Wednesday, June 12, 2024

What customer service reps say sometimes has a tenuous relationship with the promises made by a company. (Photo: Katy Warner)

Cambridge Day is part of a project called Voices of MainStreet — a weekly, nationwide Q&A in which editors at the money and lifestyle site ask questions and bloggers answer them. For this entry, we were again allowed to choose our own topic.

It’s been an exciting couple of weeks in the customer service arena. Let’s take a look at the winners and losers.

Loser: Samsung

I have a Samsung device the size of a pack of cards that can give me wireless Internet anywhere I can also get a mobile phone signal. Too bad it has a tendency to randomly conk out. Not only does it take a while to get back online, and usually three tries to do so, but whatever I was doing in the meantime gets lost. Instant messaging. Uploads. Downloads.

I now know this is because when I got the device a couple of months ago, the “firmware” on it was out of date. I have to download new firmware.

But I own an Apple laptop, and Samsung doesn’t have a way for people with Apple computers to download firmware (that is, without access to a PC that’s not protected against such downloads, like, say, at a library).

Really, Samsung? Apple is estimated to have about 20% market share of the computing universe including iPads, 9.7% in the desktop market and 8.5% in laptops such as my own. That’s 12 million desktop and laptop computers shipped so far this year alone. We count for nothing?

It’s like Samsung is telling Apple users, “Welcome to 1983! We know you think you’re cool with your fancy Mac, but we’re going to drag you back to grubby reality. Go to the library and sign up to use the PC after that fourth-grader learning fractions.”

Loser: Verizon

It was Verizon who sold me that dysfunctional Samsung device with the old firmware. To fix the problem, a customer service rep told me he was sending a new one.

Instead the company sent me one that had been refurbished  — a thing Verizon does because it doesn’t see the problem in saying, “Send us your broken item. We will send you a previously broken item that has passed our quality checks while taking your broken one and selling it to another customer after it, too, has passed our quality checks.”

It’s discouraging enough new things from Verizon fail so frequently. Being sent a refurbished one is asking for trouble.

In this case, the refurbished Samsung device sent by Verizon was as old as the first one and had the same expired firmware, a bitterness only compounded when the customer service rep told me that the latest firmware is more than two months old, meaning I could have been sold one that didn’t need fixing the instant I paid for it.

In my two-year history as a customer Verizon has sold me a phone that needed replacing twice, a Novatel wireless hotspot that needed replacing three times and a Samsung wireless hotspot that has been replaced once. For those fourth-graders keeping track, that’s a 7/8 failure rate.

A Verizon technical support guy disagreed with my description of the Samsung device as “broken,” by the way. But I’m not sure how else to describe a wireless hotspot that loses signal at random times (except as “a surprise paperweight”).

Loser: Best Buy

I did a lot of research and found the television I wanted for a good price — on sale! — at But the website was being oddly difficult about delivering it to my apartment or to any Best Buy store near me. So I went to the phone. After confirming the television I wanted was indeed in stock and asking me where I wanted it delivered, a customer service rep took my personal and credit card information and asked me to hold briefly while he got my confirmation number. Eighteen minutes of insanely bad hold music later, the line went dead. After two frantic phone calls, another Best Buy rep told me the television had been sold out for weeks.

If you can’t sell me the television at any price, is there a reason to keep it posted, let alone advertise it as being on sale?


Federal Express was to pick up my broken Samsung device — that’s right; I was forced by Verizon to choose which broken wireless hotspot to return and take care of shipping it back — and deliver a television from Amazon. Sadly, the company has shattered my faith that paying insane amounts of money for a service actually gets you good service.

First, Fedex apparently but literally lost the television I ordered. I waited at home one recent Saturday for a television that left an Amazon warehouse at 1:07 p.m. the day before, loaded onto a Fedex truck, and by 1:08 p.m. was gone forever. “They had a delivery scheduled,” said Sarah, an Amazon customer service rep, “but they didn’t have the TV.”

Fedex blamed Amazon, saying the company had filled out and handed over a form for the shipment, but never the product. (Yes, that makes total sense. Certainly no Fedex driver would find that odd.) Either way, that four-step thermometer Fedex has created so you can follow a tracking number never moved off Step 1, “Initiated,” to “Picked up,” “In transit” or “Delivered,” even though when the company tried to get me the thing after failing at the Saturday one-day delivery its people swore to me the thing was “in transit.”

After the disappearance of the first TV was confessed and Amazon sold me a replacement, I watched that thermometer like a hawk that was expecting a modest, sale-priced Sharp Aquos Quattron delivered to his one-bedroom nest. It didn’t move off “Initiated” all day, including at 10:15 p.m. or so as I worked at Diesel, a coffee shop some 15 minutes’ walk from my apartment.

At 10:58 p.m., as I packed up and took a final look to see if the television had at least moved to “Picked up,” the animated thermometer zoomed all the way from “Initiated” to “Delivered” — in fact, delivered at 1:43 p.m., or some nine hours earlier, to a tiny vestibule totally accessible to the 180,196 people of Cambridge and Somerville. It turns out that if you spend the time panicking and cursing Fedex, you can shorten a 15-minute distance to about seven minutes.

It took three attempts to deliver a television and two to pick up the Samsung. Immediately after the dispatcher swore a pickup would take place by 4:32 p.m. (so precise!) a driver called to say there were delays and beg for more time. At 5:05 p.m., five minutes after the driver was supposedly there, I got another call wondering if I’d left or if the buzzer was broken. No. And no. The 5:30 p.m. estimated pickup was also missed. After a while screaming at a rep to connect me with the drivers who kept calling but not showing up, a pickup was finally made.

Call me crazy, but if I had the phone number of the person who wasn’t coming to the door, I’d use it while I was there rather than five minutes later to ask if the person had been around.

Winner: Amazon

Amazon may actually have lost the first television, but its reps did what they could to make it right — first taking off shipping and handling fees, then selling me a new television for the price of the replacement used (“like new!”) one, also minus shipping and handling, when a giant blue line appeared down the left side of the screen no matter what DVD was inserted in the player.

On the final shipment, they’re going UPS instead of Fedex. Maybe that marks me as a second-class customer as a result of all the troubles, but at least it’s a company that hasn’t screwed up yet and suggests a time I can look forward to a vacation from the world of customer service and technical support. In that world I too usually come up a loser.