A STRAW AND A CAMEL – Marilyn Armstrong

I understand that Amazon is overloaded and slow delivery is routine and that’s okay. Most things I don’t need tomorrow or the next day. I don’t mind waiting a week and sometimes much more.

What gets me is that they deliver my stuff to other people’s houses. Our left-hand next door neighbor is one ornery, nasty old cuss. We used to listen to him shouting at his wife. She’s gone for at least a decade. I’m surprised she stayed as long as she did.

Not surprisingly, since Amazon has taken to dumping our packages on his walk, he has found it annoying. He refuses to return the packages. If we can’t figure out that he’s got them, he keeps them. Yes, it’s illegal and once we had to send the cops who explained the legalities and he decided maybe he should return the packages.

But, in all fairness, this is an ongoing issue. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told the package was delivered but it wasn’t … and it never appeared. It was delivered somewhere, but not here.

We have provided our phone number and very specific directions on how to get here. We put up a sign along the road so if you are trying to find the We have given Amazon specific instruction on how to get to this house and we have a big sign at the top of the driveway that has our house number on it. Four packages were supposed to be delivered today and all four of them went to the nasty old neighbor. And all four delivery slips said “packages given directly to residents.” No, they weren’t. Not to us, not to the neighbor. Not to anyone but us.

They promised me it would never happen again. I wasn’t my usual placid me because I can’t count how many times they have said this exact line to me and it hasn’t changed anything.

That they can’t get the address right is annoying. That they lie when they say they handed it to a resident is much more than annoying. I understand te drivers are under pressure, but they had other options including “delivery is delayed” if it is. But it wasn’t delayed. It was delivered to the wrong place.

I hate the lying. That they make it increasingly difficult to get in touch with anyone at Amazon to deal with problems is most annoying of all.

The whole point of ordering things is so they get delivered. To me. Not my neighbor who lives a quarter of a mile down the road. It wasn’t that the packages were delayed, lost, or still on the truck. They were delivered — just not to me. The guy lied, said he delivered them to a resident, and dumped them on our neighbor’s sidewalk. It isn’t okay. And if I have to find local places that sell what i want, then I’ll have to do it.

I hope the state lets some more store open soon because it gets increasingly difficult to buy anything except groceries.

TOO MUCH CUSTOMER SERVICE – MARILYN ARMSTRONG

Today is Saturday. The package Amazon said they delivered yesterday was not delivered and it wasn’t delivered today, either. I’m sure it went somewhere, but not here. Not a small package, this was a kind of tent for use as a place to store garden equipment. Lawnmowers. Hoses. Snowblowers. Shovels. Spades, hoes, clippers. The usual stuff.

The old shed

Our current shed is going to collapse and buying one like it is a lot more money now than this one was when we bought it maybe 18 years ago. Not sure, but it wasn’t long after we moved here, so maybe closer to 20. Finally, Owen settled on this tent which has a stainless steel structure and a heavy, waterproof covering.

We ordered it from Amazon and yesterday, we got a notice that it was delivered. Considering this is a 12X12 shed and costs more than $400, it was unlikely we missed it. This would be a very large package. So, since they’d already charged Owen for it, we wanted the shed or the money, but I wasn’t fooling around with whichever manager was in charge of big lost packages. And before you think I’m being funny, I’m not. They have a separate department for big packages.

Finally, long, long hold time later (I’m going to write lyrics for their “hold music” so I can sing along) and having heard how important our business is to them, I got one woman who said it was too expensive so it had to go to a supervisor. I got a supervisor, but he said this had to go the the “heavy object delivery supervisor.”

The music came back. I really need to consider writing lyrics.

It has been a full week of spending every afternoon on the phone with Amazon’s customer service. They have decided they can’t deliver to us unless the item is very small. I don’t mind most things showing up when they show up. I can wait a week or two for the bag of yeast or a rolling pin. But two weeks into a wait without so much as notification of when it might arrive? Or even seeing that the order has been processed? How about an email updating me … or alternatively saying you are unable to deliver it?

The thing is, we’ve been waiting for two weeks for them to process an order for a 3 cubic foot freezer which I finally canceled yesterday. They finally delivered the dehumidifier — without casters. We couldn’t get the castors without sending back the whole dehumidifier but offered us $5 to replace the casters.

Five whole dollars? After it got up to 20 following a loud discussion, I started to get pissed off. I went from online complaining to downright irritable. If they aren’t going to deliver something, they need to at least tell us and not just leave the order hanging in ether-land. And this order which they said was delivered, was even worse. As far as they are concerned, it’s delivered. Never mind that we didn’t actually GET the package.

I think I sort of blew up and said “Money or product, but you can’t have it both ways.”

“But the driver said it was delivered,” he said.

“I’m sure it WAS delivered, but not here.”

He refunded the money and said this was actually a large enough order that whoever kept it and didn’t order it — and it had to be one of our neighbors — is going to get sued because it’s a federal crime. I replied: “Go right ahead and nail the bastards.”

I feel like I have a new job. It’s holding while waiting for another person to explain how I should just wait and surely the package would show up. I definitely resented the whole concept, especially since we’d already paid and if I didn’t strongly urge them to deal with it today, we’d surely be waiting another month and then they’d tell us it was too late to solve the problem.

We found someone else to sell us a freezer and even deliver it by the end of the month. Woo-hoo! For now, unless there’s nowhere else to get it, I’m a bit “off” of Amazon. I understand that they are swamped, but if they can’t handle the business, at least say so.

BAD BEHAVIOR TRUMPS RACE, CREED AND GENDER – GARRY ARMSTRONG

What our Coronavirus and riot-plagued world does not need is even more pointless intolerance. There’s no excuse for not using a modicum of civility when dealing with others, especially in the workplace. It doesn’t matter how bad a day you’ve had. Do you know how bad the day of the person you are working with has had? Did you ask? Did you even think about him or her as a person?

We have all been living through the tensest, most frustrating, angst-riddled period since the Civil War. With the way things are going, we could be rerunning the Civil War soon.

In my 40+ years on the TV news trail, I’ve been verbally assaulted by every kind of minority. I understood it was part of my job. Many people seemed to figure it was okay to shoot the messenger.  Early on in my career, I was warned to have thick skin if I wanted to succeed.

That thick skin was tested many times. I was taunted by Black people who called me Uncle Tom or house boy. Labeled by religious fanatics who called me a Christian stooge. Feminists who tagged me as chauvinist. I sucked it up and plowed on to report the facts.

The gasoline bays.

Facts usually silenced my assailants who then wrote hate letters in red crayon.

My good stories were balanced by controversial reports that fanned the flames of ill-tempered people. I probably made it worse by writing the haters “thank you” notes. It further angered the wankers. Civilians who have never worked as journalists are surprised by how often people behave badly toward people who are merely trying their best to do their jobs.

Uhaul for the haulers

So it was that my stepson came home with a story that sounded painfully familiar. Owen manages a local garage which does repairs, inspections and has a mini-mart. He’s known for his work skills. pleasant manner, and humor. He manages to be cordial in the worst of scenarios.


Yesterday, Owen was in the middle completing one job when he was besieged by a man who jumped out of his Mercedes demanding instant access to a Uhaul truck.

Owen tried repeatedly to pacify the agitated fellow, explaining he would not be able to get his Uhaul for a few more minutes until he finished the inspection on which he was working. The customer not only refused to accept any waiting but left his car so it blocked all the gas pumps. When asked to please move his vehicle, he launched into a profane tirade topped by the ever-popular race card.

Owen is white. The angry one was a man of color.

Given several volatile national stories, this local incident had the makings of getting serious. The indignant Mercedes driver was sure the “race card” would pay off.  It almost always works. Owen has heard numerous stories about racism from his step-father (me) who specialized in covering race riots and protest marches dating back to MLK and the Freedom Rights movement. Thanks to his parents and stepdad, Owen is more than typically sensitive to anything that smells of racism.  We joke about it at home — but that’s a different story.

Today’s potentially race-toxic incident was defused by Owen who stood his ground and convinced the angry gent to leave the shop and take his business elsewhere. Eventually, the ante was upped in include a full volume and very firm suggestion that he leave and never return. No Uhaul for him.

Owen in the shop

The race card didn’t end in a riot or even police intervention. Owen is of the opinion that the fancier car he or she is driving, the more arrogant and mean-spirited is the driver. Especially those who drive Mercedes’s and BMWs.

Owen is my step and godson. I’m proud of him. He’s made of stern stuff. This country could use more of him. Way to go, O!

“BAD” IS THE NEW “GOOD” IN TECH SUPPORT – Marilyn Armstrong

Bad customer and technical support is the new good. You only think it’s bad. The problem is your attitude. Or so they’d have you think.

YOU CAN RUN, BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE

All the big technology companies are working hard to save a few bucks. Competition is fierce. Every penny counts. Since executives won’t accept lower pay nor will stockholders accept lower returns, it’s customers who fill the cost-cutting gap.

Death cust serv
In the race to be the cheapest, tech companies stopped including chargers with devices. No manuals. No system software. No reinstallation software. Short power cords that don’t go from an outlet to a desktop. No connector for printers, speakers or whatever. Everything you need to finish setting up costs extra.

Customer service was the first thing to go. They hired people who don’t know anything, don’t understand or speak English. For all I know, they don’t understand or speak Spanish either. They aren’t trained, don’t know the products. And since manufacturers no longer include documentation, you don’t have the option of taking care of it yourself.

No company — not cameras, computers or software — includes documentation. I became obsolete years ago when the industry decided no one reads the manuals. So they fired the tech writers, put some generated information in an online PDF. They figured customer service techs would handle the fallout. But they don’t. Many of us would be happy to fix minor glitches but have no alternative to spending our time on the phone, frustrated and angry.

THE PLAN IN ACTION

You can’t say they didn’t have a plan. Corporation had a really terrible plan. It was such a bad plan that everyone adopted it. Of course, these days any plan is a big deal being as we live in a nation that hasn’t had a viable plan for anything in more than three years. And now, we have a plague. How cool is that?Customer Service waiting It’s not a Microsoft issue or a Dell thing. It’s not a plan that anyone can claim as their own. It’s a cross-industry problem, affecting virtually every tech corporation in this country.

Bad has become the official new good. Really and truly good is remarkable and so rare.

WOULD IT KILL THEM TO INCLUDE A MANUAL?

In every industry, business, service — service support stinks. It doesn’t matter where you go. You’ll get the same lousy service. It’s the great leveler.

CustServCartoon

Sometimes, you get lucky. The guy or gal you connect with knows the product and you think “Wow, that wasn’t bad! Maybe it’s improving.” The next time, it’s the same old, same old. Mostly you spend hours online listening to the worst music ever written and every once in awhile they point out how important you are and the next time anyone can take your call, they will.

Okay then. I think it’s possible I’m still on hold.

PLAY TAPS FOR ME – Marilyn Armstrong

It was one of those days. It started out normal. We had to get up a bit early because I had a doctor’s appointment and even though we left plenty of time, we got out of the house a bit late. Time slipped away. It was coffee. I needed ONE MORE sip.

My appointment was fine. Next stop? Grocery store.

We couldn’t get to the store. There had been a fire. Or something. The street was closed. Not the whole street, just the couple of hundred feet in front of the parking lot.

Other than the fire engine with the flashing lights, there was no hint of a fire or evidence of anything. No smoke. No injuries. No water on the street. No crime scene tape. A blocked street where we needed to go. They were allowing cars to drive through from the other direction. So there was no sensible reason why we couldn’t go a few dozen feet to the parking lot. Nope, we had to take the detour.

Uxbridge not being a real city, a detour isn’t a quick trip around a city block. We were in Douglas before we could start looping back to town. By which time they had parked the fire truck and there were no official obstructions.

Shopping concluded, leaving town was our next trial. Civic excitement is rare in our little town, so everyone had to take a long look at the … what? Fire? Crime scene? False alarm? One of the rubberneckers was riding a bicycle. We were behind him, trying to drive at 1 mph. As soon as we (finally) got around him, someone pulled out of a side street, slowed down to about 10 mph. Directly in front of us. We crawled home. Karma is.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Groceries were unpacked. Television was turned on. Surprise! The television still wasn’t working. I tried rebooting again after which, I hold my breath and call Charter. They’ve been having a bad week too and this is my third call in two days. Any day on which I have to call Charter is not a great day.

After a long hold, the agent assures me they are merely doing (more) repair work, but they hope it will be finished any day now. They’ll call me when it’s finished. Maybe even today. I go to make dinner and step in a pool of dog pee. I don’t know which dog did it, but I don’t get it. Why? They’ve got their own door and it isn’t even raining.

Eventually, dinner having been served, eaten, and cleared away, the phone rang. Charter (recorded message) says “Repairs are complete, thank you for your patience.” But it is not fixed. The television wi-fi is still not working.

Any day on which I have to call Charter once is not a good day, but if I have to cal them twice? That is very bad. They tell me to reboot. They send a repair signal. Nada. They can’t get a tech here until Thursday.  I am grouchy but there doesn’t seem to be a choice. I realize I’d better write it down because these days I forget everything immediately.  I turned on the light.

The bulb exploded.

My day is done.  Play taps for me.


RDP Friday – Annoying

LOVING AND HATING THE PHONE WHILE WISHING IT WORKED BETTER – Marilyn Armstrong

Since everyone’s into talking about hating phones, I figured I’d throw my oar in the water too.

I loved the phone right through my teenage years. I and my girlfriends would chat the night away, even though we lived two houses apart. The phone was more intimate. No one else was around. Just us, hidden under the bedclothes.

From the 1910 and 20s (reproduction, original had a dial) …

From then on, it became gradually more of a nuisance. When I was a kid, a telephone call meant someone you knew was calling to say hello. You could talk and laugh. There were occasional wrong numbers, but that was all. Later, it might mean I’d gotten a job I’d applied for or a story had been accepted.

Technology changed everything. At first, subtly, but eventually, it changed the telephone from a communications device to a sales tool. The concept of “cold calling,” trying to drum up business meant fewer than half our incoming calls coming were people you knew, though they might and include calls you wanted. Reminders from the doctor of an upcoming appointment or another pending appointment were useful and usually brief.

Telephones look like this for at least 30 — maybe more — years

By the time I was in my 40s and had recently returned from Israel, most calls were solicitations or surveys and occasionally, a person you knew and actually wanted to talk to. At least those earlier calls were live human beings, but over the years, they became recorded messages. It’s extremely rare to get a human being on any business call.

Thirty-two years later, no live person ever calls except a couple of friends and a few local businesses. All the rest of our calls are medical, hackers, surveys, insurance companies trying to get your business, and my personal favorite, silence.

Making calls inevitably involves waiting and I think I can hum the background music to at least three companies “waiting” mode.

Our local hospital, where most of our medical appointments take place (other than our personal physician) has the longest recorded voice mail call I’ve ever heard. It’s a full five minutes waiting for that final moment when you are allowed to press “1” meaning “Yes, we’re coming.” Instead of giving you the most useful information at the top, they give you the hours of service, a reminder to bring your medical card, and money (can’t forget that now can we!), the address of the building (but never directions to get there), followed by a rambling buildup until, at the very end, you can push “1” (“I’ll be there”) or “2” to rebook — or worse, a different phone number which is read so fast I have to have them repeat the entire recording to get the number written down.

Our own wall phone. It doesn’t work properly anymore, but it lives on that wall anyway.

As a technical writer, I know that no one wants messages like that. The “are you coming?” should be on top followed by “make a new appointment” with a list of options including directions, speak to a human being, talk to a doctor or lab for test results, and finally, “Thank you for calling” so you know you’re done and can hang up. A lot of these calls just leave you wondering if you completed the call or not.

If, for example, you are a long-time patient, you should be able to just press “1” and hang up after that, but they won’t let you. You have to listen to the entire recording. I sometimes fall asleep while they drone on. They first call you a week before your upcoming visit, after which they call every day until you are ready to dive through the phone and beat someone with a handset.

Then there are customer support departments. Clearly, when you finally connect (and hopefully have been disconnected multiple times), one person with a headset in a huge room full of other customer service people are all talking at the same time. The background noise makes it impossible to hear anything. Maybe they can hear you, but all you hear is jabber. All of this following an endless stream of music that becomes an earworm you can’t dispel.

None of this makes calling people fun, especially because when I finally do call a friend, they are never home anyway and I get their answering machines. At least they usually call me back — or email me or something.

Modern phones … for a “landline” and a cell

It’s not hard to learn to hate telephones. It’s much harder to like them. If indeed they ever eliminate solicitations, hackers, and poorly designed recorded messages removed from phone lines, someone might try making a phone call in the hopes of having a conversation.

Of course, it would help if the phone stayed connected long enough to have a conversation, which is entirely another subject! Since getting a real landline is absurdly expensive, everything — even our supposed “landline” is part of your WiFi service with its tendency to glitch or fade in the middle of a call. It’s turn-of-the-century telephoning on the most up-to-date technology.

U.K. phone booth, but where’s Dr. Who?

Often, I realize the issue is not how far we’ve come, but how far we haven’t come. I think we’ve really circled back to about 1917. Now, we can’t hear anything on mobile phones. But hey, you can text, right?

JUST THE WAY IT GOES — Marilyn Armstrong

I honestly thought when I finished dealing with the medical stuff that I was done with my days of customer care. It never occurred to me that I was going to be doing it again the very next day.

There is definitely an epidemic of pathetic customer service. It really isn’t the fault of the service people. They don’t know what they should know because they have not gotten sufficient training. Not only that, but they aren’t paid particularly well, so they’re mostly working at entry-level wages, they are young, and poorly trained. Is it any wonder that they struggle to answer questions that aren’t “typical” questions?

Tom, the television, and Remy

We got — my son got us — a new Roku for the bedroom. It was working, but it’s also four-years-old and a lot has changed since it was installed. In particular, the remote is much better and does a lot more than the old one. It controls sound, turns the entire system on and off. This remote unit does everything you can expect it to do, including (supposedly) work by voice. I don’t use the voice function because they never understand me and I’ve just given up.

So Owen plugged it in for me because I’ve shrunk. When I installed it last time, I was at least an inch taller. Now I can’t reach it. I used to be more-or-less a normal height for women, but the average height of female persons has gone up. I have not.

Then my spine sort of crunched itself together and over the past 10 years, I’ve lost 3 more inches. In total? Four and a half inches, which is a lot when you were only 64.5 inches at full height. I’m glad my son is tall. He certainly didn’t get it from me.

So I started to set up YouTubeTV, which is our primary source of entertainment. We also have Netflix, Acorn, and Hulu, plus the free versions of History, PBS, and some others that we never watch. I’d really like to get HBOGO and CBS-Pay-to-Play (that’s not what they call it, but it’s what I call it). But HBO is $16 a month and CBS is another six or seven (I’m sure it’ll go up). It all adds up to a pretty big number. The only reason I have HULU (the least expensive channel) because they carry “Orville” which I love so much, I have to have it. Acorn is also not expensive. It was originally $50 a year and this year, I think it’s going up to $60. Which is still inexpensive.

Of course, Charter has raised the price of streaming services, so now we pay more for streaming — without cable or telephone — than we used to pay for cable, telephone, and computers.

Why not? They’ve got a monopoly and we have no choice about where we get our service. Charter is the only ISP in this area and for most central and western Massachusetts. They are awful. If there’s something wrong with the signal, I will wait until I really can’t see anything or make the computer work before I call them.

I signed into YouTubeTV. I followed the same rules I used the last time I set it up. The TV wouldn’t work, though it showed up beautifully on my Mac. Swell.

A wide look …

I turned it off, unplugged it, and tried again. Half a dozen attempts to fix it later, I called for help.

The guy on the other end said he would have to “escalate” the incident since I’d already done everything he could suggest. I said “NO NO NO.” I was done with spending my life waiting for or arguing with Customer Service.

He said they’d get back to me by the end of the day. Since they are in California (Redmund, naturally), I asked what that meant since I live by Eastern Standard time and it was already 2:35 pm. “Are they going to call me on my time? Three in the morning? What time is ‘by the end of the day’?” He couldn’t answer me. I suspect no one had ever asked him what “end-of-day” meant for the east coast. Time change confuses many people.

Oh, and Tier 2 couldn’t call me. It would arrive as an email. Not to worry, though. They work 24 hours a day. Except that I’m not awake 24 hours a day.

I pointed out that I’d have to sit up waiting for the email and meanwhile, I’d have to explain to my husband that there was no television … and he was very likely to be very unhappy while I was already more than a slightly annoyed, so could I please talk to a supervisor?

Suddenly, a few moments later, I got a set of instructions. I followed them. Voila, they worked. Amazing, eh? No Tier 2 escalation. No emailed instruction in the middle of the night. No having to explain to Garry why there were no movies. Garry is very dedicated to late-night old movies he knows I won’t watch.

I said “Thank you,” and hung up. Then I had to sign onto all the other channels, which took another hour, give or take a few minutes. Total time? About 3.5 hours. Maybe a little more.

I can’t even imagine what else I could possibly need to do tomorrow that would land me on another customer service line, but these days, who knows? Once you get on a roll, you keep on rolling until you hit the bottom of the mountain.

STUPID IS THE NEW NORMAL – Marilyn Armstrong

96-OneRuleToRuleThemAll

My motto and I really should remember it more often

For the past couple of days, I’ve been dealing with the customer service for the medical plan I was trying to join. I spent — LITERALLY, NOT KIDDING — four hours on the phone yesterday until the battery on my phone died. It has never died before. Ever. In like five years. It’s not a cell phone.

They couldn’t answer a simple question, they gave me wrong answers, transferred me to the wrong departments, but to be fair, they didn’t disconnect. A miracle indeed. At the end of the conversation, I said: “SEND ME BACK TO BLUE CROSS!”

And then and there, I switched back to my previous medical provider. Because if this was before the plan had even gone into effect, it was going to be like the year I spent with Fallon when I needed to see a medical oncologist and the person on the Customer Service line told me there were doctors listed, but not their specialties.

“So how do you list them? Alphabetically?”

My doctor’s (not this doctor, the doctor before the last doctor) dimwitted secretary sent me to a cancer surgeon and when I called her back and explained that I don’t need a surgeon, I need a medical oncologist because I had cancer and what I need NOW is a checkup. I went with that company for a year and never actually got the checked.

Then came Blue Cross and life got better. This plan would have saved me around $150 a month which is a good deal of money, but I was pretty sure it would also ruin my life. I can’t do it anymore. I cannot spend the rest of my life fighting with customer service to just answer a simple question. I’m too old, too tired, too beat up.

I’ll pay the money. Just let me have people who answer the phone and know what they are talking about. Please!

And for all the comments I haven’t answered and posts I haven’t read? I swear to you I have spent about 9 hours over the past two days straightening out my medical plan — well, OUR medical plans. I’m exhausted. And I’m running out of birdseed again.

LET’S BAN PENNIES – Marilyn Armstrong

I got an email from AT&T. It was alarming. I was overdue on my bill! They were going to report me to collection agencies, send it to all those companies that decide whether or not you deserve to have a credit card or a mortgage.

I was surprised because I paid the bill. On-time. Online. I know I did.

Obverse side of a 1990 issued US Penny. Pictur...

So, after resetting my password — it doesn’t matter how many times I set my password … the next time I go to AT&T’s website, I will have to do it again — I looked at my bill. Somehow, I had underpaid the bill by a penny.

One cent. $00.01

In retribution for my oversight, AT&T said they would sic the collection agencies on me. I deserve to pay heavily for this lapse in fiscal responsibility. Though I think it was their error, not mine, but let’s not quibble.

There are many battles to fight in life. One must pick amongst them lest one be overwhelmed. This giant corporation is going to destroy my credit for want of a penny. This is what happens when computers run the world and no people monitor what they are doing. I’m sure this was all automatically generated.

I am sure if I’d called them, they would have canceled the bill. but that would take even more time and effort. I fondly believe my time, even retired, is worth more than a penny.

So I paid the bill. I wasn’t actually sure my bank would let me pay a one-cent bill, but they did.

One cent. Just one cent. Mind-boggling.

ONLINE SHOPPING REVOLUTION OR CONSUMER REBELLION? – Marilyn Armstrong

I’ve been thinking about shopping.

Does anyone remember in those last ten years before online shopping came into full flower? That was when you’d go into a nice shop and discover there was no one there. No one to help you find the right size or style … or even the correct department. More than half the cash registers were closed and the people who worked the counters were actually working multiple counters so wherever you were waiting, they weren’t there.

I remember not buying a watch in Kohl’s because there wasn’t anyone at the jewelry counter and the cash register was closed. I looked everywhere and I didn’t see a single store worker.

There was absolutely not a soul willing to help me find the right size or choose a different color or size, or even say, “That looks nice.” Or do anything that might encourage me to buy something.

Shopping went from being fun to being work.

By the time online shopping was readily available, most of the brick-and-mortar stores had cut down their staff by more than half. Returning something meant standing in long lines for the one individual who handled all returns and you’d better have saved that receipt!

They did themselves in. They treated their customers like WordPress treats us … and the results were exactly what you’d expect.

When the day there arrived offering us a real choice, shoppers were ready. Instead of fighting for a parking space and wandering around a mall trying first to find the right store, then searching the shop and discovering there was no one on the floor to talk to. Hoping to get some assistance in finding an outfit and realizing there wasn’t any.

All of which was followed by another ordeal, searching for an open register.

Suddenly, you could order clothing and return what didn’t fit or what you didn’t like. In the meantime, just to make what was already difficult just a bit harder, many city malls began charging customers for parking.

Free gift wrapping was not free. You couldn’t even get plain boxes to wrap without paying for them. The quality of the clothing went down while the prices went up. There were no more departments where you could get clothing altered, either.

It wasn’t just the Internet that ruined “real store” shopping. It was the attitude of the store’s owners and managers. They decided they “owned” their customers and we’d show up anyway, no matter how bad the service. It must have been a rude shock when they realized not only did we have a choice, but we weren’t coming back.

So they can blame their demise on Amazon and the Internet, but they can also look in the mirror and realize when you treat your customers badly, eventually, when times change, they won’t be your customers.

It’s a lesson that cable companies are learning, cell companies are just beginning to learn … and it won’t end there. I fought with my cable company for years to get them to give me a package I could afford … and when I finally gave up and cut the cable, suddenly they filled up my email with all kinds of tempting packages — for ONE year only.

After which they would do what they always did: jack up the prices by 100% and we’d go through the same thing again. There are only so many times you can anger and disappoint customers without expecting them to hit back in the only way that matters: financially.

You never own your customers. They own you. Eventually, they will let you know how they feel about you. Count on it.

THE MANUAL YOU DON’T HAVE – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night, someone I know and who should know better, complained that Olympus, from whom he bought his camera, should fire the tech writer. Because there was no manual.

There was a booklet that listed the options but didn’t explain what they were or what to do with them. Well, duh.

I wrote this. Then I rewrote it to make it better.

I felt obliged to point out the reason there is no manual is they never hired a tech writer in the first place. If they had a living, breathing technical writer, there would be a manual.

You wouldn’t spend a couple of thousand dollars on a camera and get a generated leaflet. You’d get a real book with an index and a table of contents. Screenshots. Explanations not only of where to find a function but what the function does. So when you get there, you know what option to select and what it will do to your photographs.

Once upon a time, that was my world. I thought it was important, at least to the people who bought products about which I wrote.

The mysteries of the menus in my camera are hilarious. It might as well be written in Urdu.

Years went by during which the work I did was most of my life. I got up, got dressed, scraped the ice off the car, went to work (stopping for coffee along the way) and went through my day. Between having done the same kind of work for a long time and perpetually racing against a deadline, life was busy.

I knew, no matter what the ad said when I took a job, my work wasn’t permanent. I would work until the book was finished, then I’d move on. That was the way it really was.

The industry in which I worked ultimately decided the work I did was no longer necessary. Who needs a manual to tell them how to use equipment that costs a gazillion dollars and controls the operation of a steel mill? Or a missile tracking system? Or a satellite grabber for use out in space? They can always call the help desk — especially in space where you can easily find a signal for your phone.

I was the one who organized the chaotic information into a book with a table of contents, index, chapters, and diagrams so you would not always have to call someone. Considering the state of tech support these days, you can see where this failure to supply reasonable documentation has landed us. That’s why the phones are always busy and why the quality of support is so bad. How often do you find that you know more than the “help tech” individual knows? Basically, if you can’t fix it by rebooting, uh oh.

The help desk people don’t have the manual, either. And they badly need one.

Regardless, I was obsolete.

You need developers and a boss because someone has to say why you are all gathered here this morning. Also, the boss makes sure there’s coffee.

But a writer? They only hired me when they were at the end of a production cycle, realized the contract required they deliver documentation with the product. Sometimes, I got as little as three weeks to learn a product and produce a book that looked professional. At that point, no one cared what was in the book or whether the information would be of any use to anyone. It just had to be big, thick, nicely designed, and weigh enough to use as a doorstop.

My days were numbered. Eventually, I was gone.

To substitute for professional writers, they produce “automatic documentation.” Which is raw data generated by a program using “comments” left by developers, many of whom speak English as a second or third language and in any case, do not understand how non-engineers work or the kind of information they need to navigate a complex product.

It turns out, people were still willing to spend oodles of money for an undocumented product. So I guess they were right. No one cares until they get an expensive product that includes nothing. The good news? You can find entire books — the kind I used to write — on Amazon. Buy them and find out how the product works. It’s just like the books people like me wrote. Cool, huh? Except they don’t come with the product. You have to buy one and they are not always available.

My best bet is finding people online who own and use similar products and pick their brains.

For all of you who believe that crappy documentation is because tech writers are lazy? No, we aren’t lazy.

What we are is fired.

IT NEVER ENDS – Marilyn Armstrong

Bird pictures are included for sanity reasons.
We need some. Birds are good for that.

Yesterday, after spending my entire day trying to make a breakthrough on WordPress — and feeling that maybe I had made a tiny dent — I realized that Amazon had sent me my package with the wrong stuff in it. It was almost the final straw, not counting that the software people have removed the spell-checker from the post writer.

The singing Carolina Wren

This must be one of their improvements, like when they removed the “edit” function from all posts once they were posted. When asked why they did that, they said why would anyone need it?

They restored it when about a million of us told them they had their heads up their asses and to please PUT THE EDIT BUTTON BACK. Some of us like to fix errors and even (gads!) rewrite awkward sentences or fix typos.

Downy Woodpecker

Do any of these people actually write a blog or post anything? Do they have any beta testers? Do they have any Omega testers or Alpha testers — or anyone who tests anything before they shove it down to us? They also seem to have removed the help button again. I guess too many of us used it and now they have to (gasp) fix stuff.

Or maybe not.

It’s hard to believe that anyone at WordPress gives a rat’s ass about their “customers.” No one has ever made me feel valued.

It’s a woodpecker, but I can’t see enough of him to know which one.

I’ve had it for the day. If you haven’t heard from me yet, I’ll try to get to you today, but we have a long funeral in Boston on Wednesday and I don’t think I’ll have time or energy to do much, after that, there’s Thursday. If I’m still mentally capable.

Is this a test? Do we get an “A” if we pass? A gold star? Something? Anything?

AT&T’S “WHY DID YOU CANCEL” SURVEY – Marilyn Armstrong

They all do it. They sent me a survey to find out “why I had canceled my AT&T subscription.”

Lists of reason, 1 to 10 … and a LOT of them. Usually, I don’t bother to do these surveys, but I was seriously pissed with them, so this gave me one more chance to tell them how pissed I really am.

The sent me a new bill for $71. For leaving. I upgraded my package by resigning. Canceling.

She said it was for the month of January. I asked why it was $20 higher than my standard bill. Because I upgraded my package.

By canceling.

So the survey asked what (precisely) I hated the MOST about AT&T. Hard call.


I had 100 points to use for up to five selections, of which four were strongly in the running:

a — Bad customer service

b — Too expensive

c — Failure to have a plan that I need

d — Limited ability to actually get their signal. 


It was a difficult choice on every level. I really wanted to give whole hundred points (each) to a & b and another 200 points to “too expensive.” Maybe 75 for “lousy connection.” It would be more, but we so rarely used the telephone, the crappy signal hardly mattered.

That was too many points. Painful. I needed many, many more points.  And no matter how I did it, I would need a few extra points for barely usable service and an old phone that we couldn’t afford to upgrade. And a simple, elderly plan because we barely use the phone. We have 5 computers (maybe 6 or possibly 7 if you count a Kindle as a computer) and a landline. We virtually never go anywhere, so for what do I need cell phone except for the occasional emergency in the car or our more typically “We are completely lost. How do we find you”?

I got it down to three: bad customer service, too expensive, and lousy signal. I put 50-points on “Too expensive,” 40-points on “Bad customer service,” and 10-points on “Lousy signal strength.”

I would never use a mobile telephone for any financial purpose, so all the phone needed to do was make an occasional phone call or receive a text. In theory, I can also send texts but I don’t know how.

Personally, I think people who live on their phones are being awfully casual about security. With all the hacking and thieving via cell phones, people just keep adding more and more apps. How many of those apps are really worms? You folks who use phones for everything could be in for a rude surprise.

Meanwhile, one of the final question they asked if I would ever recommend the services of AT&T to a friend.  So let me be clear about this:

FEELING PIQUED? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Pique

Pique is such a cute little word. It’s the right word, mind you, but it doesn’t really cover the territory.

I am in a life and death struggle with AT&T, which is interesting because I’ve closed my account with them. Apparently, for the privilege of not working with them, you have to pay for that, too. In their system, if you call them, you have to pay them for “an upgrade” even if you don’t upgrade. Even if you were talking about it, decided not to and hung up. They will still bill you between $70 and $90 (assuming you didn’t buy a phone … more if you actually bought anything at all) for having talked to them.

That’s a hefty bill when you’ve actually done nothing at all except discuss what plans are available. I have concluded — and not lightly or without serious thought — that anything they tell you via customer service is a lie. Either it’s an outright lie intended to just shut you up and get you off the phone, or it’s something they made up just to get you off the phone. I call that “making it up as you go along” but perhaps you can come up with a more colorful name.

To get “make it up as you go along” service, you need a manager. They will even send you “the deal” in writing and no one else will have heard of it. They will give you long and complicated case numbers, but no one will do anything about them. If you are working with my bank, they will tell you they’ve taken care of it and if you call back, you’ll discover no one did anything at all. They completely ignored you.

That’s the third part: completely ignoring you while pleasantly agreeing with everything you say.

Why is customer service like this? It wasn’t always like this. There was a time when customers were valued. For that matter, when workers were valued. Now, no one is valued unless they own the company or run a major piece of it.

The important thing to remember is:

Trying to find peace with customer service

They will tell you they understand your frustration. They do not comprehend the difference between “pique,” “frustration,” and “lethal rage.” They don’t realize that 9 or 10 pointless conversations with customer service don’t make you a bit frustrated. They make you angry enough to want to strangle whoever is on the other end of the line.

Pity you can’t reach through and grab them by the throat, isn’t it?

I’m feeling a little bit “piqued” at AT&T. Just a bit of pique. Nothing serious.