Thursday, October 16, 2003

When Toys Attack

So September was not a good month for me and customer service. Yes, it's rant time!

I got a new Palm Pilot in December. It had more memory than my old one and was all shiny and happy.

Until mid-spring, when the digitizer started to fail. It started small, little drifts in the screen's calibration so I'd have to click a button a little off-center for it to take. Then Graffiti (the handwriting recognition program with which you enter data into a Palm) started to mess up. I went to their website for tech support and found a software patch that addressed the problem. I installed it and it helped for a little while, but the problem soon came back, and by May I was unable to write anything. I tried e-mailing them, but they must have the same people reading e-mails as Amazon because they said if I was having problems with Graffiti that there was a tutorial built right in to the Palm! Really? Thanks, 'cause I haven't been using one of these for three years now.

So I called tech support, and a very nice and helpful man told me that the only thing for me to do was to mail the Palm in to them for repair and have it mailed back to me. Now, the Palm of course is an organizer. It's pretty much designed to be indispensable. If you use the way it's meant to be used, you're not going to be real happy about being without it for a week.

I said to the tech support guy, "So, this patch on your website...that kinda implies that you guys knew something was wrong with these units."
"Um...yeah. There was a problem with the digitizer on some of those models. The patch works for a lot of people, but not for everyone. We need to fix it here."
"So basically what you're telling me is that Palm shipped and sold faulty merchandise, and now I have to be majorly inconvenienced for something that's Palm's fault."
"Well, I'm not exactly telling you that..."
"Right, well I understand that you're not allowed to say that, but I'm right, right?"
"Um...yeah."
"Okay, well I appreciate your honesty and your help. Now what do I do to get this thing back to you...?"

I pulled out my old DayRunner and printed out a month's worth of pages for it from Palm Desktop, hot-synced and backed everything up, and put the Palm in the mail. To their credit, I had it back in three or four days. They'd sent it to my theater (I was working at the time, so none of these crazy UPS issues) via Airborne Express apparently the same day they'd received it. It was all fixed and happy.

Only it wasn't. In August it started to break down again, exactly the same way it had before. Only faster. So I called tech support again. "Yeah, that's a problem with the m125s," they told me. I'd have to send it back again. Once again, the tech support person (this time a woman with a very charming accent) was very casual and nice and straight with me. She reiterated what the first guy had told me about the bug being Palm's fault, and she told me about an upgrade program I could use if I'd had the Palm for a year. Unfortunately, I hadn't had it for a year. "And besides," I asked her, "how do I know this won't happen on another model?" She assured me that the problem was only on the m125s and not even on all of them. "So if I went one model up, in the same series, you can assure me I won't have any problems?" Yes. I asked her to put me through to customer service.

Apparently, all the smart people at Palm work in tech support, and they'll put anyone who can operate a phone in customer service. After explaining my situation I was told that all I could do was a "return-and-repair order." I asked to speak to a supervisor.

After a long wait, during which I assume the man I'd been speaking to was telling my story to his boss and calling me all sorts of nasty names, a lovely-sounding woman came on the line and asked me to explain it all again. Okay, well, I have this Palm, I'm really happy with it except that it keeps not working, and I'm wondering what we can do to fix it since the problem was caused by a bug on your end in the first place. Yadda yadda.

"Okay, sir, no problem. We can just go ahead and start a return-and-repair order."
"But I've done that already."
"Yes."
"And it didn't work."
"I'm very sorry about that, sir."
"I appreciate that. So what can we do about it?"
"Well, I can initiate a return-and-repair order and you can mail it back to us."
"But I already did that and it didn't work."
"That's all I can do for you."
"Even though it doesn't work?"
"Sir, it works just fine, we'll have it back to you in a matter of days via Airborne Express."
"No, I don't mean the system doesn't work, I mean the Palm doesn't work after it's already been 'fixed.' And there's no way to guarantee that if I do this this time it won't break down again?"
"It's very unlikely, sir."
"Wasn't it very unlikely last time?"
"Well, yes."
"I don't mean to be difficult, it's just that...well, it's not like I dropped it or dunked it in water or something. This problem was caused on your end. Palm shipped faulty merchandise, and now I'm suffering for it, so I don't think it's unreasonable to ask if perhaps there is a better way to solve the problem."
"I'm sorry, sir, that's our policy."
"Can you send me a new unit before I send mine back? I know some companies do that with a credit card number so I can't screw you."
"We don't really do that, but hold on." She put me on hold and when she came back she told me that there were no m125s in stock to send me even if she could. Fishy.
"Okay, what about an upgrade? I'm not suggesting you send me a free m130, I'll pay the difference, I just don't trust the m125 anymore, I don't believe that it won't break down again."
"We do have an upgrade program..."
"But I have to have had my Palm for a year."
"That's right."
"And I haven't."
"Oh."
"I've had it for nine months and it's broken twice because of a bug in your software."
"Ah."
"So is there any way we can solve this?"
"Well, I can initiate a repair-and-return..."

Yeah, that would be when I hung up on her.

I repeated this conversation to the manager at my old box office job and she was appalled. The beauty of being in charge is that you sometimes get to bend the rules. Especially when the rules clearly don't work for a given situation, and you're faced with possibly losing a loyal customer. I've often spouted policy at people only to be overruled by my boss. In fact, I've often said to my boss, "I have a really nice person on the phone with a really shitty situation, is there anything I can do for her?" Granted, Palm is a much larger corporation than our little non-profit theater, but that also makes it all the more baffling that there were no other options available.

Since I was willing to spend some money at this point, I devised a plan. I would find a good deal on a new PDA, buy it, transfer all my information, then send back the old one for repair and sell it. The ideal version of this plan involved getting a Handspring or a Sony, but in the end they were too expensive and they had a great deal on a Palm m130 on Overstock.com. (For the record, Overstock's customer service is phenomenal -- of course, that doesn't make for a good story, but I want to give them props amid all my whining). Unlike the customer service people, the tech support folks at Palm had been pretty straight with me. After all, they had both admitted outright that the company had messed up by shipping a buggy product. So I trusted the woman who told me that the m130 was safe, and this way I could keep my case and other accessories since they were the same shape. (Later on, Boy had an experience with Sony's customer service that makes this all look like a walk in the park, so I guess it's for the best that I stuck with the devil I know...though it does often seem like he and I should move to a cabin in the woods without any machines.)

So I got the new model -- rechargeable, color, happy -- and sent the old one in to be fixed. It returned promptly. I can't be 100% sure, but I'm pretty positive that after all that, they sent me a new unit. You know, that they couldn't possibly send out without having my old one back because it wasn't in stock. Bastards.

Still, I suppose all's well that ends well. And if anyone is in the market for a freshly reconditioned Palm m125, you can buy mine here.


Old Comments:
I don't know what's more shameful...that I went so far to plug my Ebay item, or that I actually thought anyone would even consider buying it after reading that.

Well, it's sold now, presumably to someone who doesn't read my blog, so the story ends happily all around.
Adam807 | Email | Homepage | 10.16.03 - 3:06 pm | #

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