Holding corporate feet to the fire

I have decided that I am done with the endless cycle of blind consumerism. We buy, buy, buy, and then buy new again when our products are broken, tired, or defective. How many people actually hold the manufacturers of their products accountable for the shortcomings? How many of you are scared of the customer support nightmare, and instead opt for the painless process of purchasing something new?

Customer support is structured to breed this reactive response: no way I’m going to go stand in line, sit on hold with some support agent in India, or go through the rigmarole of 14 automated email responses which, in the end, still might not amount to anything. If you get the responses I’ve received, you’ll be directed to the fine print in your contract or told that there’s nothing that [fill in the blank company] can do for you.

If we are so dedicated to buying companies products and services, shouldn’t they be dedicated to us? As a marketing professional (all you art directors and creative executives are exactly that, my friends) we know that the best marketing you can do is to provide solid products and services, and replace or refund when your product is defective or your service was ineffective.

Case in point #1: I purchased the Motorola Q, for use on the Sprint Network, back in February ’07. There is really only one problem I have with the phone (though there is a pretty long list of OS problems, which have been detailed in previous posts); but what the list lacks in length, it makes up for in weight. First off, my phone can’t hold a charge for even half of a day. I have purchased multiple batteries (including the extended battery) and had them replaced, to boot. There is nothing as frustrating as charging the phone all night, and then having it turn off at 5pm as I’m driving to pick up my son from school. I am shocked that they even offered this phone knowing that it had such a glaring defect. Honestly, if this phone is meant to be the stylish, business solution for those seeking the newest and greatest PDA, how could they overlook the fact that you have to travel everywhere with your charger? It is baffling to me.

And Sprint’s response thus far has been that it isn’t their problem. It’s my problem, because I trusted them and the products that they sell through their store. They aren’t forcing me to buy anything, so the responsibility of my satisfaction is on my shoulders.

I have decided that enough is enough, and am going to escalate this matter with both Sprint and Motorola until I get a satisfactory response and resolution. I was sold a defective product, and there should be reparations. I will keep you posted.

There are companies out there that understand this sort of proactive customer retention. Both Patagonia and REI, two companies I love and admire, will allow you to return nearly anything you’ve purchased at either store for the entire life of your product. I’ve returned things after 6 months, 9 months, and once a little over a year later because of product defect. Some companies would argue that I had already used the product to a point beyond return, but when you’re talking about products that you’re expecting to use for 10 years, 18 months of use falls far short of that point for me (and apparently for REI and Patagonia as well).

Case in point #2: I was headed to SXSW earlier this month only to receive a frantic call from my wife that she had been in a bad car accident. I ran up to the ticket counter to switch my flight, ask for my baggage to be returned to LAX, and to leave a note for the guy I was traveling with. Ten days later, an American airline (hint, hint) had given me every possible runaround possible, and still no bag. They were rude to me on the phone multiple times, told me that I should call this number and that, and really offered me no comfort or idea that they might be able to find my bag.

Conversely, one of my co-workers was quick to tell me a story in the midst of this mess of his “damaged bag” experience with JetBlue a couple of months ago. His stroller was very slightly damaged, and one of his bags had a couple of significant scuffs on the bag. After raising the issue at the JetBlue baggage counter in the airport, they immediately responded by handing him checks to replace his luggage and stroller. JetBlue will always get his return business because he feels that his belongings are safe with them. I wish I could say the same for this other airline.

I am a consumer. Given my career and predisposition to the consumption of media – books, magazines, music, film – I think that I’ll always buy a certain amount of those items. I’ve always been a gearhead as well, and love buying new bags, gadgets and doodads. Whether it’s a new heart-rate monitor for running or a carbon filter for camping, I like things in which I will find great use. At times, I am an impulse buyer, though becoming a dad, marriage and saving for a house and/or rainy days certainly have made me much more close-pocketed.

Now, I refuse to be the guy who gives up just because it might be a bit of a hassle to get purchase justice. I know I’ve said it before, “my time is worth more than the 1/2 hour I’m going to spend on the phone trying to get this sorted out.” But is that really true? Is my free time intrinsically worth a dollar amount? More and more, I’m starting to realize that my free time is not to be quantified monetarily. Products should not be purchased and discarded at the first sign of failure or defect.

It’s time to start holding some feet to the fire. I have a starting place, but I’m going to sit down and go through my entire life and all of my possessions to see where I’ve just learned to deal with the problems I have, and start addressing them. I am going to perfect the complaint letter (which I’ll make available here soon, after a few more iterations), pull out the trusty #10 envelopes, and start sending away.

Please send me your stories. I’d really like to see the experiences that you’ve all had, both those that were successfully handled and those without resolution.

How hard is it to make a great phone?

Forgive me, because my cynicism and knowledge are not up to speed when it comes to the mobile phone world. But honestly, my bitterness is growing and catching up quickly. I currently own and rock the Motorola Q, which sadly is often in need of recharge by midday. There are so many things that I love about it, but I just can’t deal with the horrible battery life.

Family members scream about the Blackberry 8800 series because it runs CDMA and GPRS/GSM networks, but somehow is without a camera. The Blackberry Curve is quite nice, but I’ll have to switch networks to use it. There are a ton of great Sony/Ericsson phones, but I’ll have to switch continents (and/or networks, to boot) to use them.

It’s simple. I want a phone, preferably that can run on Sprint (CDMA protocol), because a ton of family and friends are on Sprint, that has the following:

  • nice 2.0+ mgpx camera w/ video
  • full QWERTY keyboard
  • great battery life (at the bare minimum, I need to be able to take the phone off charge before leaving to work and not need to charge until I get home)
  • push email technology (Blackberry or MS Exchange)
  • instant messaging
  • threaded text messaging
  • a nice web browser (I love the Windows Mobile browser, and Safari on the iPhone is fantastic)
  • ability to cut and paste (might seem rudimentary, but talk with the geniuses that released the Motorola Q, and iPhone from what I hear, without this base technology)
  • edit word and excel docs and spreadsheets
  • audio player
  • expansion memory slots

If anyone knows of a phone hiding from me, please pass it along. I’m at a loss for what to do. The iPhone is close, but so many people are saying that it’s just not worth the hype. I’m sure it’s a fantastic experience, but I’m just wondering why it’s not more customizable; just seems kinda strange to me. I may have to make the switch over to another network, but I just can’t envision paying the damn early cancellation fee. The mobile phone industry really is a racket…

As technology allows greater convergence, some level of mobile standardization will be required, but I still think that we’re a ways off. There should be a base level of competence for phones that just isn’t anywhere close to reality at this point in time. It’s a sad state of affairs for so many of us that rely so heavily on our phones for productivity and performance. I would really like to be able to have a phone that also has the ability to: send & receive emails and instant/text messages, be my music player, take digital camera for snaps (not serious photos), and also have enough storage or expandable space to transfer files to/from work/home. Again, I don’t think I’m shooting for the moon, but suggesting that these “great” technology providers actually deliver something worthy of our monies.

Because think about it, for the prices we’re paying year in and year out, we should be happy with what we have. I know few people happy with their current situation. Most of us switch phones before our 2-year discounts are available, and they just keep us running in circles.

All I’m saying is, what if a company actually delivered something that made us completely happy? It’s a great feeling to think someone might actually do that…

OpenID and mobile apps? Anyone? Bueller?

I first found out about OpenID through Basecamp as it accepts this relatively new authentication method, as do all of 37signals other properties (Backpack, Highrise, Campfire, etc.). Now, this is a fantastic system if you are working on a variety of computers, across different platforms, and/or if you just don’t want to keep track of every single user/pass combo you have. Of course, one of the greatest benefits of the OpenID method is the security aspect: no longer will you need to deliver a litany of account details just to sign up for a new service or site.

So, for months I flew along in love with this new system. And with Basecamp, Backpack, and Highrise, there’s a handy little 37signals bar (aptly dubbed the “Open Bar“) at the top of each of those respective pages if you’re logged into them all with OpenID.

And then a couple of weeks ago, everything came to a screeching halt. I have been working very hard to find mobile tools for all of the various applications I use on a regular basis, allowing me to work on planes, trains and automobiles, or wherever I might be without my computer. Lots of traveling lately, and also lots of time out of the office handling baby appointments, doctors’ visits, etc. But here’s the dilemma: none of these mobile applications support OpenID. And, if you have OpenID turned on as your authentication method, you no longer have a traditional user/pass combo with the site in question.

So, because I use Backpack Mobile edition, I can’t use OpenID. I hate having to choose, but there’s really no debate. If it’s mobile vs. OpenID, mobile wins every time. Unfortunately. I’m not sure whether it’s out of laziness that developers are neglecting to allow OpenID authentication on their mobile apps, or if there is an inherent hurdle in the mobile framework making it difficult/impossible to use OpenID.

As we move forward in developing our latest application over at Real Pie, I’m sure that we’ll run across this issue; in fact, I’ll make sure we do so that I have a more complete understanding of the system. As more people move away from their computers and onto Kinda SmartPhones and Truly SmartPhones (err, umm, there’s only one: the iPhone), we need to start paying much closer attention to seamless integration.

Here are some OpenID resources for you to make up your own mind:

Mini-apps, mobile plugins, and Mac-switching

As my life is getting more and more hectic with a brand new baby girl, a new wife, and a new job, I’m finding that my free time is becoming more and more precious (as expected, really). My personal time online happens on the go, a majority of the time.

My Motorola Q, except for a horrible battery life, has become my trusted phone, browser, text messenger, and email app. I rely very heavily on our managed exchange service through Rackspace, the mobile version of my favorite mini-app Backpack, Windows Live Search (mobile edition) and consume web content voraciously using Google Reader. I’m not necessarily tied to Windows Mobile, as I think there are distinct disadvantages, but I’ve adapted to the OS and its constraints and am pretty happy overall.

For those of you tired of checking mail on your smartphone and then on multiple systems, Exchange mail is really the only way to go. If you read your mail on your phone, by the time you make it to your other computers, it is already marked as read. And having the ability to add contacts, appointments and tasks from any location without having to manually sync to the other locations is so key.

Some of the other programs and plugins that I benefit from:

  • Jott – for a great way to make notes on the go
  • GrandCentral – once there are a few bugs fixed this will be the way of the future of phone utilities
  • Basecamp – essential for project management
  • Backpack – I know I’ve mentioned it already, but I use both the standard and mobile version of the site to keep notes, tasks, ideas, and budding projects all organized
  • Facebook Mobile – I hate MySpace. I’m not a big fan of the addiction level which comes with these sites, but ALL of my friends and family use Facebook. It’s fun to be able to stay in touch, and the mobile interface is pretty nice and streamlined.

As I work to strengthen the brand and recognition at my new place of employ, I find my interest in the web picking back up again. After years of being very involved in and around the design community, I took a long and much needed break to hole up and pursue other things in life. And in the span of 12-18 months, there are so many great sites, apps, and new budding communities (and thriving ones, too). I’ll start posting my favorite finds, and who knows, maybe it will be a fresh perspective; a look through the eyes of someone who is seeing the web in a completely new light.

I’ve also spent quite a bit of time learning about new resources as I embrace a new platform; Real Pie made the mac-switch at the beginning of this year, and I have jumped in deep with both feet and holding my nose. Quicksilver, Paparazzi, and Growl are incredible for shaving seconds off everyday and commonly used functions, which over the course of the day save me a few minutes time. Other great programs exclusively for the Mac that I’m using on the daily: Textmate (coding), Transmit (FTP), and Adium (IM).

I can’t stand being restricted to iTunes, because I find it to be an inferior application. But other than that, I’m pretty excited about being on a Mac. Any suggestions or tips for this new recruit would be greatly appreciated.

I broke my wallet :(

My wallet broke. It’s funny how that works, but it just fell apart, and landed on the ground. As if Xmas shopping wasn’t enough, a new screamer from Colfax Intl and Adobe Studio CS have broken my wallet. Things are rolling good over here, getting the new identity, site, stationary and all that madness set for the new company – should all be ready around the middle of January. For now, I’ve updated the portfolio…Feliz Navichristmas folks!

A crash in the night

My system crashed about a month ago, and all of my source files are still locked in some demented timewarp called my old harddrive. Everything is fine, I suspect, but I just haven’t had the time to get things back up and running yet. The crash was the impetus for me buying a new system – a spanky little IBM T42 with all the works. So, I can’t really mod my own site beyond updating the XML streams; lovely, I swear.

In any case, ankore has launched. Have fun.