Whenever people ask me what I did before I retired, I tell them I’m still doing it…writing. Ah, they say, but what did you do to make a living. Writing, I say. But to be fair, most of what I wrote, e.g., novel, screenplay, opera, song lyrics, poetry, etc., brought in very little money. I also used to teach college English…not a big money maker for me either.

It was a good thing I started my own technical writing/technical marketing company called Grammatics in 1983. It turns out clear and accurate writing about complicated and confusing technology products paid well, and providing marketing services to high-tech companies, e.g., advertising, corporate identity, product introductions, corporate events, internet presence, etc., paid very well indeed.

MondaviLong before Grammatics, though, and long before the advent of personal computing, I was abstractedly reading the label of a Mondavi wine bottle as I avoided a college paper I didn’t want to write. I noticed a grammatical error on the label. I wrote a letter to Mondavi, correcting the error for them and waited to be rewarded with a case of wine or at least a bottle or two for my efforts. Instead, they simply thanked me and promised that the next label printing would include my correction.

What a let down. However, when I finally saw the new label appear on a bottle at Ralphs where I checked for it practically every week, I did get a little charge of satisfcation.

I still find myself assessing the quality of company written materials, especially user guides and operator manuals that accompany tech products, and I still enjoy seeing how tech companies enter the market and promote themselves. I think most people appreciate the marketing side of the tech industry, but have less appreciation for how important user documentation is and how much money companies lose when their tech support department sucks.

For example, let’s add up what Panasonic spent on me over the last couple of weeks with my cordless phones when their printed Operating Instructions failed me, and their Customer Service department was clueless as well.

base unitWe own a KX-TGA660 Digital Cordless Answering System & Handset. The basic product has a base unit, which integrates an answering machine and a single handset or phone. Different models can include up to six phones. The model we bought included four satellite phones along with the base unit phone for a total of five (5) phones. Heck, you gotta have a phone in every room these days, don’t you?

So, guess what happened. Yep, the phones started breaking down rather quickly. Our phone in the studio wouldn’t ring anymore. Then the bedroom phone wouldn’t charge, then the office phone wouldn’t light up. I called Panasonic and they agreed to replace the three phones for free. Good for them, I thought. This return and exchange probably cost them $35 for the three phones with shipping both ways. I’m not including the customer service time on the phone with me, which was probably another $50 at least.

A few weeks later, two new phones were sent to me with no explanation of what happened to the third phone I sent in. I called. They had no idea what happened to it either. I went up the chain of command, maybe thirty minutes on the phone with four people ($100 of their time, probably much more). Finally, they figured it out…they were out of phones of my type so had only sent two of the three. Sorry for not mentioning that they said. The other phone would be sent as soon as they got more in from Malaysia.

Okay, so now I had the two new phones and according to the included Installation Manual, I had to register these two phones with my base unit so they would be recognized as part of my digital phone family. I followed the simple procedure in the user guide. Guess what? Yep, the registration process did not go as planned. I was able to register only one phone, not both of them.

I called Customer Service again. They went over the registration procedure with me, which was exactly the same three steps I’d already completed. (I’m an expert with user guides after all.) They transferred me to the higher level of service. Another fifteen minutes. Another failure. They told me to ship the troublesome phone back and they’d would send me a new one when they got them in. (Another $100 or more of their time, another shipping charge, another new phone to be sent out, maybe $200 total cost to Panasonic.)

A few days later, a package arrived from Panasonic. This was the third phone they owed me from the original three I’d sent in. I tried to register it. Of course, it didn’t work. I scoured the Internet (I’m retired, right, with tons of time on my hands and nothing better to do!?#&@!). I found only the same crappy registration instructions. I called Panasonic again and spent a few more hundred dollars of their money futilely. I ended up sending the phone back at their cost.

A few days later, another package arrived from Panasonic, another phone. This was the replacement phone for the second phone that wouldn’t register. Guess what? It wouldn’t register either. I threw it against the wall as hard as I could…just kidding.

Then my brilliant wife, Annette, had a remarkably simple idea…if this model base unit can support up to six phones and we had five phones registered to it originally, then maybe it can only accept the registration of one new phone, a sixth phone. Yeah, that made sense I thought. That would explain why two new phones failed registration. So if she were right, then the five phones we originally bought with our model were still registered to the base unit, AND THREE OF THEM WERE NO LONGER IN OUR POSSESSION!

Panasonic User GuideSo, was there a way to deregister the three broken phones we sent back to Panasonic thereby freeing up “space” or “cache” for three new phones? If so, why did no one mention it at Panasonic Tech Support? That’s a rhetorical question.

I turned to the Index of the Operating Instructions looking for “deregistration” or “handset deregistration” or anything similar. No mention of it. No listing in the Table of Contents either. I then went page by page through the manual and found on page 33 a sub-note entitled “Deregistering a handset.” There was four step process with the following introduction: A handset can cancel its own registration to the base unit, or other handsets registered to the same base unit. This allows the phone to end its wireless connection with the system.

Do you see what’s missing in this description? Yes! There’s absolutely no indication of why one would want to deregister a handset. No mention of a limitation of number of handsets that can be registered to a base unit. No overview concept of benefits of registration and deregistration. Jeez!

I followed the process and quickly deregistered from the base unit the three phones I no longer possessed. I registered (easy-peasy) the most recent phone I received, and I’m waiting for the final fifth phone to arrive so that I can register it and have all my phones in all my important rooms ringing again. I’m such a busy guy, people calling all the dang time.

This little tech support episode with Panasonic cost them, what, $500-$600 or more?

So here’s what I’m thinking…just for the hell of it…I’m tempted to send Panasonic a detailed project proposal to rewrite their KX-TGA660 Digital Cordless Answering System & Handset Operator Guide for a whole bunch of money.

Glass of red wine and a glass of white wineOn second thought, maybe I’ll just pour a couple of big glasses of Mondavi wine that features their wonderfully clear and correct label to thank Nettie for her customer service and to reward myself for being smart enough to marry her!

Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.








2 Responses to Good Customer Service? It Starts At Home.

  1. John says:

    Laughing . . . Somethings I read really make me think, some make me angry, or sad, but those that make me laugh out loud are priceless. Thanks Frank . . .

  2. George says:

    Nice post Frank – we’ve all had the phone customer service loop frustrtations and this was a good one. Poor instructions and poor customer service is why most things just get returned. What a shame when it costs the maker so much when this happens – basically a total loss. Such is life in the real world.

    I hope you and Annette are having a good summer. We’ve been busy setting up Carlsbad and lots of work at Valterra with our new partners. We’re looking forward to being able to congratulate Miles and Jaymie in person. I hope your still considering a local reception at the end of the year. We’ll call in a week or so about setting up a dinner or something so we can get together. GG

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