An ESC! Magazine Editorial

March 24, 2000

Customer Service Has Gone the Way of the Dodo 
Baby Poop and Sony

by Michael R. Potter

So here I am writing this long overdue editorial on the train. Using my recently acquired laptop, I am now able to spend at least an hour a day working on ESC! related stuff.

Let's go back a moment and recap all that's happened to me since last July when my beautiful baby daughter was born: (Insert thoughtful way-back music here)

Well, to start with, my daughter was born. Madeline Jane Potter. For anyone who has children, you know that once they enter your life, your whole world changes. What once seemed important now seems so much less so. You want to be with your child as much as possible because you know that one day, one day which seems so far away now, your child is going to join extracurricular activities at school and, though you will find yourself spending more time with your child - and her friends - than you ever thought possible, you will find that the time spent is mostly as a chauffer. Shortly after high school, your child will go away to college. Then get married. Then have children of their own. Though they will still need you, they now want to spend the time they have with their own children.

So now Maddie, as Janet and I call her, is 9 months old. I can't believe that nearly a year has passed since she joined us. However, I know that many of you - if you hung in there - have felt this last year pass ever so slowly due to lack of updates. I sat down many times to work on ESC!Webs and my editorials, but, invariably, a cry would be heard or a zoo trip would come along and pretty soon the site began to fall by the wayside. (Before you think I'm complaining, comforting Maddie or being with the family at the zoo is what I'd rather be doing.)

To that end, I began to reevaluate my job and the amount of time I spent away from home. I came to the conclusion that my job was not a perfect fit for this new life I found I was leading. In February of 2000 I gave my notice and pursued a position with a company I had been in talks with for a number of years. I felt that a position with them would be more conducive to my life with Janet and Maddie. As luck would have it, they were eager to bring me into the fold and hire me as the manager of their Internet based technologies. I started this job in late February.

Flash back to the present:

Knowing that the position was coming and that it would entail commuting by train, I decided to order myself a laptop computer which could double in functionality as my main work computer. The idea was that if I was in the middle of a project at work and had to catch the train or if I wanted to spend some time working on ESC!, I could do so without taking away from family time.

After much shopping around, I decided on a Sony Vaio F430. The specs were right and the price was right so, credit card in hand, I placed the order directly through Sony's web site. Since the site reflected that the item was in stock, I didn't have any qualms about ordering. After all, I order on line all the time and rarely, if ever, experience any problems. Well, you know what's coming don't you? Well, after SIX weeks of waiting for the parts to come in, Sony finally decided that it was ready to ship the computer to me. Only thing is, they left me a message telling me that they decided instead to CANCEL the order. Needless to say I was a little upset and immediately called them back. By immediately, I mean 5 minutes later. In those five minutes, not only did they cancel the order, but already allocated and shipped the unit to another waiting customer. When I inquired about reordering, I was told that it would be another six weeks!

Here's the sticky-wicket to the whole story. I had already purchased and had in my possession key add-on accessories. Accessories that would be difficult to return without incurring substantial restocking fees. So, forced to do so, I inquired about other models that they would have in stock. I was (of course) directed towards the next model up (the F450) and informed that it would be $300 more than the one which just got cancelled. Gritting my teeth, I plunked down the credit card one more time and placed the order. Before doing so, I asked one more time if they were sure it was in stock. Answering affirmatively, I authorized the purchase.

Wouldn't you know it, but the next week when I called to check on the status, I was told that, once again, the item was backordered. Fuming, I requested to speak with a customer service representative who politely informed me that there was absolutely nothing he could do for me. At least he was polite. Unfortunately for him I wasn't. After the tirade finally ended, it was amazing how quickly he was able to do something for me. He looked up where I was in the backorder list and informed me that I was now in the number two position which meant that my machine would ship on the following Monday. To this gentleman's credit, he did follow up with me as promised and make sure I knew the status of my order up until it was delivered. I honestly feel, however, that this wouldn't have happened if I had never had that vigorous conversation with him. I personally don't feel that the customer service given was of the highest quality and would have a serious problem with recommending that anyone purchase anything from Sony's online catalog.

I know you're asking what happened to make Sony cancel the order in the first place. It seems that when I placed the order, rather than give our home number, which is unlisted, I gave our home office number. Sony's policy when verifying an order is to immediately cancel it should ANY part of it not match the bank's records. This is a noble, if somewhat faulted, security policy. Should anyone place a fraudulent credit card order, it would seem to me that it wouldn't be very smart to have that order shipped to the address of the person who's card number they stole. Or does it? No, I don't think so. So, keeping that in consideration, it is my (in Sony's view faulted) opinion that Sony should take 5 minutes to call the customer and simply verify the phone number before blindly canceling an order the customer has been waiting six weeks for. Perhaps they could even give that customer a 12 hour window during which they can call Sony back to give the information Sony is looking for.

Is this sour grapes? Perhaps. Perhaps I'm just mad that the world no longer gives a damn about the customer and only cares about that bottom line. Perhaps I expect too much from an organization where 40% of it's revenue comes from the pockets of 13 to 20 year olds buying the latest and greatest video game console. The company certainly doesn't expect much from these kids so, perhaps, it feels that it shouldn't expect anything from the other 60% of it's client base. Perhaps I'm mad that, despite all of this, they still make a good product. Good enough for me to wait the six weeks in the first place.

So, after complaining to yet another audience, I sit here on the train writing this editorial on the Sony laptop which has given me so much frustration over the last nine weeks. And you know what? I like the damn thing. It's just frustrating that for as long as I own it, it will be tainted by the experience I had getting during the purchase process. When a company refers to the experience a user has when the product first arrives in their possession, they refer to it as OOBE or, Out Of the Box Experience. There are millions of dollars spent researching this experience and the reactions a customer will have to a product in the hopes that this customer will return and purchase more in the future. I feel, however, that in this new Internet based economy, companies better start examining their APBBDE or After Purchase But Before Delivery Experience before there's nobody left to experience it.

That's my two cents. What's yours?

Thanks for listening!

Michael R. Potter
ESC! Magazine