Monthly Archives: March 2008

There’s an interesting article in BusinessWeek about the problems going on at Sprint/Nextel and what they’re doing about it. I do not know a single Sprint customer that is pleased with their product and service. It’s really quite astonishing and it’s hurting the company something fierce.

I’m sometimes a defender of shoddy customer service. To be more precise, I get annoyed when people buy the cheapest product they possibly can and then are astonished when the vender they bought from cuts corners. People cringe at the thought of paying more than they have to, even if told that it will come with better customer service. A lot of people say they want good customer service the same way they say that they want the government to have a balanced budget. They like it in the abstract, but are unwilling to support doing what it takes to get there.

Sprint is different, though. It seems like it’s in a league that I reserve for Best Buy, Blockbuster, and health insurance companies. They seem to go out of their way to antagonize you because they believe that you need them more than they need you (which is true of insurance companies, not usually true of Best Buy and Blockbuster, and verifiably false for Sprint). Add to that Sprint’s nasty habit of prolonging contracts indefinitely and it creates a problem of almost Justice Department proportions.

A little over six months ago Sprint cut loose a lot of extremely dissatisfied customers. I was generally supportive of the move as it’s something that helps pave the way for an overhaul in customer service. Unfortunately, Sprint does what a lot of companies do: they pick the low-hanging fruit, but once tough decisions have to be made they abandon the endeavor altogether.

I’m a customer in the AT&T family and have been for the past four or five mergers. I got screwed when I was in Deseret and made the switch to a camera phone, but by and large I’ve been pretty happy with it. They’ve generally been quite upfront about when my contract is about to be extended, but better than that I’ve never had reason to fear a contract extension.

Sprint appears to be moving in the right direction:

Bob Johnson, Sprint’s new chief service officer, has eliminated limits on the amount of time service reps spend on the phone with customers. Instead, he’ll track how frequently reps resolve customers’ problems on the first call. Employees who don’t solve a minimum percentage on the first call won’t be eligible for sales bonuses. {…}

As for the allegations in the two lawsuits, Johnson says Sprint has implemented a zero tolerance policy for shoddy customer service, which includes a new focus on extending contracts only with detailed approvals from customers. Among other things, Sprint sends a letter to customers outlining any changes to their account, and customers have 30 days to cancel the changes.

I wish I’d had 30 days to cancel changes the one time I was screwed by the AT&T family, so it sounds good. These changes are always easy to talk about, though. The question is what happens when the bill comes due. The advantages of these sorts of move often take a long time to materialize. Layoffs and draconian HR policies reap results very quickly.

The most encouraging thing is their new metric system. There’s a saying that if you tell me how a man is measured I will tell you how he will behave. If you only care about call times, as is the case with a lot of call centers, you’re going to get people cutting calls as short as they can with the result of more calls and aggravated customers. When I worked the phone banks for CignalTV (via the largest phone bank outsourcing company), to their credit they accounted for more than simple call-times as part of their formula. Unfortunately they had some pretty rotten incentives when it came to sales.

They never got called on it the way that Sprint has, though, and Cignal didn’t face the kind of competition that Sprint does. Hopefully it all has an effect.

Category: Market

Longtime readers know that I am a ThinkPad partisan. I’ve owned four laptops over my life and once I went with the ThinkPad I never went back. My first computer was a Sony Vaio, which I dropped once on a hard floor and was never the same again. Parts of the keyboard stopped responding, the battery stopped recharging, the monitor would cut in and out, and so on.

I’ve dropped the old ThinkPad (“Hermes”) a total of five times, two three of which on hard floors. The last time I dropped it was apparently once too many times. The monitor got slightly cracked. Ever since then, there are black spots creeping up on the monitor along the sides. The only real bad area is the original crack, which blocks the system tray icons and the time. There are little blotches along the top that make it hard to see what application is open.

So far this isn’t really a problem. I have a watch to tell me what time it is and I usually know what application is open. But as time passes it will become more and more of a problem. The black areas mostly creep whenever I accidentally put something on top of it or hold it too tightly in transport. I don’t treat my things gently.

In any event, I’ve had the thing for well over five years and I’ve treated it like crap. It’s done its time. Whenever I retire it, I’ll still be able to use it as a desktop with a monitor and all that.

Nonetheless, I’ve had a sick feeling in my stomach when it comes to shelling out another couple grand for a new laptop. Last night I bit the bullet and did some surfing to see how much a new ThinkPad would cost. Apparently, ThinkPad prices have fallen like a brick. Notebook prices have been falling for some time now, but ThinkPad prices have always lagged. Most of the time the low-end laptops skimp on quality of parts and since ThinkPads use good parts, they haven’t felt the easing of component prices.

A new laptop will cost me about 60% of what the last one I bought, in 2006, cost me. Of course, it’ll be better in every measurable way. It’ll even be better comparatively among what’s out. The last laptop I bought was upper-middling. The current laptops I’m looking at are lower-upper. The last ThinkPad I bought required upgrading the RAM, these don’t.

So now a part of me wants Hermes to die sooner rather than later. I am salivating at the prospect of a new toy to play with that won’t be as limited as this 2002 machine. One that can tell the time and have a slightly bigger monitor and have wireless that isn’t a limp thing hanging out of a port. Instead of living in fear that Hermes will die, I live in fear that he will survive. Of course I won’t do anything to hasten her departure, but a part of me will be a’waiting.

In addition to offering a great product, IBM and now Lenovo (the former and current maker of the ThinkPad line) offer unbelievably good service. They offer a great repair/replacement plan where I can throw it off a cliff and they will give me a new one and the contract is written that there is no way that they can say that I need to contact a manufacturer or developer for a problem on their computer. I’ve bought this with my last three laptops, but I might not with the next one? Why? The product is too dang good. I’ve never once had to cash in on the warranty. I know some other people that have (which is how I know that they honor their contracts), but I’ve not even come close despite my manhandling of my stuff.

So in a sense, the durability of their product hurts part of their sales. Who would have figured that?

Category: Market

Presumptive Republican nominee John McCain is lending credence to the alleged link between vaccinations and autism:

McCain said, per ABC News’ Bret Hovell, that “It’s indisputable that (autism) is on the rise amongst children, the question is what’s causing it. And we go back and forth and there’s strong evidence that indicates that it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines.”

McCain said there’s “divided scientific opinion” on the matter, with “many on the other side that are credible scientists that are saying that’s not the cause of it.”

The established medical community is not as divided as McCain made it sound, however. Overwhelmingly the “credible scientists,” at least as the government and the medical establishment so ordain them, side against McCain’s view.

Moreover, those scientists and organizations fear that powerful people lending credence to the thimerosal theory could dissuade parents from getting their children immunized — which in their view would lead to a very real health crisis.

I’ve previously discussed vaccinations insofar as they relate to “preventative medicine”. More and more, the current studies suggest that there is no link. If you continue to see a link, you are not only suggesting that all of these studies are by contemptible and corrupt figures that simply don’t care about autism while believing that the comparatively few studies suggesting that there might be a link are passed down by God’s divine hand to people whose motives are as pure as the driven snow… you are suggesting that the medical establishment suggesting that there is no link is so diabolical that they would risk the health of their own children to further their case. If medical professionals are willing to immunize their own kids, I am more than happy to immunize mine.

I am vaguely reminded of a subplot in The Shield from a couple seasons back. Vic Mackey, the star of the show, has two kids (of three) with autism. They are informed in the third episode of the possible link with thimerosal and they join a class-action suit. As we were watching, Clancy and I started rolling our eyes at the prospect of a season’s subplot turning the advocates for a highly debatable theory into the daring truth-tellers and the skeptics as the nefarious knights of the pharmaceutical theory and medical establishment. They were taking a very emotional subplot exploring the problems that countless parents across the country have and were going to use it to grind a political axe.

Then the funniest thing happened. A few episodes later, the entire subplot was dropped like an anvil. Suddenly they were part of a test program for some pharmaceutical but they had to back out of the lawsuit to join. I feared that this was going to be another volley in the subplot (“We will not be bought off!!”) but they accepted it and we never heard a word about the thimerosal or the test program again (though the autism is obviously still there). The only times I’ve ever seen subplots dropped so quickly in such an early stage is when there is some big unexpected casting change.

My personal theory behind the whole thing is that after the show started to air, producer Ryan Scott was approached by someone that he knows in the medical field who set him straight. An alternate, more conspiracy-minded explanation is that the advertisers got to the network who got to him. The Shield doesn’t exactly have a reputation for backing down from controversy, though.

Category: Hospital, Theater

This is a post about the worst DVD feature I’ve ever seen and general carping about mishandling of TV shows in their original run or their release to DVD.

As mentioned before, I’ve been listening to The Drew Carey Show and Spin City while at work and doing chores. Each of these two shows has done things to aggravate me.

Neither show has been fully released on DVD due to ABC’s early preference for Best Of collections rather than season releases. They have release the first season of The Drew Carey Show and more may be to come, though I’ve heard no plans from Spin City. This type of thing annoys me, but having gone into that I’ll move on to fresh annoyances.

Spin City has the worst DVD feature I have ever seen. I don’t generally expect a whole lot from DVD releases, but I usually ask that they don’t decrease my enjoyment of the overall product as Spin City does. At the opening of each episode, Michael J Fox talks about the episode. Sounds cool except that Fox apparently doesn’t have anything of value to add, so instead almost all of them go like this:

“Bill [Lawrence, co-producer] came to me with this idea where the Mayor and my character would [fill in blank] and then the press/city workers/activists would [fill in blank]. So then we would [fill in blank], but then [fill in blank] happened, which was really funny. The funniest scene is [fill in blank] and my favorite part of the show is when [see funny scene just mentioned].”

So not only do I have next to no additional information that I would not have gleaned from watching (or listening to) the episode, but half of the gags have been expressly mentioned and every plot twist is exposed. In the handful of episodes off the DVDs that I’ve scene, about the only worthwhile thing he had to say was that he and Barry Bostwick (who plays the mayor) actually jumped into the Hudson in a scene where his characters did so and that they had to wear plugs on every orifice to avoid exposure to something nasty. The other dozen or so just told me exactly what was going to happen and half-ruined it.

On to Drew Carey.

ABC signed The Drew Carey Show to a three year extension when it was still popular in the sixth season while Drew and Kate O’Brien were finally an on-again-off-again item. After that subplot ran cold (their break-up handled so much better than Mike and Nicki’s) and after a couple timeslot changes, the show’s popularity plummeted. The actress for Kate O’Brien left the show to be a mommy and to appear part time in her husband’s (Bill Lawrence, incidentally) new show, Scrubs. Though they handled the transition to the Kellie Newmark character (played by Libby from Lost and the girlfriend from Titus) well, by the time they got to the ninth season not enough people were watching to warrant a timeslot.

ABC elected to run the program over the summer, two episodes at a time, just to fill the contractual obligations. I can recognize the position that they were in, but for some bizarre reason they ran the entire season out of order. The first episode of the last season, they had a “previously on The Drew Carey Show” with flashbacks to scenes that hadn’t yet aired, giving away half the season’s jarring events in the first thirty seconds of the first episode of the season. TV is a business and I can understand why they couldn’t give it a timeslot, but did they really have to extend their middle finger to those that still liked the show?

Category: Theater