Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Customer (Non-)Service...

"In the Modern Era, it would appear that the words "Customer Service" is basically shorthand for "shut up and be happy that we even answered your call..." -- The Overlord

Something of a minor tragedy has struck here at The Death Star. It might have major -- negative -- implications for all life as we know it in the Galaxy.

Your intrepid, would-be Galactic Dictator is a man of many talents. Most of those talents don't, I must admit, amount to a pile of old dogshit in the grand scheme, but I have them all the same.

One of these is a (minor) musical talent.

I like to play the drums and do so fairly proficiently. For many years, this wanna-be Interstellar Despot flailed away at drumkits until apartment living precluded the ownership of same for reasons of space and the neighbor's sanity, and so for nearly 20 years I gave up something I had enjoyed immensely for practical reasons. Afterwards, a slight case of arthritis -- the same Overlord was quite the athlete in his younger days -- caused by many years of playing hockey, soccer, and softball, bowling and back-country hiking/camping/mountain climbing left his joints and limbs, but especially his hands, in very poor shape.

Playing the drums went by the wayside.

But, the primal urge to beat the ever-loving fuck out of something on a regular basis never leaves, and considering the age we live in, is something of a necessity. It is a means of retaining sanity for me, and prevents my more...shall we say, violent...tendencies from being visited upon people, who truth to tell, are all in serious need of a good beating if you asked me.

I run into at least three candidates a day.

So, it turns out that some sort of physical therapy was in order. Some means of working out anger at, and disappointment in, the Human Race (You All Suck) was needed, if only to prevent the unmitigated carnage that can result when an aggrieved and put-upon Overlord -- who no longer drinks to excess -- has no creative and/or positive outlet for his explosive temper (a result, unfortunately, of a combination of Sicilian Heritage and being waist deep in other people's dumbfuck 24/7).

I bought a new drumkit in November of 2018.

I brought this home on the QT, for if Mrs. Overlord had discovered what I had done, I would never hear the end of it. I bought rubber mufflers for the drums and cymbals to cut down on the noise. The fact that Mrs. Overlord's disability prevents her from descending the stairs into the basement and her sense of very selective hearing helped to hide this subterfuge from her.

Until that one day, of course, when she wanted to know what all the noise was and I LIED THROUGH MY GODDAMNED TEETH and told her "it was the stereo".

An additional problem: I keep the strangest hours of anyone I know. I am liable to be wide awake at 3:32 a.m. on any given evening. Playing the drums for an hour or three every day in that scenario is not conducive to either a happy household or good relations with the neighbors, and so a solution to the problems of noise, unwanted discovery and avoiding contact with all other life forms presented itself in the form of an electronic drum kit.

I can now play the drums any time I like, thanks to technology that makes it possible to listen to what I'm playing through headphones, and to enhance the experience by allowing the music of my choice to be piped into them, so I can play along with my favorite bands, genres, etc.

I can also say my arthritis has gotten much better, especially in the hands (drumming involves the use of all four limbs, and a lot of bending/flexing/working joints. It works better for arthritis than any pill I've ever taken and you don't smell of capsaicin and Old Woman).

So, soon after getting real drums (thank you, Ludwig: you're the best!), I purchased an electronic kit. It makes practice possible at all hours, and if I want to play my real drums I can still do that when Mrs. Overlord is safely medicated.

I will mention the manufacturer here for a simple reason: they make an excellent product.

I purchased an inexpensive kit from Alesis (via Amazon) for about $350.  For comparison, had I purchased a similar kit from Roland, I'd be looking at several thousand dollars. For further comparison, my Ludwigs set me back $2,250. For that amount of money, I must say, the Alesis drums are quite good -- they make an excellent practice kit, or even a cheap starter kit for a kid -- and the normal problems one encounters with electronic drumsets (in my previous experiences) are minimal.

For my purposes -- strictly practice -- it was a good value.

Except for the ONE problem you cannot avoid re: electronic drum kits.

Eventually, something breaks and it needs to be replaced.

Especially when you're a beefy dude with big arms and your favorite drummers to play along with are named Bonham, Peart, Paice, and Palmer.

Drummers will understand.

Replacing any part of an electronic drumkit, or buying expansions can get expensive -- the bargain price is how they sell you the kit; selling you replacements and extensions is how they make their money. For example, I bought a second crash cymbal for this kit that set me back $187. The kit (5 drum pads, crash and ride cymbal, hit-hat pad, pedals and frame) only cost $350, as I've said.

So, two weeks ago, when the hi-hat pad finally gave up the ghost from constant pounding (this is the set of cymbals which on a traditional drum kit are used to keep time, probably the most-used and abused parts of any kit) it was time to look at a replacement.

Because repairing these things is usually a waste of time.

I called the manufacturer (Alesis) and was positively shocked to get a real, live human being with nary a wait, instead of having to navigate the annoying "phone tree" and the recorded, seemingly-required virtue signalling, 10-minute dissertation on how "_______ is working hard to help our communities prevent the spread of COVID-19".

The gentlemen then attempted to transfer me to the Parts and Repair division...and dropped the call.

So, I called back, got another live human being, who managed to successfully master the relatively-easy task of transferring a phone call...only to discover that in order to actually SPEAK to someone who could help you it was necessary to leave a voice mail message with contact information, so that someone can get back to you. Due to Chinese Lung AIDS, and the lack of live human beings in Parts and Repair (can't have them work from home?) this may take several days.

And then you discover the voice mail box is full and you can't leave a message.

I am nothing if not persistent, however -- especially when the other option is ordering a new pad from Amazon, for $200 -- and I remembered The Warranty.

Fortunately, (one would think) I had purchased a three-year extended warranty to go along with the kit, and according to the terms and conditions "normal wear and tear" is covered.

In this case, the warranty (actually, they term it "insurance") is offered by a company called Squaredeal, a division of Allstate which offers warranty protection on items ranging from home electronics to appliances to power tools. I had saved the e-mails regarding the activation of my policy and the purchase orders for both the warranty and the kit. If I can't get Alesis to replace what I need, then I have insurance.

One would think.

Contacting Squaredeal, however, turns out to be something of a hassle.

Because there is no Customer Support number included in any of the e-mail correspondence, and nary a sign of a phone number of any kind (except sales, of course!) on their website. I was informed I must submit my claim via electronic means "using our automated support system" which is three lies for the price of one.

For after going through all the trouble of collecting serial numbers, cutting and pasting my receipts into the little window, entering and re-entering to confirm my contact information, the "automated support system" turned out to be about as useful as a liberal at a math exam. It spit out a response that said, basically, I should take the item to an approved repair facility, have them fix it, and then re-submit my claim for reimbursement.

Ah, if only t'were that simple...

I checked the list of Alesis-authorized repair facilities/centers in my area. Most of these turn out to be Mom-and-Pop local music stores which are either a) temporarily closed due to the Wuhan Fluhan, or b) have been closed long enough by same to have gone out of business. The one retailer anywhere near my location -- a Guitar Center in Brooklyn -- is currently short the only electronic drum tech they ever had (they don't say why, but I would surmise it's because there's more money to be made in selling replacements than in repairs).

So, I did some digging (it only took a few minutes) and got an honest-to-The Force customer support line for Squaredeal, worked my way through the interminable phone tree, listened to the ridiculous and self-serving soliloquy of the COVID-19 pledge delivered by a disjointed, vaguely-female electronic voice, and then got a human being on the other end of the phone.

In India.

So, after this lady in Bangalore had me repeat the entire process I went through already with the "automated customer support" routine, the answer to the question "can I get my goddamned hi-hat pad replaced?" was answered by the (by now expected) "you can get it repaired and we'll reimburse you" routine.

(I promise, I was truly nice and respectful on the phone. I can fake that, when I have to).

Hey, Lady, I know that in Bengal or Punjab or wherever the fuck you are (and to be fair, I'm not angry with HER) you haven't the slightest idea what's happening in America, but repair is out of the question because there's no one to repair it. If there is anyone who can repair it, they're either out of work because Americans can't handle the fucking flu, or they've been put out of business because the politicians can't handle a response to the fucking flu.

And this is not an isolated incident in Modern 'Merica. I would say it's gotten worse with the introduction of Sino Snot Storm, but considering the previous downward trend in Customer Service everywhere, that would be to give them a cop-out.

For after you have sat through the annoying phone tree with an ever-expanding list of options, the "para Espanol, marque dos", the really bad Muzak alternating with advertisements and chest-beating announcements, the "your call is important to us" bullshit, when you finally make contact with a person, they either have to transfer you (and lose the call) or it's someone in a Third World Shithole who speaks English about as well as Michele Obama hides her penis.

Assuming you get this far, you discover your "warranty" is not really a contract, but more like a set of loose guidelines; you find out the "insurance" you've paid for is no such thing; you are treated to a bedazzling array of pre-requisites, exceptions, requests for more information, and processes and procedures that one gets the impression are deliberately designed to ultimately demoralize you into just giving up.

And I've found this phenomenon to be true everywhere and with everything. No matter who you call for "Customer Service" you get none. You get contradictory information; you get interminable waits while someone "asks my supervisor". If you ask to speak to a supervisor, you suddenly discover they're all in meetings or on other calls (probably because everyone sucks at their jobs), and when you finally get one, they simply repeat the process the monkey on the other end of the phone just put you through...twice...before informing you "there's nothing we can do", "you don't qualify", or "that's not covered".

In the meantime, my telephones -- both home and mobile -- are constantly ringing with unwanted calls for shit I neither want nor need, and despite telling Patricia from ______ that you don't need boat insurance because you don't have a boat, or Steve (with the Indian accent) from _____ that you don't want another credit card, or Jim from _____ that you don't have any college loans to refinance,  or Marge from the democratic party (small 'd' intentional) that you wouldn't contribute to a democrat if your life depended upon it, or Henry from ______ that you don't want to take his fucking retarded survey or participate in his poll with loaded questions, they fucking call you back, repeatedly, anyway.

That's when the usual phone scams of "this is Microsoft Customer Support (in Karachi)..." and "your utility company owes you money, we just need your Social Security number to recover it..." aren't tying up the lines.


And you're supposed to be on the "Do Not Call List"!

But the second you actually need or want something, a service that you've paid for, help with a product you paid good money for, suddenly no one knows anything and the phones don't work. No one has any "authority" to help you, despite this being their fucking job. No one has the same sense The Force gave to an Irish Setter to do anything except read from a script, run the same procedure ad nauseum even though you've already done it three or four times, no one can read, no one can speak, and no one can even talk to you without five minutes of questions they should already have the answers to (like account info), a note from your Mommy, and maybe even a stool sample.

If the day should ever come when we're finally free of the scam that has been the artificial and unnecessary shutdowns in the name of the Great Sneeze of China, the first thing American Companies can and should do to recover their market share, get their customers back into a buying mood, and just simply live up to their responsibilities, is to focus on creating good customer service.

Based in America with English-speakers, too.

And maybe the government can get around to stopping, once and for all, these fucking robocalls, phone scammers, and salespeople (if I wanted your product/service, I would have called you!).

As an aside, on a somewhat-related topic of how bad all this lack of service and phone scamming is, it wasn't all that long ago that Mrs. Overlord, in one of her dumber moments EVAH!, talked to one of these idiots, was told that she could "save" us $500 a year on the house insurance by changing companies, and that all they needed to do so was to record her giving them permission to open a new policy. Of course, she does so.

Of course, she forgets to tell me.

So that when the mortgage company wants to know why there's suddenly two insurance policies on the house, I can't answer them and haven't a clue. Also, the new insurance company tells you they will be sending "an inspector" to look at the property...and you never see him, He never knocks on the door, he never calls -- you would think an "inspector" would like to see the wiring, the roof, the furnace, check for smoke alarms, etc -- but he's apparently been there,in Stealth Mode, and you get a letter stating that unless you fix a crack in sidewalk the previous insurer was content to leave alone for 20 years, your new policy will be cancelled in 30 days.

And, naturally, you call the insurance agent who instigated this nonsense, swapped the policies without your knowledge, and he  just happens to "know a guy", and your "$500 savings" becomes a $3,500 bill for a new sidewalk.

This is why Mrs. Overlord is not allowed to use the phone.

And another reason why I deserve drums.

This is insanity.

(P.S. spare me the anguished pearl-clutching responses along the lines of "with all that is happening, your problem is rather insignificant and you're being selfish" bullshit.)

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