Saturday, December 10, 2005


Making the System Work for Me!

Okay, so I hate buying from, because nearly every time we have placed an order with them, there has been some sort of annoying glitch. The first time I bought something from them, I did so with a free shipping coupon through PayPal, but they charged me for shipping anyway, and it took me FOUR HOURS on the Overstock help chat line, on the phone with Overstock, and on the phone with PayPal to resolve the issue.

(And before you ask, no, it was not worth four hours of my precious time just to save a couple of bucks; it was the principle of the thing. Having worked for years in the retail and customer service industry during which I continually forced myself to be nice to people much snarkier than I, I can't stand bad customer service, and so when bad service happens to me, I generally try my best to do something about it. Even if that means subjecting myself to even more bad customer service for a couple of hours straight until I finally get a hold of someone who will help me).

Another time when we bought from them, the item was poorly packaged and shipped late, and another time, the item we received not only didn't really match its description on the website, but was also inordinately complicated to put together, on a Byzantine level, and only came with a single poorly illustrated page of instructions, in German.

(If I'd been better friends with Peter Nacken at the time, I might have just scanned the instructions and sent them to him to translate for me, but they were so bad I'm not sure even a native speaker could have figured them out).

So, I am not a fan of But at Christmas time, when the heating bills are high and the extra freelance writing income is low, being a most-unwealthy SAHM, and therefore a serious penny-pincher, I become so huge a fan of low prices as to occasionally be tempted to compromise my principles.

Not so far as to buy all my holiday presents at Wal-Mart on Black Friday or something. But yes, so far as to give it another whirl at Overstock, upon discovering that they have refurbished CD-ROM drives on sale for a really, really good price, and needing just exactly that type of drive for the computer my husband is building for Xmas for my home-schooled 12-year-old brother, who lives on a farm in the middle of nowhere, and has never had his own computer before.

So, reluctantly, we decided to try one more time.

And the drive arrived in short order, in a plain brown box, with inadequate packaging, a bunch of cords, and no instructions. And a cracked case.

And it doesn't work. It spins disks, but it won't talk to any of our computers, no matter how John, the IT professional, tries to coax it. And, being that John knows a lot about how to make computers work, and being that we have four different machines in the house right now, with three different operating systems, and he's tested the drive on each of them, THIS INDICATES A MAJOR PROBLEM.

So, my husband contacted via their live help chat today:

Welcome to Customer Service, you are now chatting with Spencer.

Spencer: Thank you for visiting, this is Spencer, how may I help you today?
You: I recently purchased a refurbished memorex external CD-RW from you, but it does not appear to work
Spencer: I would be happy to help you with that.
Spencer: Could you please provide me the order number and the catalog number of the item?
You: order number [xxxxxxxxx]
You: sku [xxxxx]
Spencer: Thank you.
Spencer: For security purposes, may I ask you to verify the name and billing address on your account?
You: John X at [address xxxxx].
Spencer: Thank you for verifying.
Spencer: Are you referring to 'Memorex External 52x32x52x CD-RW Drive'.
You: yes
Spencer: Please stay online while I forward this issue to thetech support.
You: ok...
Spencer: I have escalated this issue and you will be contacted soon.
Spencer: I understand, and I apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you.
You: contacted how?
Spencer: You will be contacted by email or phone.
You: how soon will this be? this is a christmas present that i need to send to another state
You: also i need to go into work in an hour
Spencer: You will be contacted within 7 days.
You: that's not acceptable
Spencer: I apologize for the additional time this will take, and look forward to a positive resolution.
You: why will it take 7 days?
Spencer: You will be contacted within 7 days.


Clearly, I realized, despite the claim of "live chat," this "Spencer" character must not actually be a real person, but some sort of artificially-semi-intelligent android, with a penchant for meaningless repetition due to limited vocabulary!

Having dealt muchly with Overstock androids before, and being possessed of a much, much more wicked tongue than my dear gentler half, at this point, I asked my husband to allow me to take over and "translate" his sentiments for him, to see if I could get anywhere.



You: this will not be a positive resolution if it takes 7 days to resolve it
You: we will not have time to get the present to its recipient
You: you cannot look forward to a positive resolution under these circumstances
Spencer: I understand, and I apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you.
You: so please cut the corporate script speak and help me
You: before you lose a customer
You: should we just return this?
You: how quickly can you ship a new one?
Spencer: Please accept our sincere apologies for the inconvenience caused to you.
Spencer: I am sorry that you have had troubles shopping with for your previous order.
Spencer: I am confident that such incidents will never happen in your future purchases with us.
You: i cannot accept your apologies until you actually help me
Spencer: I hope you will give us a second chance to demonstrate our commitments.
You: so please stop apologizing and help me
You: are you even a real person?
You: i would like to return this if it is going to take seven days for a tech consult
You: i am a computer programmer
Spencer: Yes..
You: this problem is not on my end
Spencer: You will be contacted soon.
You: 7 days is not soon
You: i need this to be escalated to management immediately
Spencer: I am sorry, however please wait till the time frame.
You: can you connect me to a manager, please? preferably one who is authorized to actually speak to me and respond to my questions instead of reading from a script?
You: i will not wait
Spencer: I understand, and I apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you.
You: you will connect me to a manager or another person who can help me immediately, or i will not shop with you ever again
You: and i will return this item
You: and i will report this entire conversation, which i have been recording, on my weblog
You: and send it to my local newspaper
You: so i suggest you keep our relationship civil by connecting me to a manager
Spencer: May I place you on hold for a minute or two while I research this for you?
You: certainly

[lengthy pause]

Mark: I'm sorry to keep you waiting, John.
Mark: This is Mark, the floor supervisor.



So, here's the handy tip of the day, kids:

If you need to get in touch with a manager on the help chat at, threaten to post the entirety of their ineffectual "help" chat with you on your blog. Then get the manager to actually help you resolve the issue in a semi-reasonable fashion. (Which, after some apparently ritual further ridiculous ado about nothing, Mark finally did. He even gave us a coupon).

Then, post the conversation on your blog anyway, just so all your friends think twice about being tempted by those low prices.

(Hey, I never said I wouldn't).


They should just be happy I'm not sending it in to the newspaper.

(P.S. Sorry for the lack of capitalization and punctuation and for any typos in the chat, but the client they use takes for-ev-er to load as you type, so we were trying to save time).


Andrea said...

I can totally relate. I used to be in Customer Service myself, and I HATE HATE HATE bad/lazy service from anyone, especially if that someone is clearly uninformed and punctuates their "help" with lots of "uhs" and "ums". I have ordered lots from and have never had a problem, but I mainly order books, so maybe that's why it's been smooth. I loved the post, and I'm printing it and hanging it by my home phone to use as a template for how to handle poor customer service in the future. Thanks for the laugh, and the warning.

Gina said...

Well let me tell you from having worked at a phone comany the way to deal with "issues" is to call, get a "file number" or "Tracking number" or what ever THEY call it. Then asked to speak to a manager. Directly ask them if they have the athority to do "X" if not ask to speak to their manager. Once you get to the top you can get your problems resolved.