers and it won't bear the Seiko name.


Scott Watermasysk said...

Hi Ian,

I am sorry to hear you have had such a hard time trying to upgrade.

I am not sure where the break down happened and I can see you have decided to move on. However, if you have a spare moment, could you please contact me at scottw@telligent.com? I would love to understand a little better where things went wrong so that we can assure this doesn't happen again.


Ian said...

Hi Scott,

You should hopefully now have email. Thanks for taking the trouble to get back to me following my query over on Channel 9.

Dan Puza said...

I got slammed by the same exact Microsoft certification problem. Brand new training kit book from Amazon.com; scratch off the code, it's invalid. WTF?