You think consumer Customer Service is bad?

Offtopic Bearwall rant!

Okay, a lot of consumer level Customer Service people are pretty wonky, but when you step up into commerical purchasing, it’s a whole new ball game.

In the comsumer market, you might think that when you’re buying a $120 DVD player, sure you deserve some reasonable customer service help if the thing doesn’t work, but you don’t expect someone to hop in a lear jet and fly out from corporate headquarters to hold your hand, right?

You’ve got certain expectations. You figure someone should really try to help you, but you know that, in the end, it’s a $120 DVD player, the person you’re talking to on the phone didn’t actually break it personally when it went out the door, they’ve got rules they’ve got to follow, they’re not being paid all that well in the first place unless customer service is only one facet of the responsibilities of their position, and if you’re being a tool to them in the first place, well…

What about consumer Customer Service for things other than goods? What about monthly services, like, oh, let’s just say for example cable internet?

That’s where you start getting into interesting territory in the consumer side of things, right?

Because I know NONE of you have ever been trying to log into WoW 30 minutes before raid time, only to find out your internet was dead, had no way of letting anyone, you know, online know what was wrong with you, and had to frantically call customer support for your internet service provider, desperate to get it fixed.

On the line is your current irritation at a momentary interruption in service, weighted against your inherent laziness when it comes to changing service providers. They know they don’t have to be good enough to win your business, they just have to not suck so much that they piss you off enough to throw off your laziness and switch.

God help you if they’re the only high speed game in town. Sucker.

Someone should actually do an audio montage of those phone conversations. That’s got to be one hell of a sub-cultural bubble, right there.

Protip: If you’re afraid it’ll be a problem in the future, have a “swim buddy” in your guild that you share cell phone numbers with, so if your internet goes out, you’ve got someone to get in touch with and let ’em know.

Okay, fine, so everyone has their customer service horror story.

When you step up into the commercial arena, you’d expect things might be a touch different, wouldn’t you? Sure, a $120 DVD player is one thing, but drop a few hundred thousand on some gear, you’d expect just a teensy bit more, right?

The first change is, in most cases, you don’t ever go to a store to make your selection or final purchase.

Instead, you start with a specific need, you identify companies that make products that fit those needs, you contact their sales offices, make appointments to meet with them, sales people fly out to meet with you and do the hard sell, you read their brochures, check schematics and characteristic data, and in some cases actually visit other customers already using the equipment, to see how they like it, see how they’re using it, and observe it in action.

When you’re contemplating buying a $250,000 to $1 million+ machine made in another country that will be designed and built from scratch based on your requirements, and that will have a several month lead time, preceeded by preparing a place in your production facility with appropriate power, water, pneumatic and exhaust capacity, it’s a whole other experience than walking into Best Buy or Sears.

If YOU were preparing to drop a cool million in another companies’ pockets, you might think that they’d treat you a nice, right?

And the sales people do.

But once the sale is made, what about when you need something later on? Like the machine ain’t working right and you need help figuring it out? Or a part broke and you need a new one?

Do you think when you call in to customer support on that big ticket machine, you get treated the same way the sales guy treated your company president?

Oh, hell no.

The majority of us in this position don’t expect or want trips to Cancun or other kickbacks when we call in with a problem, either.

We just want someone to do the bare minimum. Help us get going again.

What you don’t see the upper management types who will make the final decision considering is what happens AFTER the sale.

What is their support like?

What happens when you need parts to fix it when it breaks down?

See, when you buy a custom high-cost machine like this, you’re chaining yourself to their repair parts system. It doesn’t matter if you like it or not. They built it, and they intend to make money off of you. BIG TIME.

You’ve got two choices when something breaks down. Buy it directly through them, or try to find it somewhere else on your own.

If you buy it directly from them, then if you’re lucky, they have some in stock, or know where to get it already, so you know it won’t take that long to get it. Maybe. BUT, they are buying it somewhere else, or having it made by a fabrication shop somewhere else to their specs, and then adding a fee on top of it before selling it to you.

If you find it direct from the manufacturer, it may be a lot cheaper, but it will often have a long lead time… like weeks or even months before you’ll get it.

Especially if you just bought a piece of equipment designed and manufactured in another country. Guess what? Japanese engineers seling machines to the American market aren’t known for looking for American solutions to engineering problems. The parts they choose to build from are sold, guess where? Japan!

So when you call in looking for parts, where do you think they’re coming from? That’s right!

Another fun issue is, companies don’t want you to go around ’em for cheaper parts. A lot of companies work deals with the manufacturer to use custom part numbers on their labels, and only sell those part numbers to the guy who makes the machines. You call, say, Koganei in Japan looking for a new air cylinder, and tell them the part number, and Koganei sees in their system that part number is for something they only sell to Toshiba… and they tell you to talk to Toshiba, ’cause they won’t sell ’em to you. You want one to fix your machine. Toshiba buys them by the hundred. Guess who they’d rather piss off.

And lots of manufacturers don’t want to deal directly with the end user. They’d prefer dealing with a middleman willing to put up with your bullshit. So they don’t sell to end users at all. They only sell to people that are set up as regional or local distributors. So, you have to find a distributor in your area… and hope that person is willing to help your one time purchase.

And if they are, you tell the distributor you want an air cylinder, they say sure, they email the manufacturer in Japan, the manufacturer in Japan sends the email to a translation department, a few days later they get it back, they get some info on your part, send their reply to the translator, then get it back, then send it to the distributor, who calls you, if they even remember you since a week and a half has passed since you asked for a quote on price, availability and lead time.

Now you can place an order.

Nice, huh?

But okay, you deal with what you got.

What blows my fragile little mind is how hard it is, even if everything works according to plan, in GETTING THE DAMN PARTS.

Every day, every single day, about half my time is spent calling people and asking where the stuff I ordered is, days, weeks or even months after I was promised I’d receive it.

That’s exactly right. This is not time spent ordering items.

No, this is time spent asking where the (%^ the shit you promised me is, damnit!

You won’t let me order it from somewhere else? Well, damnit, then you’d better sell it to me when I need it!


“Hello, yes, I do have a question. I’m trying to find out what the status is on the part I ordered on PO# P349087. Yes, yes I did order it. No, I’m afraid you’re wrong, I did place the order. Oh, you have no record of that on file?  I must have faxed it to the wrong location, or the fax didn’t go through, so it’s my fault you don’t have it? Well, what would you say if I told you that thanks to the last three times you’ve pulled this same exact shit, Amanda, I now document all phone conversations, take down all names of people from your company that I talk to, and that I email AND fax in all orders I place, and then call back to verify your companies’ receipt of said order before I consider it ordered? Do you remember the order now? Would you like me to fax all of that documentation in to you now to helpfully remind you?”

“Still don’t have any record on your end that I ordered that $5000 servoamp, huh? Must’ve been one of those famous computer glitches in the database, right? Dog ate the homework? ”

“Oh, is it a ten week lead time on getting one from Japan? Really? And now that it’s really ordered I should wait for ten more weeks before I call back if I don’t see it?”

“Yeah… that’s what you told me ten weeks ago. Thanks!”


You think I’m joking. I bet you do.

Here’s another example.

I am sitting here, telling this person on the phone, “My company has one of your machines, and cash. Your company made the machine, and presumably wants cash. Tell you what. Your machine broke. I need the part. You buy the part from someone else, and keep the part in stock. You actually charge us $150.36 for a part that the manufacturer charges us $36.54 each (real freaking example from 5 minutes ago), but I’m willing to pay you that extra $115 bucks right now because you have one in stock, right now, and the manufacturer wants a two week lead time to ship from Japan. So here’s what we’ll do. I’ll order the part, you’ll put the part in a box, toss it at your UPS guy for overnight express, and we’ll pay you. Okay? We get the part tomorrow, the machine will be back up and running after one day of downtime, and you’ll get money at a truly bullshit markup. Okay?”

You give me goods. I give you cash. You’ve made stupid profit because your design engineer used a substandard part for a high stress application in the first place, so the parts wear out frequently.

Sounds good, right?

And yet… AND YET… a week later, I’ll have made 10 phone calls asking WHERE THE HELL THE PART IS. I base this knowledge off of past history with this company.

Third example. This one is still going on.

We’ve got three machines made by a German-based manufacturing company. They’ve been in the plant about ten years, they cost a ton of money, and none of them have ever worked quite right. A lot of money has been sunk into these machines over the years, trying to get them to work reliably.

In particular, one machine has a Rube Goldberg invention for an outfeed carriage. I’ve been trying to get it working properly. 

About 5 months ago, I decided to start from scratch with perfect components, to make sure everything was set at zero per the manufacturers’ design, and then if things weren’t quite right we’d redesign things ourselves to increase reliability.

I ordered all the parts from Germany. I had to. They have all of the build drawings for fabrication. They are the manufacturer themselves, nobody else. They hold the keys to the kingdom.

We get the parts, we install them after the two month lead time, it still doesn’t work with a damn.


So I’m going over schematics, I’m reading exploded parts diagrams and design drawings, and I come across a mention, in a faxed memo in one manual’s folder pocket, about an engineer visit from Germany to install some modifications in 2007.

A what to the who?

I gather up all the manuals and documentation, and sure enough, in one manual out of the entire set, there is a note that the parts list shown is obsolete due to modifications designed and installed by the manufacturer to correct the very issue we’ve been dealing with.

But those parts as described ain’t in the machine, and haven’t been since I’ve been here. They do not exist on site. But now I do have their new parts list with a description of what they did.

The manual showing the changes was in our engineering library, not the maintenance OR production libraries. Nobody in the maintenance department back then, apparently, was involved in this project, and none of those people work here anymore now, anyway.

So, I’ve been fighting these problems for a year now, and I’ve spent thousands of dollars ordering things to repair this machine from the manufacturer, things that wear out too bloody fast, and here I find out that the very person in Germany that I have been talking to, and ordering from, is the person that according to this memo I found designed and installed an upgrade to permanently fix their machines’ original bad design.

I’ve been reinventing the wheel. And this guy has been letting me. “Oh no, no idea what could possibly be wrong, are you sure you set it up right?”

We even, and I’m not freaking kidding, we even flew this guy out from Germany to look at the machine and provide us with suggestions on making improvements. After all, he’s the expert, right?

When he came here, he acted as though it was the first time he’d ever heard of such a problem with this machine.

And he got away with it, because none of us were here when it happened. BUT, he also never volunteered any information about the modifications he had designed, the parts they had installed, nothing. He let us sit and spin.

So here I am. I need this thing fixed. So I tell him two months ago I need to order a full set of the parts from the modification, the CORRECT parts, so we can implement it. Again.

We’ll worry about how this all fell apart some other time. Fix the damn problem.

It’s been two months since I ordered the parts. Two months. I have followed up on this every week. Hell, several times a week.

I still… STILL do not have an estimated SHIP DATE, let alone the parts in my hand.

A month ago, I started telling them that if they are THAT busy, give me the design drawings, we’ll fab ’em ourselves. They refuse to give design drawings to customers, because then… hold onto your hats, folks… then the customer would not buy their parts from their company anymore! Their company would lose revenue!

Never mind that there is no way in hell we’re ever buying a machine from them ever again. I’ve made sure of that.

At the moment, I’ve actually cut away that section of the machine, and modified it to use a belt driven conveyor with a variable speed drive I designed and installed so we can run. It works. It ain’t pretty, but it works.

It blows my mind. It really does.

And now that I’ve ranted about this… I am going to pick up my phone and give them ANOTHER call, to see if and when I will ever get my parts.


I just don’t understand these people. I’m literally giving them enough money for some bloody-be-damned milled plates and a rail that, for the same amount of money, I could use to buy a car, drive it to the East Coast, buy a plane ticket, fly to Germany, rent a car, drive to their factory, and BEAT THEIR ASS IN THEIR OWN F’ING LOBBY. And then come home again afterwards, tired but satisfied.

Don’t think I haven’t considered it.

Oh, and yes, in case you’re wondering, my unit of value when making commercial value comparisons is based on car equivalents. “I could buy your air cylinder… or I could buy a new Hyundai. I think, just possibly, your air cylinder might be a bit overpriced. It’s 6 steel plates, a spring, a bronze bushing and two threaded holes for quick disconnect air fittings. And you don’t even provide the fittings. And you think this is worth the price of a Hyundai?”

Holy shit.

Look, if you’re going to put yourself intentionally in the position of being the only possible source for repair parts, PROVIDE THE DAMN PARTS!!!

Oh, as an FYI… this is why a proper maintenance management program involves analyzing machines for expected wear items and critical parts based on expected lead times, parts costs, and downtime. You figure out what is important, what you can’t live without if it breaks, how long it’d take to get the parts if they were ordered, how important machine downtime is, and then you build an on-site parts inventory to hold the most important stuff. And you also try to find alternate sources of supply for EVERYTHING.


17 thoughts on “You think consumer Customer Service is bad?

  1. At first, I was thinking that I’d found another person like me that not only plays, but is doing what I do … then I continued to read and I find that even though our professions are not exact, they are similar.

    I repair Computed Tomography (CT (Cat)) Scanners and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanners. One would think that these live saving diagnostic tools would have a grand supply of parts available and ready to have on a bird at the drop of a dime … but you’d be wrong. You would also think that the suppliers would realize that hospitals are there to help people as best they can with the money they have (I’m talking non-profit hospitals, not the rape your wallet ones) … but you’d again, be wrong.

    Circuit board, 2.5″ wide by 1.75″ tall, 1/16″ thick, dual-layer. Contains 2 diodes, 1 resistor and 0.0002 Grams of gold/tin alloy for the contacts.

    I could build it for $50. From the Manufacturer it’s $3,857.23.

    And people wonder why their healthcare costs are soo high … It’s not because the people are out to steal their money that are there to help make the feel better, it’s because we are at the mercy of the equipment manufacturers and their after-sale parts which drives up the cost of care at the local level.

    What all this boils down to in this response is this, I feel your pain boss.


  2. Once had to fix a 500 ton press that was made in Italy. Only needed one part. I knew I was in trouble when I looked up the serial number for the press and it was 002. As I’m calling the manufacturer, I’m told that the part isn’t in stock but that they could make the part for only 12% of what the entire press costs.

    As I scramble to find an alternate fix – “Are there any more of these presses somewhere that someone isn’t using that we can get this part off of?”

    “No – there were only ever 2 of these made. A demo and the one you guys bought.” Beautiful.

    Since the entire plant will shut down in 3 days I say “Send me the part as soon as you can”. The Italian manufacturer says “Sure. As soon as people come back from vacation.” “When will that be?” I ask as I need this part badly. “Well, holiday just started so it’ll be about 30 days before we can get started.” WTH!! Evidently, Europe takes the month of July off and those that don’t, take August.

    I make the press work with duct tape and bailing wire for exactly 34 days. Long enough for the Italian company to get back from vacation and make the part. I call them to get a status update and ask what flight the part is on as I needed this part a month ago. “Oh, we put it on the freighter this morning. Should arrive in the US port in about 3 weeks.” WTH!! After failing to get the part off the ship, I quickly have them make another part (3 days) and pay to have someone board a commercial airline flight and hand carry the part to us.

    I thought that I had finally made it through this issue. Then the phone call. “Sorry but US Customs has held the part as it does not have the proper paperwork.” Someone just spam moonfire now and get it over with…


  3. Definitely learned that dealing with the cable company is akin with dealing with the IRS… certainly a lose-lose situation! My cable internet periodically just goes out (sometimes the phone & tv … package deal you know … at the same time). Routine is the same: cable company checks to see if there’s outages (okay)… then the kicker… “oh, it looks like we will have to send someone out to check your equipment… oooh, tomorrow’s appointment just disappeared. I can get someone to you in 7-10 days (yes, “days”)”. Haha, fortunately for me the problem resolves itself within an hour.

    Then there’s the time I used PayPal to purchase airfare on American Airlines (right when they first came up with the idea) but I’ll save my venting for another time…


  4. Hey BBB!

    Man I feel your pain!……I work for a Jeep/Chrysler dealership….I fixem broke cars! lol…..we have a very similiar issue with our parts Dept………..”all I need to fix this $40,000 car is tis lil springy thing…right here…..” ” oh that springy thig??? ….hmmm…..lets look it up…….nope not under that column……..hmmm not in there either……oh wait…here it is…under a completely unrelated topic…….and….its part of this huge assembly”…….”but ALL I NEED is this lil spring thingy, NOT the whole friggin contraption!!!” ” nope….only way we can get it is to order the WHOLE assembly” ” so to fix a less than $5 part….I must order, and charge the customer $6 bazillion dollars for an assembly I don’t really need…but has this 1 lil spring that I do?????” ” Yes….” lol………and of course there is the ever favorite……”we can’t find it in the parts catalog….so it must not exist!”….”but I am holding it right here in my hand….look it even haz part numbers on it…” ” ahhh….but those numbers aren’t in our system…they aren’t good” ” let’s call the parts specifiers……ok?” 2 weeks go by …….” they don’t have those numbers either….that part doesn’t exist” ” but I am hilding it…….in my hand!!” 1 week goes by…… ” oh look there is a Technical Service Bulliten……..and it hazez parts numbers… we can order it” ” but I thought it didn’t exist???????” ” It does now!” Grrrrrrrrr…… oh and btw….that goes for all auto manufacturers/dealerships…….it can be funny too when the manufacturer sends out a “fix” for an issue that is hokeyer than the actual repair ” cut here….trim this….install ghetto parts…..cover with goo and tape…all fixed” ” but it doesn’t take long to fix it the “right” way…and you want me to hack it up????” ……… lol…never mind the fact that there are over a few million individual parts that go into any auto……and we , as auto techs, are supposed to ALWAYS fix it correctly the very first time, knowing EXACTLY what is wrong with the vehicle, at the leastt amount of $$ possible. but that alas is another rant/story!!! 🙂
    If at first you don’t succeed, MacGyver the hell out of it!!…..if that doesn’t work…grab a bigger hammer!!!

    always love the blog BBB….keep it up!


  5. Soooo…

    This is why you took Engineering as an in-game profession, right?

    You know, because you could possibly build a real flying machine?


  6. I was in charge of a lab group in science; the experience is pretty different. I dealt with a bunch of companies, but typically there are only a handful of companies. I also dealt with the issue of, buy a 1 million dollar machine, you are its biach forever. Overall I’ve had really good experiences with these companies, but then again pretty much everything was made in America and usually just a bunch of crap in a tube. The only problem I ever had was with this totally incompetent field engineer who used to be a dentist, and knew very little about the industry and what our needs were and how to fix it. That’s more of a ‘why the hell did you hire this guy for 100k when he has no obvious clue’. But yeah all in all it worked well. We had local warehouses (like, local to our campus), where mfrs would stockpile stuff for us, since we ordered so routinely. Most stuff we got the next day or day after. But again I think its a whole different ballgame, and pretty much everyone I dealt w/ was American.


  7. I’m IT, not engineering or plant stuff, but you still make me EXTREMELY grateful that I deal with computers, and (mostly) non-enterprise stuff. Hoooo man.

    I’ve been dealing with a microscopic version of that, on a 500 laptop order I’m making. The rep from the company we usually go with is on extended leave, her husband was very badly wounded in Iraq. So I end up with this third string asshole who doesn’t know what he is doing, and while he’s busy jerking off, we are going to end up having to buy a lesser machine from another vendor because of heavy time constraints.

    Too bad everyone is not like us.

    BTW, coming up with a conveyor running on a variable speed motor? Not exactly groundbreaking, but still freaking impressive stuff! Yous is a smart cookie.


  8. A good read (not meaning “entertaining based on your shitty luck,” but rather “it held my interest”) but at the end, all I could think was “ZOMG he’s gonna’ go bear-tank on them in real life!”

    And it was an amazing visual. Just throwin’ that out there.


  9. Holy crap,

    I would buy the car, take a nice vacation to Germany and bloody a bat with a preplanned route to the US embassy.

    But as stated before, I hope having gotten that out helped a little!

    Hopefully some bastard in Germany, that you pay the WoW account for, reads your blog also.


  10. I quit a low paying job even though it was in an industry that I wanted to move up in, the job that I originally took becasue it was my ticket in still in college, no actually real world experience, you know the drill) I quit it becasue somehow instead of doing what I was hired to do – design and make samples, I ended up spending most of my day on the phone (or running around to various home offices that were in the same area as our office) chasing down freaking parts… and orders… with people who had about zero motivation to actually do their jobs and work with me. And some times, the entire design core would shlep our way into our warehouse back in brooklyn to fix up a shipment of couple of hundred necklaces or 6000 broaches becasue it was actually cheaper and faster then trying to send it back to be fixedand work directly with the manufacturer in china/taiwan/etc. when you’re dealing with deadlines and ever changing fashion world, you want your product going out to stores ontime, unless you want to lose a client (and that is considering that process generally involved us sending a sample to several factories, getting a sample manufactured by them back picking the one that was done best at lowest cost and THEN placing an order and they STILL messed up)

    /deep breath.

    god, I don’t miss those runarounds I got…not at all. they really do give your average consumer customer service run for its money and then some..


  11. Most important part of re-inventing the wheel I’ve found…make it better. Faster. Stronger. Er…wait…we don’t want a million dollar wheel. Seriously, without knowing more…it sounds like you have the right idea. Pretty doesn’t sound as important as functional, and more than anything else, repairable when it does break down.

    Having been in a situation like this…please make sure to leave notes that are understandable for the guy that comes after you. I came in to a job after a guy that was a freaking genius at shoestring and bubblegum fixes…but all his notes were in his own personal language and I spent more time trying to figure out what they did than I did making sure the stuff worked again. I actually ended up fired because I couldn’t live up to the standards they established from a guy who pretty much personalized everything he touched.


  12. I’ve been on the good side and bad side of that situation. One German vendor bent over backwards to help us out.

    The other treated us simlarly to how you’re being treated.

    And what is baso-fukkin-lutely amazing is that they are doing this IN A CRAZY BAD ECONOMY!!! I mean, it’s VERY rare to find a situation where only one company on the planet can fill your need. This means that almost every sale has competition, and that future revenue is based on this. No company or product is ir-replaceable. No offense, but business is business, and your company sucks! (you know what I mean)

    I join your flabbergasted shock at the bizarre nature of companies like that. And I give you a hearty mano-a-mano hug/slap. I would like to say it will get better, but we both know that isn’t necessarily true… 😦


  13. Hmm. I find it strange that per company policy we have to include a repair and maintenance schedule/plan for everything we sell to our customers as well as having redundancies. Of course, we’re currently building a new global satellite system to help us blow up bad guys so redudant parts, maintenance, and upgrades are required in the planning and development process. 🙂


  14. (Sorry for the double)

    An interesting purchasing trick I got taught that I’ll pass along. Assume you’re considering vendors, X, Y, and Z. You got a “satisfied customer list” from each. Add a couple of questions to your list, and (assuming it’s an X-list customer) ask: “Why did you decide against Y or Z?” “Did you consider any others, and why did you decide against them?”


  15. You do realize that the engineer part of the story makes this actionable (your company taking action against the other company), right? I mean, you now have reason to bring the attorneys out of their cages, and may even have enough to loose the dogs of law.

    To the rest of your points, yep. I also recommend that when you’re considering purchase and calling other customers, make sure you’re asking their experiences of when things went wrong. That includes making sure the “oops” happened within the last two years — offices change. I was amazed how many businesses only ask previous purchasers if the thing does what it’s supposed to do. No, actually I’m amazed how many businesses don’t call around. The fact some call but don’t ask the right questions is just sad, not amazing.


  16. First off, I hope you’re feeling better. Getting it out always helps me. 🙂

    I think we’ve all been there before but on higher priced goods you expect better service. A coworker of mine has a Saab 95 Aero Turbo that has been having some problems with wheel sensors and locking them up (not good going 60 down the highway). His car has been in the shop for over 3 months now and just last week they decided they would finally fly some Saab engineer out there to take a look… 3 months they tinkered to figure it out, one wasn’t enough?! Not to mention he’s been driving a bottom of the line VW Jetta as his rental, no drop-top in this perfect convertible weather we’re having (we’re in Texas, so convertible weather lasts about 2 months a year before it’s scorching). Needless to say, he’s pretty livid about the whole ordeal and has contemplated suing them over lemon laws (he could, technically) but decided it wasn’t worth it.

    At least it’s pretty cool that that you can design mechanical stuff like that. Give me an axe and a screw driver and you’ll probably just have a mess after I’m done. 😛


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