Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Getting in hot water: lessons in Customer Service

It was an odd weekend, starting out somewhat off-kilter with the airport buzzards incident and progressing from there. The weather kept me on the ground all weekend again, but I was able to fill my time learning how to be a Guitar Hero on the Wii and dealing with various flavors of broken utilities, with the incumbent interactions with different customer service folks.

As a bit of background, it helps to know that my mother-in-law has been noticing strange behavior on her Windows XP laptop. For awhile now, it has gone to a BSOD on shut down. I've looked at it a few times but haven't been able to solve it. Not that it mattered much in the end, of course, since it happened when she was done with the computer and turning it off anyway. "Man up and deal with it," and all that. Well, there's no "man up" to be had when it starts proudly BSODing on start-up, is there? That's pretty much something that needs fixin'.

It was with trepidation that I approached the job, knowing full well that a BSOD problem can range anywhere from very severe to really, really severe. The error message it posted, UNMOUNTABLE_BOOT_VOLUME, spoke, well... volumes. That message translated into English pretty much says "HARD_DRIVE_HAS_GONE_TO_MEET_MAKER." I bundled up the laptop to take back home, shared the gloomy prognosis with the concerned relatives, and promised "to take a look at it at home." By that, of course, I meant that I'd toss it atop the pile of other broken computers in the basement and glance at it now and then when I was down there for other reasons. That way, "I'll take a look at it" became true, albeit in a Clintonesque sense.

As is my wont, and usually to my eventual detriment, I got to thinking about it. It seemed to me that the hard drive was only almost dead if it could get as far as the Windows splash screen before rolling over. There may be hope yet! A quick consult with the Oracle of Google showed that there was, in fact, a potential path to recovery. Without boring you (further) with the hoary details, after a few hours of concerted effort I was able to breath life back into the computer! Unfortunately, not before I had ordered a new Mac for her to replace the defunct Windows machine, but a miraculous recovery nonetheless.

Genius has its limits, though. So proud of my results that I simply had to brag to the wife, I simutaneously heralded by own genius while patting myself on the back. For a genius it turns out that I'm somewhat short-sighted: "Oh, so we can drive it back up there and give it back to her?" Sigh. Not what I had in mind at all! The Wii was beckoning, after all. And a Jacuzzi for my aching back was on the agenda too. Put my foot down, I did, and went to draw a bath. No hot water. The hot water heater than has been exhibiting signs of illness for months had finally BSODed. Sigh.

Not willing to be without hot water for any length of time, I thought the most prudent approach would be to just buy a new one. Previous efforts to find someone willing to attempt a repair on a propane-driven water heater having garnered exactly zero results, replacement seemed the quickest alternative. But... a glance at Lowes.com showed that this may be easier said than done: they apparently don't keep propane hot water heaters in stock, but I could have one as early as May 3rd. Uh, no. So we called Sears. Told the fella that I needed a propane hot water heater, and I needed it NOW. "Let me check," said he. "Yep, the computer says we have two of those."

Many times bitten, very shy, or so I say. "Could you physically check to see if you have one?" I asked. "Sure, hold on." A pause, during which (to cut to the chase, because ultimately it turned out that they didn't have one) Moe, my intrepid salesman, apparently only pretended to take physical inventory. Clever, that. It's not like I could see him just standing around laughing at me, is it.

This presented a three birds, one stone scenario. A trip to deliver the repaired laptop to the mother-in-law would also allow for a shower, and a chance to retrieve the MAC ID address of her cable modem. I needed the ID because I'm going to be setting up the new Mac for her email, and just like everyone else in the world, she has no idea what her email password is. Outlook remembers it for you so you don't have to, so quite predictably, you don't. Email providers are well aware of this and are sick and tired of answering that particular tech support call, so they have nifty little password reset utilities on their web sites. All you need to know is the email address and the MAC ID for your cable modem. Well, I knew the email address, but the modem was still physically located at her house. As long as I was going to bring back the laptop and take a shower, I could write down the MAC ID for later use in configuring the Mac.

After re-installing the laptop and recording the ID, I decided to just go ahead and reset the email password so I could update her Outlook at the same time. Great idea, but the web site said that the ID didn't match the email address. In other words, "tough nuts, Bubba." The only recourse was to use the Live Chat support function and ask what I could do to get the password sent to me. I clicked on the button, and got a fairly quick response:

"Hi, I'm KeithS and I will be providing support for you. What can I do to help you?"

To which I replied that I was configuring a new computer for my mother-in-law, and needed the email password to do so.

"Go to our support web site and enter the cable modem MAC ID address..." was his reply.

"Tried that, didn't work."

We went back and forth for awhile before he told me that "for security reasons, he can only provide the password directly to the account holder."

Well. I figured that meant that she was going to have to get on the phone and call them. Ugh. To confirm, I typed "How can she get ahold of you?"

His reply: "I can work with her through this chat window."

Hmmmm. Taking a page from the Moe Book of Customer Service, I thought:




Then I started typing.

"Hi Keith, this is...."


  1. Well played, sir. "Moe Book of Customer Service" -- I'll have to remember that one.

    What is it with appliances going Tango-Uniform in the Columbus area recently? Speaking of Sears, our Kenmore front-loader was just given last rites yesterday, after only six years. Repairs would have cost more than the unit originally did.

    I'm now eyeing my microwave with some trepidation, lest it fall off and crush me, or irradiate me into zombie-land ... 8^)