Thursday, February 25, 2010

Internet Ordering and Customer Service

Oxymoron: A figure by which a locution (phrase or expression) produces an effect by a seeming self-contradiction.

Yes, the words Internet and Customer Service are indeed oxymorons!

I do all my “essential” ordering on-line. Unfortunately, the country of Honduras is not a place where one can find 1) the extra comforts of life, 2) products that are long-lasting and reliable and 3) everyday items one grows accustomed to when living in a more developed country. Therefore, obtaining things I need to make my life comfortable, productive, easier to deal with and/or more pleasant requires the access to the Internet.

I have mentioned before and continue to reconfirm, I would give up a lot of my conveniences but never my Internet. It is my lifeline to supplies, family, information, news, weather and whatever else strikes me as essential to my well being living in a remote location.

But, with the development of the Internet, business people have discovered a way to avoid public scrutiny with the onset of what they deem “Customer Service.” Once Customer Service at a store meant you dealt with a real, live, moderately educated person who was hired to handle any complaints associated with the product that the store sold. The representative was usually briefed on the products sold by the store and had the ability to listen and process information that was given them to assist the customer in arriving at an amicable solution. With the onset of ordering on-line on the Internet, that particular definition now no longer applies to “Customer Service.”

It has been my experience, and through extensive deduction, that:

1) Customer Service is sometimes manned by machines which pick out key words and respond to that word as a solution for the problem.

2) Personnel are no longer required to know a thing about the product they are trying to help the customer with.

3) A different representative receives your complaint each time it is addressed and does not read anything that has gone before regarding that problem. Therefore, when you call or write in to complain and/or get assistance, you have to repeat all the information you gave in the first interview/correspondence.

4) Many of the Customer Service people have little aptitude on a computer and sometimes are not skilled in the language they presume to be able to communicate in!

So, when I buy a product on the Internet I check around, read information regarding the product as to how it has performed, if people are pleased with it and/or the service offered by the company, the various price levels one can find for a similar product and the ease in ordering and/or returning the product if it is found ineffective, deficient or not what was expected.

Most of the foreigners here read a lot. We exchange books and, thankfully, people coming to the island are a source of new reading material when the same books keep being passed around. Honduras has no bookstores to speak of. I know that sounds ridiculous but it is true nonetheless. On the Cay one sees Christian books and newspapers, but no other books. The same holds true on the Mainland. I have seen one bookstore in San Pedro Sula, but is was a Christian bookstore. Even in the new Malls, one can only find a "Christian bookstore". One can't even buy a magazine! So, when the possibility of buying a product that one could download books on directly from the Internet via WiFi service in less than a minute, I decided to look into it.

If you read my last blog, you will see that my interest took me to “The Nook.”

Catchy name huh? What does it mean? I have no idea and what it has to do with reading is beyond me. But the “powers that be” decided it was a catchy name (guess like the Kindle) and would get people’s interest. Anyway, I’m off point here. As I pointed out in my last Blog, I began my “Customer Service” nightmare on February 15, 2010. I sent an e-mail to "Customer Service" and spelled out in detail all the pertinent and necessary information about my purchase, including the fact that I had researched this product as carefully as I could but that it was not functioning as the B&N representative promised. My e-mails were answered, one after another, by no less than 5 different people, none of whom offered me any concrete advice on what was wrong or any solutions to solve the dilemma. I, therefore, requested information to return the Nook for a full refund. This is normally referred to as RMA information (Return Merchandise A_____ - I have no idea what the A stands for).

In the past when I have had to return a defective product, and it does not happen often, I have received the RMA information via e-mail. When I explain to the representative (though more e-mails) that I cannot call their 800 number, they usually send me the information which I can print out on a label to attach to the package. Not so in this instance.

For some reason, Kareem, Daniel, Amber, Reginald and a couple other warm bodies I have had e-mails from, have decided that they would ignore my request to return said defective product. They side-step this request by constantly telling me to call an 800 number, or, worse yet, by telling me that there is no reason it [the Nook] should not work! Duhh, gee, I never thought of that and better yet, why, if it should work does it not? Then I was told that the nook (they have now decided to downgrade this fine product with a small “n”) is only sold in the United States (gee, I purchased it on-line in the States, does that count?) and that they only do returns on nook inside the states. To further substantiate their bold statement they then tell me in order for them to provide me with an RMA number, they must send it to a US address. No explanation for this added remark!

Of course they always end the conversation with something like “We apologize for the inconvenience” and sometimes add injury to insult by adding “we look forward to your next visit.” Look forward to my next visit huh? They are so happy that they have made my life miserable by not helping me with my dilemma that they look forward to the next time when they can mess with my head and continue to make life totally frustrating.

I took matters into my own hands. Today, 10 days after my initial inquiry for a solution, I checked the Internet, found the address and phone number for the corporate headquarters in New York and called asking to speak to Mary Ellen Keating, V.P. Corporate Communications and Public Affairs. Naturally, I could not talk to a busy woman with that title but I was happy to be connected with her Assistant, Sherri. I told her who I was, where I was calling from and my problem. I asked her please have someone contact me via e-mail and give me the RMA information so that I could return my Nook. She took down the information and said someone would be back in touch with me today. I am going to believe that she is trustworthy and will find someone to help me.

In the meantime, it is a lucky thing that I am retired and can spend this inordinate amount of time trying to obtain a solution to my problem. The sad part is that I really wanted this e-book and was hoping that all would run smoothly so that I could purchase books on-line, get them downloaded immediately and spend my evening curled up with my Nook! Hmmm, maybe that is the problem here! Outside of losing or misplacing my books, books are always there and need no special instructions to use them. Books offer me diversion from the everyday world, a place to escape and/or find out questions to problems or solutions to situations that I’ve been looking for. I have been a dedicated, enthusiastic reader all my life and feel bad for the people of third-world countries that don’t have access to books. Books to me are the most essential items in mans existence, outside of food and shelter. I hope never to see the day when they are completely removed and seen as unnecessary, replaced by computers and electronic devices. Computers and electronic devices break down but books stand the test of time.

Gee, maybe I’ve talked myself out of any future electronic book device!


  1. Sharon, I agree, most of the time it is customer disservice, not customer service. I am sorry you are having such a hard time with nook. When you get it returned, I hope you will consider Kindle. Once I convinced the computers at that I really do live in Honduras I haven't had any more problems.

  2. Hello,
    Though there may be difference between internet and customer service, but in present world, customer service is also given on online through internet. Which has proved to be much effective and result oriented.

  3. BPO:
    Don't exactly know where you are going with this comment, especially the "much effective and result oriented". I have found that customer service via Internet is more of a sham. The only time I get good results are with quality sites, like I have had people ignore my requests and do nothing regarding any "customer service" they are offering. They have the advantage. Who can you report them to or how do you let the public-at-large know these people are not doing a good job?

  4. Customer Service, hmmm... Here's a cute story for you. Many years ago my hubbie got me a "lesser" brand electric food processor, thinking that he would save me the work of making salsa by hand. I decided to give it a try and started by reading the instruction manual (yes, women read the manuals for new equipment!) Well, one of the finer details was that you were NOT to put tomatoes in the unit... Huh!? How can you make salsa without them?
    I wasn't into the Internet in those days, was living in northern Canada and telephoned the 800 number for customer service. It appeared that the call was directed to somewhere in the deep south of the States, given the lovely rich accents of the various women I talked to as I was being passed around and around. I finally reached some sort of major supervisor, again repeating my question "Why can't I put tomatoes in this processor?" and received this answer: "Well, Sugah, I just don't know - we've never, ever had anyone ask us that! Why don't you just go ahead and do it and let us know what happens."
    End result, the machine worked fine, the plastic compartment didn't stain and I finally got my salsa! So much for customer service but at least I got someone sensible enough to admit the truth!
    Stephanie, La Ceiba - back to my knife and cutting board, ever so much less complicated!