Monday, February 15, 2010 = FAIL

Let me share with you folks a tale of frustration, poor customer service, and how to go about losing a long-time customer in no time at all:

Being the music fan that I am, I have had subscriptions with both iTunes and for quite some time. In the case of, since 2004. I was always pleased with the catalog of music eMusic presented, and from the start their high-quality .mp3 downloads were, to me, preferable to iTunes' .m4p files. Whenever both services competed on a particular song or album, eMusic would get my business.

eMusic uses a slightly different model than iTunes' pay-per-download approach. eMusic charges a monthly subscription rate that allows you to download "x" number of songs per month, with higher-priced subscriptions allowing a greater number of downloads. eMusic also made things easy by allowing PayPal to be used to auto-pay each month.

For nearly five years, all was honky-dory, until this month's subscription payment. Knowing that my monthly downloads generally renew by the end of the first week of the month, I went up to the site last week to pick this month's downloads. Upon signing in, I was greeted with a message in bold red type telling me "Your PayPal account could not be authorized for payment! Please provide a valid credit card number or update your PayPal account information."

Well that's not good! I knew there would be no reason for my PayPal account not to be working, so, fearing that someone had somehow gotten into my account, I was on the phone with PayPal in no time. After a brief conversation with a helpful, friendly agent at PayPal, it was determined that (1.) no breech of my account security had occurred, and (2.) there was no obvious reason why payment should not have been authorized the same as it had been every month for the past five years. The problem must be on eMusic's side.

So I went to eMusic, and after twenty minutes of searching for a contact number, called their customer service. I explained to the agent there what the situation was, and she suggested I go through the "Update Your Account Info" process. No dice - three times we tried and it still came back saying the account could not be authorized for payment. This agent apologized, and then said she would escalate the situation to her superiors, and I would be getting an email response from them in about 24 hours with a solution.

Today, three business days (five calendar days) later, having not heard a peep from eMusic, I called back. Here's where the skies begin to darken...

I wound up being connected to an agent who seemed somewhat less than thrilled to be doing her job. Her thick accent made it difficult to understand all of what she was saying, but it quickly became apparent that there was no record of my previous call, or at least none that she was going to acknowledge. "You will need to provide a credit card number or some alternate form of payment," she kept repeating. I tried explaining to her that I had verified with PayPal that nothing was wrong with the account, but she paid no attention.

"I think you need to call PayPal and find out why they won't authorize," she said in a monotone voice. As I tried yet again to explain that I had already done that, I realized why she wasn't hearing me - she was talking over me! "I see you already tried to update your PayPal information several times. Why did you keep doing that?" she demanded, as if asking a child why he had drawn on a wall with permanent markers. "Because your agent suggested I do!" I sputtered, growing more frustrated by the moment. "Well, now your PayPal account is locked out by our security. You'll have to give us a credit card number."

I tried to ask how this was now my fault and why, after five years of everything working fine, I suddenly had to provide a credit card number, but she continued to talk over me. "Everything is case sensitive. Maybe you entered your PayPal password wrong." she sneered. Three times?!? Doubtful, especially since the PayPal site opened right up each time. "Well, I don't know what to tell you. You can wait 120 days if you like and then try again, or you can give us a credit card..."

I blew my stack at that point. "No ma'am," I said, a bit loudly and forcefully, "YOU need to determine what's wrong on your end. I have been with eMusic for years and have never had a problem. PayPal has confirmed that there is no problem. A promised resolution from your department did not arrive, and now you're telling me that because I followed the directions of one of your agents, that I must give you a credit card number? No, you need to find out what the problem is."

She then verified the last three payments that had been made, verified that February's payment had not been authorized, and again said, "Unfortunately, your PayPal account is now locked from our system for 120 days because you tried to update it three times..."

"Ma'am," I began through gritted teeth, "you can repeat that as many times as you like, but I am not going to provide a credit card number. I use PayPal because I don't want to give out my credit card numb..." I stopped because I realized she was again talking over me.

"...your PayPal account is locked out for 120 days." I heard her again reciting. "We do that because we value our customer's security."

"Do you value your actual customers?" I asked, "Because you're about to lose a long-standing one."

"Hold on one moment, let me see what I can do," she said. Onto eterna-hold I went, with the worst, loudest hold music imaginable. When she finally returned several minutes later, it was the same refrain once more, with feeling: "You tried to update your account too many times, so it is locked down for 120 days." she sneered.

"Then please cancel my account." I calmly requested. She didn't bat an eyelash: "OK, please hold for your cancellation reference number," which she then rattled off to me. And that was that.

I am flabbergasted at the complete lack of courtesy I was shown. I understand that sometimes there are situations that customer service call center folks cannot do anything about, which was likely the case here: the computer said PayPal was locked out, and I'm sure she had no authority to override the computer. But should that give her carte blanche to talk over me, to take an accusatory, condescending tone with me, or to blatantly refuse to listen to what I was telling her? And not even so much as a "We're sorry to see you go," when I asked to cancel? After five years? In fact, it seemed she couldn't get me through the cancellation and off the phone fast enough.

It is stunning how poor customer service can be at times, and how quickly a lousy experience can sour a person towards a business. You business owners out there should take note: whether you're an online business or a "real world" business, you need to know how your customer service people are treating your customers, because if they aren't doing it well, those customers will not remain customers.

Furthermore, upon reflection, a pleasant experience would have ended up very differently. I wasn't upset or ready to cancel when I first called. Even if nothing could have been done differently as far as a locked account, being treated with simple courtesy would have made a world of difference. Being spoken with instead of talked down to would have resulted in the retention of this customer. It's not difficult to do and it costs a business nothing to provide pleasant customer service, but poor customer service can cost plenty.

Congratulations, iTunes! You'll be seeing much more business from me!

The Knack's Doug Fieger Passes Away (August 21, 1952 - February 14, 2010)

Sad news to report: Doug Fieger, lead singer of The Knack, passed away yesterday at age 57 after a lengthy battle with brain and lung cancers.

The Knack were best known for their debut single, "My Sharona," which spent six weeks at #1 in 1979 and was the biggest-selling single of that year according to Billboard Magazine. There really was a Sharona - Fieger wrote the song about an ex-girlfriend, Sharona Alpern, who is now a real estate agent in California. It's choppy start-stop rhythms and anthemic sound made "My Sharona" a classic that continues to turn up on film soundtracks and in various commercials. In addition to kick-starting The Knack's career, the song indirectly also began the career of "Weird Al" Yankovic who parodied it as "My Bologna."

The Knack's label, Capitol Records, hoped to position the band as the New Wave version of The Beatles, even resurrecting the old orange-swirl label design they used back in The Beatles heyday specifically for Knack releases. The follow-up single, "Good Girls Don't," just missed the Top Ten, peaking at #11 later that same year. The following year "Baby Talks Dirty," a "Sharona" soundalike, hit the lower reaches of the Top 40, and would be The Knack's last charting single.

Fieger, however, continued to be a hot commodity in the New Wave/Power Pop world, writing or co-writing songs for many other artists, doing production work, and adding guest vocals or session work on other artists' records.

Fieger had been battling cancer for several years. He was at his home in Woodland Hills, CA when he passed. The Knack's Official Website currently bears the message, "Our hearts are broken, we will miss you Doug."

In his honor, here are all three of The Knack's Top 40 hits:

The Knack - My Sharona

Rab | MySpace Video

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