Friday, September 28, 2007

Bless You Boys

"You know, when I first got here, I took a taxi from the airport and the driver said, 'This is a baseball town that's sleeping. You guys start playing well, the fans will come out of the woodwork.' There's really been an uprising ... and to have the seat I have and to see it soldout most nights, it's incredible."

-- Justin Verlander, young Tigers phenom. on the Tigers good-but-not-quite season. Thanks for the thrill ride.

Well said

"I told her that it wasn't about the 50 cents, it was about the principle. Any idiot would understand the principle - it's about simple human decency."

-- Elizabeth Schaper, of Harrison, N.Y., who was vexed that a library staffer coldly insisted she pay the fine on a book taken out by her recently-departed mother. Story here.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Once again: HughesNet sucks

Another example of how awful HughesNet is

I just spent another hour on the phone trying to pry a refund out of HughesNet. It's an hour I'll never get back, and just the latest example of the "pain in the ass" factor involved in being their unwilling customer. It was a qualified success, and I'm going to move on. But first, I want to put this on the record as a warning to other prospective customers. And maybe, just maybe, a HughesNet exec. will see this and they'll address the alarming problems within their company.

Many of you know that I have been suffering mightily under the oppression of HughesNet, the satellite communications monopoly which sells Sat. Internet service. I had an older DW4000 modem, which had served me tolerably well for several years. The old dog still should work, technically, but early in August, the tech gnomes at HughesNet began disabling a variety of services. They want us all to upgrade, and they have eschewed the carrot for the "nothing but sticks" approach.

For a time, I thought these were just glitches that would be resolved, but after contacting tech. support several times, I learned that in fact my old DW4000 was being abandoned and I required an upgrade.(They called it "obsolete", but of course that's just because they decided to make it so.) My unsatisfactory options included paying them a $125 ransom for a new modem, or paying just shipping ($25) and binding myself to them with a 15-month indentured servitude contract. (Not happy, Jane!)

Before I get too far, let's start with a simple timeline:

June 24: Monthly bill: $59.99 for 6/24-7/23; Service working acceptably (not great).

July 24: Montly bill: $59.99 for period from 7/24-8/23

About August 7 (guessing here): Problems begin. Some browsing works, but secure Web sites, e-mail, IM, video files, file transfer, etc. are not working. There was NO WARNING from Hughes that this would be happening. I begin working from the road most of the time.

August 19: I call "Gotcha" -- HughesNet says this is the first record they have that I reported a problem. Maybe. Of course, their engineers knew there would be a problem months ago, when the made the decision to put the squeeze on all of us DW4000 users, but this is the date I call them out on it.

August 24: Montly bill: $59.99 for 8/24-9/23

Late Aug./Early Sept.: I win an eBay auction for a DW7000 modem, pay for it, and await its arrival. Very time-consuming. Costs me about $90.00 (but no service contract, and no $ to the leeches at Hughes).

Sept. 6: I call HughesNet to activate new modem. An installer is dispatched, "old" account is closed, and a pro-rated refund of $34.83 for the unused portion of the month is made to my account. (First thing HughesNet has done right!).

Sept. 11: Installer arrives and sets me up. Works great (finally!). $100 charge.

Sept. 24: Montly bill: $85.15 on the "new" account for 9/12-9/23 (end of previous billing period) + regular monthly bill through 10/23. Service is much better than it ever was with the old DW4000.

So there's your timeline. You'll note from this history that at this point, ZERO dollars have been refunded to me for the service interruptions CAUSED BY HUGHES. The only refund was for the post-cancellation days on the "old" account. Today I spotted the fat $85.15 charge on my bill, and call 'em up to ask about it. After a long time on the phone, I'm able to bring the very nice woman from billing up to speed on my case.

First, we ascertain exactly what the last bill was for, then I try to figure out what the refund was for, exactly. After being put on hold several times, we determine that it was a pro-rated refund for the post-cancellation days. I ask for a refund of ALL the days service was interrupted, or more than a month. They won't budge: Since I reported the problem Aug. 19th, that's the earliest date they'll issue a refund. INFURIATING, since they knew full well they were shutting me down, but what can you do? Sue them over thirty dirty bucks?

So, she says she'll refund me the six days from 8/19-8/24. I point out that's still asking me to eat the next couple weeks, when we all know service wasn't working. Ah, she says, let me talk to my support team members (i.e.: boss). On hold. She's back: OK, we'll refund you a total of 17 days. Grrr... Ok, that's satisfactory. Clearly, that's all I can get back. That will amount to $33 refunded for at least ONE MONTH of unacceptable service. But, it's something. Bloody and wounded, I declare victory and retire from the field with minimally-acceptable spoils from HughesNet.

I'll never get a refund for the two weeks pre-"gotcha." And I'll never get back all those hours on the phone with tech. support, sales, installers, and billing. And there were hours spent working on the road, and numerous costs associated with working from cafes and restaurants. What a HUGE headache for me. Aren't they supposed to WANT me to be a customer? It's a refrain I've heard from so many other HughesNet customers: If I had another choice, I'd take it. But I don't have another choice where I live.

The real joke here is that from a business management perspective, the BIG loser is HughesNet. First of all, their lack of communication with me cost them nearly a month in lost service fees from me. But the real cost was in their labor: Clearly, nobody told their front-line tech people that they were shutting off hundreds or thousands of their oldest customers. Their second-tier tech staff didn't have a clue, either. Billing had no idea what tech was doing, nor did they seem aware of the issue affecting 4000-series customers. Their insanely uncoordinated corporate structure means that this whole episode generated at least half a dozen "case numbers" from my contacts with them, tied up their personnel for HOURS, seriously disgruntled a long-time customer, and generated bad publicity. And it's not just me: Peruse the appropriate message boards, and it's clear they threw hundreds of their oldest customers under the bus in the same way, and nobody's happy. Call it, "How not to succeed in business, because you're not really trying."

Contrast all of this with the way DirecTV recently handled a similar situation. I got a recorded phone message from them saying, "Scot, you need a new dish to get all your HD channels. Call us at XXX-XXX-XXXX, and we'll send someone out to install it, pronto. FREE." There was no interruption of service, no hassle, no charge, and I had to make just ONE three-minute phone call. No wasted motion on their part or mine. I love that company. And I would have paid $50 for the new dish, if they'd asked.

HughesNet, pay attention: THAT is how it's supposed to be done.