Thursday, February 21, 2013

An Unsatisfactory Conclusion

Toward the end of 2011 I wrote this, the second half of which (beginning with "This has been a strange year") is required reading for the rest of this post.

Fred's granddaughter made it a practice to check up on me (via email)  periodically, and always emailed before the major holidays. She predicted that her mother (Fred's daughter) and her uncle (Fred's son) would be contacting me if that was OK, to ask whatever questions they thought I might be able to answer. I encouraged her to encourage them.

I never heard from her mother and didn't hear from her uncle for a long time. He was career Army and at about the time that the granddaughter and I connected he was getting ready for deployment to Iraq.

A few months ago he emailed me. He had returned to the US. He provided his phone number and asked if we might talk. I agreed, of course, and asked him for a convenient date and time.

I have not heard from him since.

After several weeks had passed I emailed the granddaughter and filled her in. I told her I didn't want to push anything, but wanted to be sure her uncle was OK. She replied immediately, saying that she would check on him and get back to me right away.

I have not heard from her since.

It's a mystery, and destined to stay that way barring some communication on their part. I have no need to poke at it.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Need a Microwave Oven? Don't buy Emerson.

OK, my last post was a product endorsement - unsolicited, as is everything I post. That's a joke, son.

In the interests of keeping the universe in balance, today a product gets slammed, a product nearer and dearer to most of you than cloud storage: microwave ovens; more precisely, one maker of microwave ovens.

A few years ago Debbie and I were living in Hoffman Estates, Illinois and planning to move to the east coast. One day Debbie was nuking something and called me into the kitchen. There was a sense of urgency in the call so I hopped to it. The microwave was flashing red. Right after I got into the kitchen it glowed red steadily - no more flashing.

I yanked it away from the wall and pulled the plug out of the outlet, and everything was OK, except, of course the microwave.

Now this was an Emerson microwave oven, less than a year old (I think. In any case it was still under warranty). When I was younger, and perhaps even at the moment of the glowing microwave, Emerson had a reputation as a first class maker of products. I had, in fact, had it in mind to acquire an Emerson TV at some point, just for that reason.

I called the 800 number, explained the situation, and was given the name of a local business which Emerson used for the repair of their products under warranty. I no longer recall the name of the business, so let's just call it "Repair."

I took the microwave to Repair, they gave me a receipt with make, model, and complaint, and estimated three days for repair, telling me they would call when it was ready.

After a week I called to see what was going on and was told that for six days they'd had a request in to Emerson for replacement parts. They would call Emerson and call me right back. A few minutes later they did so, saying that Emerson had promised to ship the parts immediately and I should just pop in three days later, because it would be fixed.

Pop in I did, but the trip was wasted. Emerson had not had the parts on hand and had sent parts for a different model. The gentleman behind the counter at Repair said he had called Emerson to tell them they'd sent the wrong parts and was told, "We know, but we had to send something. The customer was complaining."



I was sure I had missed a phrase or two somewhere, and asked him to repeat what he said. He laughed, shook his head, and repeated the information.

How, exactly, does sending the wrong parts make the customer happier, as opposed to incredulous?

He explained that the "real" problem was that Emerson no longer sold that model and so did not *have* the parts, but were trying to find some.


It's funnier today than it was then, I assure you.

The move to the east coast was at hand and Debbie and I wound up in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. I gave Repair our new address and asked about progress, receiving the expected answer of "None," although surrounded by more conciliatory words.

I wrote the President or the Chairman of the Board of Emerson, I no longer remember which, explained the situation, and asked him to boot someone's butt. I included my new address. In fact it was on the envelope, at the top of the letter, and especially repeated in the body of the letter.

In return, I received a letter from a woman (hereinafter "Assistant"). I received this reply somewhat later than I had expected because it had been mailed to Hoffman Estates. Sigh.

The reply confirmed what Repair had said. They no longer sold that model and had no parts for it, alas. However, they offered a replacement, another Emerson microwave oven, one that was perhaps two thirds the size of the one I had bought.

I responded, saying that the smaller oven was inadequate and I would need one the same size or larger, or a refund. In this response I wrote (yes I did, trust me) "Please, please, please, no matter what your records show" yada yada yada Upper Marlboro not Hoffman Estates.

A week or so later, having traveled first to Hoffman Estates and then to Upper Marlboro, a response from Assistant arrived. I wondered whether anyone at Emerson could hit their butt with either hand.

Cutting to the chase, we wound up with a smaller Emerson microwave.

A year or so later Debbie and I split. She went back to New Hampshire and I remained in Falls Church, which we had moved to when we both found employment there. One of the things that went with her was the microwave. Our separation was amicable and we frequently emailed, occasionally talked on the phone, and even visited each other a couple of times.

One day she informed me that Emerson Microwave Junior had pulled the same stunt - flashing red while cooking and then settling down to a solid and permanent red. She was an apt student and had learned two things from our experience, as a result of which

1. She pulled the plug immediately.

2. She junked the microwave. This was wise. It had a downside, however, in that it deprived us of the humor of seeing responses to her letters travel to Hoffman Estates, Upper Marlboro, Falls Church, and, finally, catching up with her in New Hampshire, no doubt in a state of complete exhaustion.

Soooo . . . don't buy an Emerson microwave if you want my advice, which, by the way, you did not take the trouble to solicit.

The quality of the customer service, in my experience, is diametrically opposed to the quality of the customer service cited in the preceding post here.

I, in fact, would dip my arm in boiling oil before buying *any* Emerson product.

An afterthought: I just googled and sure enough, Emerson still sells microwaves. Perhaps they offer choices now. microwave ovens that glow blue or green instead of red when they break down.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Thinking of Cloud Backup?

Without reservation, I recommend Savvis Direct. 

I'm pretty sure this is the first *evah* endorsement of a product on this blog. In any case it is unsolicited. In fact, the company doesn't know about it, although I intend to change that.

My desktop computer is on its last legs. It's about four years old, and suffers various ailments, a sort of electronic arthritis. One symptom is my current inability to write on either the internal or external DVD-RW drives. Now I have little need for that beyond backup, but backup is critical in that I have hundreds of items for sale on different internet sites, and for each item I have a Windows folder containing the listing text or HTML and the associated jpegs. Also, there is my music. As you know, I am within a hair of having every song that hit the top 20 from 1955 to 1969, along with several hundred others. At the moment, this comes to 2,784 mp3's which use just over 6GB.

Most of the listings and songs - the overwhelming majority - are backed up on DVD, but of course "most" is insufficient.I decided it was time to deal with the situation, googled for cloud backup information, and ultimately settled on Savvis Direct as the first company to explore.

For the casual user (yours truly, and many of you), the two options that seemed most appropriate were:

1. $4.99 a month for unlimited storage and automated backup. Most attractive was the idea that if you change anything on your PC that has been backed up by Savvis Direct, then the backup is automatically replaced with your newer version.

2. 10GB of free storage, the *only* charge being fifteen cents for each GB you download.

I entered a live chat with a Savvis Direct employee and we narrowed the options down to the above two. He was knowledgeable, polite, and friendly. I'd *guess* we spent about twenty minutes chatting and I settled on the $4.99 package, mainly for the automatic backup of changed files.


That was the end of the fun, for a brief period at least. Did you ever try to install the uninstallable?

But you can get help from Savvis Direct by calling, live chatting, or scheduling a chat - half hour choices for the next several days. I picked a half hour segment for 9:00 the next morning, at which time my telephone rang and I had my first conversation with one of the support people.

I was a nightmare for them in a minor way, and *seven* of them (I think) talked with me over the next several days - six men, one woman, all thoroughly professional, all friendly, all helpful, none willing to give up.

The problem was with a program that produced a pop-up saying it was installing a specific program. It would run for a few minutes and then the pop-up would disappear, the installer would stop running, and there was no trace of the allegedly forthcoming program.

Cutting to the chase, it got kicked upstairs, techie-wise, and it turned out that my clunky old PC had insufficient resources. The installation required 4GB of RAM and I had 1.5GB. We were never going to make it work on this computer.

(My only criticism: why isn't this information presented to customers when they are looking at options, and why were some of the Savvis Direct techies unaware of it? To be fair, there may be an assumption that "everyone" has at least 4 GB, and that may be close to true at this late date.)

Switching over to the fifteen cent per GB option, we encountered two different problems. The 2,784 files clogged up a queue, and in the aftermath a problem eventually turned out to be caused by a camouflaged typo. In a long key of mixed alpha and numeric characters, an upper case I was mistaken for a lower case L or vice versa. This can happen very easily with some fonts.

Eventually it was discovered and everything was coming up roses, which is the case even today. It's taken a while to get to this point in this monologue, but what I really want to say is this:

I've never encountered customer support so close to perfect. Every single one of the people I spoke to on the phone or chatted with live was a pleasure to deal with. When one went off duty and turned me over to someone else, the replacement was 100% on top of the history - what had transpired and what problems had been encountered. There was no "Have you tried this?" or "What's happened so far?" to deal with.

Things got done on my PC in one of two ways: either I did them in response to direction from the Savvis Direct people or *they* did them while sharing my computer - using a mouse at their end to manipulate things here. And every single time they explained what I was going to do or what they were going to do. There was no click-click-damn-that-didn't-work, or just-do-this, or whatever. I knew (or perhaps in some cases I should say only that I was told) what was supposed to happen.

The successful installation was accomplished by an employee on his day off, calling from home, and just as professional, helpful, and friendly as everyone at the office.

I imagine that much of what Savvis Direct sells isn't substantially different from what its competitors sell, but I'll tell you this: My experience is that this company will not rest easy while you have a problem, and you can't beat the level of customer support.