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Prescriptions, Proscriptions, and Prognostications
What's the deal with customer service?
by Matthew Wilson
April 21, 2005
Do computing companies these days need to give good service? I think they should, I cling to the belief that they might, and I'm quite sure they must if they want my money. (Warning: this post may disabuse any readers who think that the English don't know how to complain!)


Monopolies over any domain are bad, whether they be commercial, architectural, geo-political, C++-librarial, cultural, even culinary.

So it was with some feeling of "doing the right thing" that I recently placed an order for my first ever computer-by-a-certain-manufacturer-which-emphasises-visual-style. I fancied expanding my experience out of the UNIX / Win32 sphere, and thought, in a veritable splurge of philanthropic muse, that I might implement ports for some of my libraries to another architecture. I fancied I might also write articles about the experiences I was going to have in developing for this new platform. Oh, what disappointment lay around the corner!

Because I had the temerity (/ caution / foresight) to request more disk and memory than the standard configuration, I was informed that my order would take 6-8 days. "Ok." A day later I rang to add a carry-case to the order, and was informed at that point that likely delivery was now going to be an additional 3 days. "Ok, I guess." A week later I rang to confirm that the delivery was imminent, to be informed that it would arrive one day later than previously indicated. "Hmmm. What gives? Is this death by a thousand cuts? Ah well, one more day won't kill me."

On the appointed day, I awoke full of trepidation at the challenges of networking a new machine, installing compilers, setting up environments, etc. Alas, I received an automated email informing me that my order was going to be shipped - that's shipped, mind, not delivered! - in a further 12 days!!

Thus underwhelmed by their performance, I rang to cancel my order. I was further taken aback by the attitude of the representative to whom I spoke - after the several minutes of waiting, piped music and all - which can best be described as brusque. Indeed, she actually appeared quite offended that I was cancelling the order. Perhaps this company is too cool to have customers cancelling orders?

This was to have been the first non-PC machine I would have purchased in some years. Other (PC) vendors who have occasionally had issues with timely delivery have, at the least, appeared genuinely concerned about the possible impact to my business, and some have even offered some kind of discount/recompense. They've maintained my repeated business not through great service, to be sure, but through at-least-adequate service. Amazingly, the representative to whom I spoke seemed barely able to raise the energy to ask the reasons for my cancelling the order, and attempted not one whit of regret/persuasion/how-may-we-help-rectify-this?.

Suffice to say, my one experience as a potential customer of that company was devoid of satisfaction. Tellingly, there was no clearly identifiable email address to which to send an email of complaint, and sending to others on their website apparently went straight into the bit-bucket. Clearly their appreciation for new customers manifests in a very strange way. I find myself wondering how it is, by treating potential customers this way, that they haven't achieved a dominant market share?

From now on, when I buy my PCs I will feel that little bit less screwed-over / choice-limited, since I've tried the opposition and it didn't taste good at all. Not only have they lost the potential of several thousand dollars per year from my company, but also lost themselves the chance of any positive recommendations to others I might have made had I actually got my hands on the hardware in sub-glacial time.

Am I living in a dream world? Does serving their customers matter to anyone these days? What are your experiences? Does someone have a band-aid for my aching third finger? Pass the ice-cream ...

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About the Blogger

Matthew Wilson is a software development consultant and creator of the FastFormat, Pantheios and STLSoft libraries. He is author of the books Imperfect C++ (Addison-Wesley, October 2004) and Extended STL, volume 1 (Addison-Wesley, 2007), and is currently working on his third, Breaking Up The Monolith: Advanced C++ Design Without Compromise. He has published over 60 articles on C++ and other topics, and has served as columnist and contributing editor for C/C++ Users Journal. Matthew believes that code should be discoverable and largely self-documenting, and lives up to that by being a hopeless documentor. He can be contacted via or

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2005 Matthew Wilson. All rights reserved.

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