Customer Service: Three Strikes in One Day

I’ve been using R for years, but decided that I should broaden my horizons (and resumé), so I decided to sign up for an SAS class at the local university, my graduate alma mater. It’s been a couple of hours since that decision and I’ve gotten three vivid lessons in what Customer Service is not.

First, the university. The very first time I went to their website and saw the summer SAS class, it displayed two options: for-credit and non-credit. I remember that the for-credit version required registering through the main registration system and that registration was already closed. I also remember that the non-credit version cost $500 and you could sign up now. I say “I remember” because after thinking about it for a couple of hours, I was unable to find that option on their website again. It kept directing me to the main (for-credit) registration system, where: a) it’s too late to register, and b) I got an M.S. in Artificial Intelligence a couple of years ago but I’m no longer able to login.

I’ve sent an email and hope that someone will be able to point me to a place where they’ll take my money and let me join in an online class that’s only half full at this point. Please, take my money!

The class also states repeatedly that we need to run Windows. I’ve installed Windows 7 under Virtualbox in the past, but that was an OEM license and I’m on a new laptop, so I guess I’ll need to buy a new copy and I may as well go with Windows 8. Right? Why not? What could go wrong?

So I walk a few blocks to an office store and buy the copy of Windows 8 that doesn’t say “Upgrade” on it. The clerk double-checks that it doesn’t say “Upgrade” and checks the SKU online which doesn’t say “Upgrade”. It’s Windows Pro 8, which is probably more than I need, but why not? I get home, the install goes perfectly, and I get a little warning that my copy isn’t verified. Hm, something must’ve not worked quite right in the install in a virtual machine (I decided to go with Parallels 8, since it has significantly better graphics performance than the free Virtualbox).

Windows 8 doesn’t give me any useful error messages, so I go to MS’s website. They instruct me to try to validate the copy and when I get an error message it will tell me how to contact Microsoft. Which of course, it does not. It gives me a huge error number — I assume every error for every product MS has ever made has a unique number — but no contact info. I try an alternative way to validate my copy and it tells me the key I have is for an upgrade.

Huh? No mention of “upgrade” on the box. Oh, there is one fine-print mention where it says “if you upgrade”, but nothing indicating that this is an upgrade-only copy. I eject the DVD and there you go, it says “upgrade restrictions apply” in fine print at the bottom, as opposed to the “WINDOWS 8 PRO” (no “upgrade”) in big letters. Of course, the box is now open and folks at stores love to refuse returns on opened software. So after a half hour of desperately trying to get the key — the same key I’ve been typing — to work, I trudge back to the store, receipt in hand.

Fortunately, the guys at the store are very nice. (Some of which may have to do with the fact that one of them told me it was not an upgrade version.) In the end, I order a (full, non-upgrade, so I’m told) version of Windows 7 that cost the same as my Windows 8 Pro did, so it’s an even trade.

OK, I realize that I’ve been hitting Microsoft pretty hard here, so let me throw in an obligatory swipe at Apple. I went to the Apple story half-way through this saga, to get an external DVD drive for my DVD-less Retina Macbook Pro. As I walk up to the doors, I see four or five sales associates standing there looking at me and suddenly wonder, “is it open yet?” I try the door on the right — the standard door you’d enter in these here parts — and it’s locked. One of the guys points to the left door, and sure enough, it’s open.

For a store that would like to think it’s all about customer experience, that’s ridiculous. You never want your customers to feel awkward or embarrassed. Never. If you can’t unlock both doors for some reason, make it clear which door is open. If you can’t make it clear, have someone stand there and open it when people approach. And don’t have multiple sales folk standing in a lineup, like vultures, watching customers not know which door to open.

Sigh. The economy right now is still pretty bad, and you’d think companies would be fighting over customers. Making things crystal clear to avoid misunderstandings as to which box to pick, which door is unlocked, where to go if you get an error message. Maybe I should be a consultant in customer service instead of a Data Scientist. That might make the world a much better place.

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