Posts tagged “customer service”


After my recent challenges booking with Marriott, I encountered a similar level of weirdness with Starwood. I was trying to book a room (for a conference, using their conference-rate link) and couldn’t seem to log into my account. I haven’t used it for a while and naturally don’t have a clue as to my username and password (more specifically – I can’t remember what format they require my username and password to be in; if I knew that I could probably reconstruct them both). I went through the various helpful links (Forgot your password? Forgot your username?) to try and resolve it. When asked for my membership number I pulled out my Starwood Preferred Guest card and entered the number, only to be told that something to the effect that I needed to enter a number in the proper format. I’m looking at the screeen, I’m looking at my card – the numbers are exact. But no, not valid. Okay, I try something else – I give ’em my email address and they email me a new password and remind me of my username. I go back and try to log in using the newly issued/reset password. Nope, it doesn’t know who I am.

What the hell?

I finally contact them for help, after screwing around for way too long with this.

The website was not accepting your above Starwood Preferred Guest account number because your account had reached an expired status as of March 31, 2004, resulting in any remaining Starpoints being forfeited.

Starpoints do not expire for active accounts. Accounts are considered active as long as you have earned Starpoints as a result of activities at participating Starwood Properties or as a result of use of the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express during the previous twelve months.

I am pleased to tell you that your account has been reactivated to enable you to view your above Starwood Preferred Guest number online.

Whoah. First of all, their technology is absolutely complete broken. If the account is suspended, then the error message should say something like that, not simply reject the account number as not being valid. Or the failure-to-logon info should provide some information that suggests they know who I am but won’t let me on for some reason. And they shouldn’t reset my password and then refuse to let me log on with it.

But really, WTF? Why would they de-activate my online login for inactivity?

And beyond that, it gets really punitive! I have forfeited my Starpoints? The language is just so wrong, so haughty. This is not service, and this is not going to encourage loyalty. Did I have any Starpoints? I have no clue, I don’t care. I’ve held onto their damn card for years, but that isn’t enough of a committment to Starwood, I’m not active, so I’ve been forfeited and also deactivated.

The net effect here is not to motivate me to toe the line and be a good Starwood customer, but rather to vote with my feet. They’ve got my money this time (and it’s actually the conference money but whatever) but next time, I will look for someone else.

Oh, and even though my profile indicated I don’t want to receive marketing email from them, by making a reservation with them they reset that and bury a line about opting-out in the confirmation email.

This is a bad company.

AT&T Email Support Survey

Here’s an interesting way to ensure the feedback from customers makes you look good: ask the right questions! After a frustrating experience with AT&T (short version: I switched to automatic bill payment, where they just suck the funds out of your account instead of having you actively make a payment…but when you switch over to that service, it takes some time to kick in, so your next bill won’t get paid – they don’t tell you that, in fact the website indicates that your next bill will be paid automatically, and meanwhile, they remove all the one-click “make a payment” functions from your online account, so you are in limbo where you need to write a check or something once they start nagging you for the missing payment that you thought you’d already made) they sent a customer satisfaction survey (“AT&T Email Support Survey”) that only asked me to rate the service I received against my expectations. It was the familiar Likert scale survey, where the rankings were

  1. Much Better than Expected
  2. Better than Expected
  3. Just as Expected
  4. Worse than Expected
  5. Much Worse than Expected

Nicely done! Who expects good support from a phone company? Not me. But “just as expected” sounds more contented than pessimistic. They could deliver consistently crappy service, but as long as they are within their brand perception of crappy service, everything is A-OK.

Marriott needs some UI and customer-centric help

Just went through an annoying hotel booking process.

I was hoping to get a corporate rate, for which I would have to call and ask for it. I finally gave up sitting on hold, figuring that the cost of me on hold (wasted time) was probably close to the discount I might eventually receive.

Went online, and see the the Marriott hotel we’ve been recommended have two different room styles for almost the same price (one has the word “spa” in the name) but there is nowhere easily found on the site with information about what these rooms actually contain, or hey, what they look like.

I pull the trigger on the fancier rooms. I fill out all the online forms to book the reservation. The UI has a little spot to send in comments. It’s nice and wide and is about three lines long. There is text that says “45 characters maximum, including spaces” but I see the box not the warning, and I put in a whole message about our arrival. Nope, they send me back several times until I get it down to 45 characters, which is less than 1/3 of the available space.

My confirmation arrives and buried in all the visual jargon is a little notification:
Promotional email unsubscribe
Periodically, Marriott Rewards sends email about your account balance and membership status, member exclusive specials, and other program information that may be of interest to you. If you prefer not to receive these promotional emails, you may unsubscribe here.

I click on that, and it takes two steps (including specifying which of all the possible newsletters they generate do I want to unsub from), and then they tell me Please allow 10 business days for processing.


More Reasons to Hate Amazon

I am pretty fed up with how Amazon conceals information in order to eliminate or reduce customer service complaints. Not to solve problems, but to disempower the customer to actually do anything about it.

I ordered a used book (i.e., Amazon Marketplace). It came with some bent corners. Now, when I ordered it 2 weeks ago, did I pay the least amount for an “Acceptable” condition book? Or did I pay more and get a “New” book? I can’t tell from the book itself, so I go to the web. I look at my account info, I look at the confirmation email they sent me, I look at the detailed order page.

Nowhere is the promised condition indicated. I looked and tried and clicked. One of the links in the confirmation email even went to a dead page.

I guess it could be somewhere incredibly buried and I’m too much of a stupid user to find it, but I suspect rather that they don’t want to deal with this class of problem, so once you make the purchase, they delist the item and that info is gone-gone-gone.

I’ve written them to ask, but I don’t expect much from Amazon’s help, given past experiences.

Not a good day for e-commerce here at any rate – an eBay seller sent me the wrong item, so now I get to go through that whole hassle in resolving that. Sigh!

Update: Amazon wrote me back and in fact this info is available. Instead of looking at the recent orders in your account, you have to do the following from the main account page
Click “Your Auctions & zShops account” in the right-hand margin.
Click on “Amazon Payments: View all recent purchases.”
Ater logging in, enter the appropriate search dates to find the order you want.

Wired News: Netflix Critics Slam ‘Throttling’

This is creepy

Netflix typically sends about 13 movies per month to Villanueva’s home in Warren, Michigan — down from the 18 to 22 DVDs he once received before the company’s automated system identified him as a heavy renter and began delaying his shipments to protect its profits.

The same Netflix formula also shoves Villanueva to the back of the line for the most-wanted DVDs, so the service can send those popular flicks to new subscribers and infrequent renters.

The little-known practice, called ‘throttling’ by critics, means Netflix customers who pay the same price for the same service are often treated differently, depending on their rental patterns.

Home Depot are privacy scumbags?

I was trying to snag an interesting bargain at HomeDepot that I found on so I registered with their site, figuring if it knew my local area it might better find available stock for me. I declined to receive any of their 8 mailings and figured that was that.

I get a registration confirmation that is kind of scary

Steve, this confirmation email verifies your recent registration at You will not receive additional email from The Home Depot unless you opt-in for our email offerings or purchase at

[various other content in the welcome email snipped]

You may be removed from this list by calling 1-800-430-3376, or mailing your request to Customer Care at:

The Home Depot
2455 Paces Ferry Rd NW
Atlanta, GA 30339

So it’s confusing, for one. Why do I need to be removed from this list if I won’t receive anything else anyway? And why will they presume to add me to this (or some other) list when I make a purchase? Forcing me to write or call someone to opt-out? That’s heinous. Definitely makes me rethink my purchase, if I am therefore forced to make a call to opt-out.

Blogger Help : Known Issues?

Blogger Help has a sidebar entitled “Ask Support”

Can’t find what you’re looking for in Blogger Help?

First check Blogger Status and our known issues page, then write Blogger Support and we’ll see what we can do.

Of course, when one tries to write Blogger Support, ie, submit a report of something not working properly, there are really two choices:

  • Ask for help or instructions
  • Submit a feature request or suggestion

Telling them that something is not working is not an option. They don’t seem to want to know about problems. That’s one way to keep the bug list down, just keep the users at bay!

Thanks, Google!


(see similar recycling icons as well as what they mean here)

My hair gel comes in a plastic container that doesn’t have any such logo; rather it has a circle with the letters PET in it. For some reason, they aren’t using the standard symbols, and so I really don’t know if I can recycle it. Beauty product/consumer product companies are usually pretty responsive, so I sent an email describing the logo on the package, and the logos that I expect to find, and my concern about being able to recycle their product.

Here’s what they sent back

Thank you for visiting Garnier on the Web.

We do not have prepared information to send you in answer to your specific questions.

We want to assure you that we are committed to the protection and respect of the environment. If you are interested in learning about the significant efforts made by our company, we invite you to consult our website at You will find details on our environmental policy under About L’Oreal. The “” website is the corporate site of the L’Oreal group of companies worldwide.

I was honestly expecting some info that I could use. Does anyone know the PET-in-a-circle icon? I don’t want to assume and ruin the batch or whatever happens if you send something non-recyclable through the system (and gee aren’t there a lot of mythologies and confused perceptions around what actually happens to stuff we put in the recycling boxes?).

Ah well.

Blogs can help, part 2

I had previously blogged about how a kind soul at AOL saw my frustrations with ending the torrent of antiSpam messages. Today, another kind soul wrote me. They had seen the complaint, they had investigated on their own and thought that things were worked out, but wanted to check back with me.

I’m so pleased when this happens; I imagine for one of these two folks, if not both, handling this problem when I contacted them through official channels fell within the scope of their job, and I don’t understand why it wasn’t solvable that way, but again I must salute the proactive surfers who are contacting people on their own and troubleshooting outside the system.

Blogs can help?

I have previously blogged about my troubles with AOL sending me THOUSANDS of bounce messages intended for my ISP’s admin folk, and how they would not take me off their list despite my calling and emailing and following all their rules, etc.

I guess that blog got noticed by someone at AOL AntiSpam Operations who wrote me directly and offered to help. He told me that he’s taken me off the distribution list for the bounces (and I believe that’s correct) and apologized for my frustration. It’s terrible when the normal channels break down but it’s great there are proactive individuals out there who obviously care about how their systems are running and how they are impacting people and are willing to reach out and solve a problem.

Thanks to the individual who took time and care to resolve this, and boo to AOL for not having a proper infrastructure to allow their staff to take care of these things in the normal course of their work.

I [hate] AOL

I run a few mailing lists, the most active being Undercover, a Rolling Stones discussion group that goes back to 1992. In this era of spam and spam counter-measures, there are lots of problems in getting email through (I had a client, for example, that couldn’t get email from me at all; fortunately they were able to figure that out and not assume I was just ignoring them!). A discussion group that can generate dozens of messages in a short period of time is easily flagged by automated software as a spambot of some sort.

Say what you want about the discussions on Undercover, they aren’t spam. But they were getting flagged as spam (we didn’t know that; we just started seeing hours and hours of delays, sometimes messages being held for 20 hours before being delivered), as our ISP suggested (it is hard to track down email problems – is it between the sender and the mailing list host, or the mailing host and the sender? Or elsewhere)?

The ISP suggested I whitelist Undercover – go through some administrivia to get AOL to recognize it is a valid sender so that it wouldn’t get auto-flagged as spam. I filled out a bunch of forms, including agreeing to have certain types of bounce messages sent back to me. I didn’t follow all of it; it was speaking a language best understood by someone that operates an ISP and has access to the email software that UNIX etc. systems are using. I’m just a customer with a web-interface, I’m not a sys-admin. So I signed up and was approved.

The email delays (to AOL, at least) stopped.

The bounce messages started coming. TONS and TONS. And what I realized was that I had signed up as the whitelist contact for the entire ISP. Not just and the Undercover email, but anyone who is hosted at my ISP that sends something to AOL – I was the guy they were going to let know about it. In fact what I think is happening that anytime there is spam sent from anyone at my ISP, every single AOL customer who flags it as spam in their account, well that comes back to me.

You can’t believe how much of this I received.

I asked my ISP. No answer – I was starting to realize that I had taken on the whitelist responsibility that THEY should have, for the entire ISP.

Finally after months and several thousand messages, I contacted AOL. I emailed them – they have a lot of info on their support pages for people at other sites trying to email or run approved lists, etc. They always want you to email them at No response. No response. Finally I called and got right through. No problem, they told me, your ISP should be the whitelist contact definitely not you. Email us and say X, y, and Z, and they’ll take you off within 24 to 72 hours.

I’ve emailed them 5 times over a month, and it’s not working. I’m still getting these messages.

What has happened is that my ISP has finally (after numerous requests from me) fixed whatever was enabling one single user to be the source for all this spam. It was obvious – you could see on every single bounce message from AOL what user was causing the problem. It was all from the same customer of the ISP. So plugging that hole did reduce drastically the number of warnings I was getting.

Until today – someone else is spamming AOL customers and every one of them is flagging it as spam and every one of those is coming back to me. In a four hour period I have received 453 of these messages and as I type this, more are coming in.

Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope. Seriously, I don’t know what to do. AOL won’t take me off the list – when I email they ignore me and when I phone they tell me to email. It’s not really bothering anyone at my ISP and they won’t take any action. And this has been going on for months now.

I [hate] AOL. I also [hate] my ISP (meanwhile it’s almost time to renew my hosting account there for

Update: 6 hours later it’s now more than 3000 messages that have been bounced back to me

Update: I’m sure it totally more than 4000 messages. My ISP claims that they have signed on as the whitelist contact for AOL, and I finally discover (with their suggestion) that I can filter unwanted emails directly at the ISP so they don’t come through – yeah, they are still being sent by AOL but they won’t ever be delivered to me.

I [hate] Yahoo, part deux

I should have known better.

I just wrote an extensive bug report to Yahoo, and filled out a detailed form about my account and my system and all that, and after submitting it, find out that Sorry, but we’re experiencing temporary technical trouble. Please wait a few minutes, then try to send your inquiry again.

And my form is gone. The Back button trashes it, they haven’t saved it.

Isn’t this a problem that was solved years ago?

First of all, why is Yahoo so lame that they can’t fix this? Second of all, how can they have problems that prevent them from receiving bug reports? Because this is exactly what happened last time I had a problem.

Forget who is more innovative, Yahoo or Google, let’s think about who is more basically reliable?

Intuit Customer Survey

I’m doing an online chat with a customer support agent at Intuit about a problem wtih getting a refund for buggy software. At the end of the session, I get this

550 Ernie : You will be asked to complete a survey after this chat. One of the questions asks if I have completely resolved your issue today. Can we agree that the solution I’m providing will accomplish this for you?

In fact, all they’ve done is have me tell them AGAIN about my problem (after all the software problems, they agreed to issue a refund, but then don’t, and so I follow up by email and they tell me to call or chat and I have to go through the story again and so they’ve opened up a case with a case number and presumably in 8 weeks I should have my refund. Who knows?).

550 Ernie : I am very sorry to interrupt you. I am awaiting your response, Steve.

Obviously they need to game the system and try some social engineering to get me to agree to fill out the survey properly. I’m sure there’s documented evidence that if I agree to say something there’s a higher likelihood I’ll grade them higher. From some customer research into this sort of metric, I realized that the score is more important than the actual problem solving. As long as numbers can demonstrate adequate performance, people keep their jobs. I don’t mean Ernie, I mean someone who manages 1000 Ernies.

I [hate] Yahoo

Yahoo is the latest incompetent organization for support.

I’m having very frustrating problems with my Yahoo email account – not the free stuff some people have; SBCGlobal/Yahoo is my ISP, I pay for ’em.

I really only use that account for Undercover, the Rolling Stones mailing list I run. The problems became much clearer when list traffic picked up dramatically over the last few days. Email from members – myself included – was taking hours to get to the distribution list. I went through a process to “whitelist” with Yahoo, but they rejected us, since it’s a mailing list, not an ISP (or something? I don’t quite understand what the problem was – they want it all to trace back to a unique IP address – ironically I’m having almost the opposte problem with AOL, but that’s a separate post).

Here’s what they told me

Since your emails are not sent from a dedicated IP address used solely for your mailings, we cannot systematically exempt your email from our SpamGuard technology.

Please be aware that Yahoo! Mail users are able to set their own preferences for the manner in which they receive your mailings. If the recipients of your messages want to ensure they receive your emails in their Inbox, you may want to ask them to set up a filter in Yahoo! Mail specifically for your emails, or have them add your email address(es) to their Yahoo! Address Book.

The problem goes back; I actually had problems with all the admin messages the list software generates being tagged as “bulk” by Yahoo and no matter how many times I tagged them as “not spam” they’d still end up as bulk. I finally gave up on their filtering software and had them just deliver all the bulk email to me. I couldn’t override their insistence that it was all bulk. Nothing like having something like that out of your own control.

But anyway now my own messages are ending up in the bulk folder. When I post to my own list, it ends up as bulk, and all the other subscribers are finding the same thing.

I put my own address in my Yahoo address book. Which makes no sense, but okay. When I send email from my client software (i.e., I use Eudora, but the same idea as using Outlook) it ends up as Bulk. When I sent it from their web interface, it doesn’t. That seems totally weird.

I responded to the whitelist rejection with this info. Today I got this response.

Subject: Re: Customer Support Request Site Change

Dear SBC Internet Customer,
Our Support Request site has recently changed.
Please submit your question or comment via our new online form available at
Thank you for contacting SBC Yahoo!

Why the heck am I getting email from Ameritech, a company I’ve never done business with? I clicked on their link and am given an opportunity to contact support. And then it asks for my password. I get really nervous – isn’t this a standard phishing technique? I spend a few minutes convincing myself the site is legit, and go through the process of entering all my contact info and then typing up the problem in detail, and I hit submit.

“We’re sorry; there’s been a techincal problem. Please wait a few minutes and try again.”


And when I hit “back” on the browser, all the data I’ve typed in is gone.

This is so incredibly frustrating. Really hair-tearing out stuff. Argh. Yahoo, you sux!

Update: Maybe they did process my response (after that billing@ameritech message telling me they didn’t) because I just received this


Thank you for contacting Yahoo! Customer Care.

We appreciate the information you have provided and are looking into the
delivery issue you reported. Please be assured that we’re continuing to
take steps to make Yahoo! Mail the best email service on the planet.

Thank you again for contacting Yahoo! Customer Care.

Update: Seems that my emails getting flagged as spam may have stopped as of May 16, 3 days after I first posted this? I never heard back about any resolution, but I notice that was the point at which the symptoms ceased. Who knows?

A horrific Comcast tale; resolved

A horrific Comcast tale; resolved

An interesting thread about bad customer service on BrandShift. The parts contributed by me are excerpted with edits below:

I had Comcast billing me for someone else’s cable service (it’s complex – it involves me moving and the old account not being properly closed out), and blowing off my first request for help (a few days later I got a phone message with no callback number from someone that says “we understand you are reporting illegal use of your credit card [I was not] – contact your credit card company.”

I finally called again, and contacted Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo was able to stop payment on the most recent charge – but have a response to anything more than six months old (some of this was – yes, I do NOT fine-tooth-comb my bank statement – at least I didn’t). Comcast did finally acknowledge this was an issue, but has not followed up. When I contacted them by email they said they had information but they wouldn’t give it to me until I call.

It has been many many months and they’ve done nothing except stop the erroneous withdrawals. Isn’t this identity theft or fraud or some other horrible buzzword? I don’t know; Comcast isn’t saying much.

I am honestly so stressed out by this – it’s so incredibly frustrating to have a company taking money out of your bank [without permission – I MOVED and signed up for a new billing service at my new address and told them I was moving and they dealt with my old account – just not the autopay] and then neither them nor the bank takes it seriously enough to resolve.

If you make a complaint and are told that they need time to investigate and resolve, wouldn’t it be great if they actually followed up with you?

Anyway, the stress and frustration have led me to avoid calling.

I haven’t even written about it; it reveals too much of my own powerlessness to feel safe in retelling

After posting my tale of woe (the abbreviated version) on BrandShift, intermediary parties brought my message to the attention of a regional Comcast VP who contacted the the credit department.

I had some idea this might have happened but wasn’t sure at all what the deal was until today I got a call from a lively knowledgable Comcast employee who called to let me know he was working on it and would get back to me later today! He knew the whole story, he understood what had happened and why from their side of things such a mistake was made. He called back about 4 hours later and arranged to credit my account for the missing money.

I asked him about how to resolve this more easily in the future – he gave me his direct number and explained how and why the regular 800 number folks wouldn’t be able to handle such a request.

I certainly can’t hold him responsible for the overall company problems, and it’s great that I have a channel to resolve any of my future problems, but in general, what are their customers supposed to do?

I’m struck by the power of high-profile forums like this one to attract the attention of corporate folks who can intervene to politely, intelligently, sincerely and honestly resolve ordinary customer service problems. But how long will this be an effective way of doing it?

Hey, I’m thrilled to have this resolved; it was one of the most stressful customer service problems I’ve experienced in recent years, but the system is still broken.

This is obviously a bigger thought, but anyway, wanted to share the positive results.


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