Cafe service fail

This is a random little rant – feel free to pass it over if that’s not your thing..

I am one of those weirdos that takes his own mug to the coffee shop, to avoid the wastage of a paper cup.

A life-cycle analysis of a paper cup vs. a porcelain mug shows that, if the mug is used enough times, the carbon footprint is lower – so I use it as often as I can. I probably have used my mug for hundreds of coffees – and I intend to keep using it to maximise the use of the resources involved.

I’m consistently dumbfounded, though, when I turn up to a cafe with my trusty mug and one (or both) of two things happens:

  • The barista takes a paper cup to put the espresso in, rather than a re-usable container. I’m bringing my mug to reduce wastage (why else would I do it?), then you go and waste the cup anyway.
  • They then only half-fill the mug, or fill it and complain that it’s bigger than a normal cup. I’m saving you the $0.02 of the paper cup, you can afford to give me that $0.02 back with an extra 25-50ml of milk.

If either of these two things happen, I usually don’t go back. Even if the coffee’s good. It’s a basic attention to detail/service thing. Yes – I’m sure that I’m being picky, and probably unreasonable (there are, of course, bigger things in the world to get upset about).

But I’m sure there are lots of people like me that notice these things, and many cafes that are losing custom because of them. And many cafes get it – my favourite one charges less because I bring my own mug.

Which is a long way of saying that I won’t be returning to either of the cafes I went to today…


Apple have ripped me off again

Launched a new product and then one month later increased specs and dropped pricing on the related models. It’s a type of bait and switch – people (like me) wait for the announcement, then once we know what the new model(s) are we then make a decision to buy.

A month or two later, they then drop the prices and up the specs on the related models. This is not insignficant – 100’s of dollars off, and significant performance and spec improvements.

If they cared about their customers, they would announce the price and spec changes at the same time as the new models. Of course, they just want to clear their old stock – doesn’t matter. It still sucks to be a fan of Apple.

As a customer, I’ve felt ripped off by Apple’s behaviour on my last three purchases (my Powerbook, my iMac, and now the MacBook). I just wish there was a reasonable alternative… I wonder if this is the sort of thing to report to the ACCC?

DRM silliness

I wanted to purchase an eBook off Amazon today. When I went to pay, the only option was the “One-click ordering” option, which requires a U.S. credit card.

I emailed Amazon asking how I could get access to the book. The response (in part):

I am sorry, due to import/export laws and other restrictions, we are only able to sell eDocs, Amazon Upgrade, Amazon Unbox videos, MP3 Music Downloads, Kindle content, and other downloadable products to customers who use a credit or debit card issued by a U.S. bank with a U.S. billing address. Most product download services also are only available for U.S. customers located in the 48 contiguous states, Alaska, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia.

Amazon can ship a physical product anywhere in the world. Yet the easier task of providing me access to electronic content, which costs less, uses less resources, and is made possible by the internet on which Amazon thrives, is not possible because of “import/export laws and other restrictions”.

Is it just me, or does that seem incredibly backward?

The irony in all this was that I wanted to download a paper on internet censorship in China…

Basecamp woes

We use Basecamp pretty extensively at work, and were quite annoyed to find the other day that the system was down for almost 2 hours for scheduled maintenance, without any form of notice.

I’m sure they thought it was fine and all given it was in the evening in the States, but over here, we were in the middle of a delivery. Very frustrating.

How hard would it be to delay launch 24 hours and send all customers an email? Or to put a notice up on the site for that time so that when we sign in we know it’s going to go down?

I know from reading their book that the 37signals guys play pretty fast and loose, but this is a paid service that becomes mission critical when you use it as heavily as we do.

The good news is that the update revamped the permissions model they had in place that was downright dumb in it’s implementation around todos. So in the end we would have been happy with the update had we received some kind of notice.

It’s simply not good enough to drop the system without notice like they do pretty regularly. (I figure there’s no point posting this to the forum because there’ll be no reasonable response – another thing that 37signals are not very good at…)

Customer intelligence

Leisa says: “If you’re smart enough to look for customer intelligence (who’s stopped buying what), then be smart enough to respect a customer’s intelligence.”

Spot on! I’ve had experiences like this in the past. What’s worse is when some rep asks you why you’re leaving, then you tell them, and you just know they’ve not actually taken any interest in what you’ve said, and probably because there’s absolutely nothing they can do about it anyway… If you ask – be prepared to back it up and respond.

Better still, take the time up-front to ask your customers what they want, then build a better service – just like Freshview have done with the billing component of their new MailBuild service. They proposed some ideas, asked for feedback. Got 500 responses, and recrafted their offering based on that feedback. I can see a lot of happy customers coming…

On a complete side note: I was interviewed by the AFR today about Campaign Monitor, Freshview’s other product. I’m constantly impressed by the service, and Freshview’s customer service and approach to things – so it was an easy interview to do 😉

Podcast updates and Apple’s helpful support (not).

On Tuesday arvo I added the David Suzuki interview to our podcast feed. I checked the iTunes store and it hadn’t appeared. I waited until the next morning and it still hadn’t appeared. So I rang Apple’s tech support. Mistake…

After an hour on the phone they pointed me to the forums for iTunes Store. Those who are familiar with my griping in the past about Apple’s lack of support will remember that those forums are not monitored or contributed to by Apple support personnel. It’s a “fend for yourselves” type of vibe.

Needless to say it wasn’t a particularly helpful or useful response. I suggested to the support person that this was an admission that Apple did not support the iTunes Store – and amazingly they agreed! I’m sure it was a slip up – but it’s a little close to the truth.

Despite pleading with the support rep to provide me with an email address to talk to a real person within Apple that might be able to help, they were unable to assist me.

So I posted to the message board. What else to do?

FTR – I didn’t receive a response on the message board. But this morning – about 36 hours later – the feed has been updated in the iTunes Store. So if you want to be notified of updates to podcasts, don’t rely on the iTunes Store to do it promptly – better to subscribe directly to the source feed.

My concern is that we submit our feeds to the iTunes Store to make it easier for people to find, subscribe and be updated easily in iTunes. And yet when there’s an issue with the feed, Apple’s support is nowhere to be found. In this case it was simply a delay of a day and a half. But what if it was a more serious issue? What then?

Just another in a long list of failures of Apple to support this customer…

Service and support in Australia for M-Audio goods purchased overseas

“We have a very strict policy in regards to product purchased OS.

We won’t provide parts, power supplies, circuit diagrams or labour for any goods purchased outside the local music retail channel.”

That’s what Electric Factory, the Australian distributor of M-Audio equipment, had to say when I asked them about where I could get my new Axiom keyboard repaired. I waited months for it to be delivered by Amazon (their supplier kept delaying delivery apparently), only to discover two of the faders had been damaged in transit.

Now, I wasn’t asking for this to be covered under warranty – I sent an email a good week and a half ago simply asking if they could provide me with details of a repair centre in Sydney. I rang Sound Devices at the same time, and they passed me onto Phase Engineering. I dropped the keyboard off to them, and they said they “contacted M-Audio for the parts” but had no luck, but were able to source a suitable replacement elsewhere.

Now, imagine that you’re a touring international musician – your M-Audio gear falls off the stand and onto the stage. You ring Electric Factory: “We have a very strict policy in regards to product purchased OS…”.

Imagine you bought your M-Audio keyboard when you were living in London, you’ve moved back to Australia and it’s damaged in transit. You ring Electric Factory: “We have a very strict policy in regards to product purchased OS…”.

Or imagaine you bought your Axiom keyboard as in an Ableton Live bundle, it’s delivered to you but is faulty upon delivery. You check the M-Audio website for warranty details – no mention of jurisdiction or country of purchase – so you ring Electric Factory… well, you get the picture.

In this day and age, of relatively free migration, global travel, and the internet, a global brand like M-Audio can prosper. But this also places a lot of pressure on local distributors – their margins are increasing depressed by overseas competition. It’s also hard for M-Audio to provide service in all those countries – they have to rely on local distributers to provide such services.

If the M-Audio warranty stated that it was applicable only in the country of purchase, I’d accept Electric Factory’s right to refuse service for warranty or technical support. But there is no such clause, and that wasn’t my request anyway – all I asked for was the name and number of a suitable repair centre. I think it’s telling that Electric Factory’s first response to my request was “Where did you purchase the unit from in the first place?”.

As a customer I will always be working in my best interest – sometimes that’s price, sometimes it’s other factors such as support – which is obviously what they’re banking on by being so strict. IMO, where I choose to purchase an item should be irrelevant when dealing with things like warranty and organising paid repairs (different story if I was asking for support on the product from a store that I have no relationship with – financial or otherwise).

When I pointed out to Electric Factory that I felt this was perhaps “short-sighted” and an “abuse of your sole-distributer status” I received an this response (in part):

“Grant feel extremely free to contact M Audio. Their number is 0011 1 626 633 9050.”

… If you chose to by pass the local industry we cannot support you because it would be disloyal to our retail partners.

Our company has been successful since 1973 underpinned by loyalty not shortsightedness.

There will always be a few disgruntled customers… no business can please 100% of the people…. enjoy being the small few who we can’t please.

(I noted it was a phone number, not an email address, they quoted). Again – Electric Factory is the distributer. Their customers are the retailers, not the public – so they are loyal to their retail partners. But how much is their sole-distributer status a factor in customer “loyalty”? I wonder…

In this case it took them as long to respond to my initial email inquiry as it did for me to put the keyboard in for service and have it repaired (I picked it up on the same day as my first response from Electric Factory). I have also contacted Electric Factory in the past for support for a purchase made through a retailer in Australia and was less than satisfied with the response – the support person was rude and sounded like I was the last person they were interested in talking to.

As it stands my relationship with Sound Devices has been improved through this exchange. I’m also very happy with the service provided by Phase Engineering – so a plus for them (the phone number for Phase Engineering is 02 9982 0000 btw). If Electric Factory had have simply answered my question with “Phase Engineering can help you out, here’s their number” I would be a happy customer, and not investing the energy it takes to write this negative post about them. They may not have made many $$ on the repair (depending on how much they charged for replacement parts, they may have made a few bucks), but they would have benefited from goodwill – at least avoided the badwill that ensued.

The biggest loser I think in this exchange is M-Audio (and to a lesser extent any manufacturer for which Electric Factory is the sole distributer).

My relationship is with M-Audio and their gear (I love a lot of what they produce), not Electric Factory. Yet my dealings with Electric Factory have tainted my relationship with M-Audio.

It makes me think twice about buying M-Audio gear in the future, if I’ll have to deal with Electric Factory in any way (whether the purchase be local or international). I’ve contacted M-Audio, and received an understanding response, and an offer to help any way they can, from the States. They say, in part:

I understand your frustration, but indeed a company is global via distribution and they are unfortunately entitled to turn down supporting users that don’t purchase locally as they try to discourage this daily.

I do agree that it should be in their interest to do so, but this is the way they try to stop it and by having users recognize the benefits of buying locally.

This is a business for them and M-Audio nor most manufacturers can afford to have world wide service centers like Sony (a consumer company) vs. an MI (musical instrument) company.

With all that said, we do support folks like you but in the States, where you bought the product.

Just wanted to share my experience with y’all so that when you’re thinking of buying M-Audio gear over the net, you know what to expect.

Am I tripping? Is this basic level of service too much to expect? Am I getting what I deserve by purchasing overseas?

FWIW, even with the repair bill (AUD$120) and transport (approx. AUD$100) I do slightly better than breaking event based on the RRP in Australia (after GST). I may claw some of that repair bill back through postal insurance. It makes me wonder where that $120+ (the repair cost + whatever a distributer would save on transport costs) going when you buy in Australia?

Update 03-Aug-2006: I just received another email from M-Audio directly – it seems they are working on updating their warranty information on their site to reflect the situation internationally. I found out that they have 80+ distributers internationally, and that they are trying to get some basic levels of service secured across all jurisdictions. So, I have to say that I’m happy with M-Audio again, but still none-too-fond of Electric Factory.

Another day waiting for the iMac replacement

Sad Macintosh

So after two stuff-ups with couriers (one organised without notice to me, the second not organised after agreeing a day and time), I’m informed today that the reseller has sold all of their iMac stock, so my replacement will be delayed yet another day (it’s been out of action for two and a half days as I write this).

So hopefully tomorrow will see the delivery of a replacement. And hopefully the replacement won’t exhibit the same fault the last two Intel iMacs we’ve received have…

WWF Futuremakers email newsletter design featured by Campaign Monitor

The heading kinda says it all, but we’re very chuffed that Campaign Monitor has featured our Futuremakers email newsletter in their design gallery. The design was created by Massive Interactive in collaboration with us, and we put together the HTML behind-the-scenes.

The HTML is unfortunately a bit of a mess because we wanted the design to look good in a wide variety of email clients (including Gmail and Hotmail) which meant a lot of less-than-satisfactory hacks to get the desired end result.

We’ve been using Campaign Monitor for the last three or four emails that we’ve sent out, and the service is excellent. We’ve run into a couple of small issues, and they’ve been very prompt in responding to our feedback, which has been fantastic.

It’s very cool to be featured in the gallery especially because I was following the gallery well before we were a customer, and learnt an enormous amount about how to develop a compelling newsletter. Their blog articles on CSS and best practices have also been invaluable.