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03 Jan 2016, 09:52

AirPair is obfuscating their otherwise useful blog posts

This morning, I was poking around looking for an article on using AngularJS with EJS. They use some similar syntax, and I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t be running over myself too much by using them together. (I still don’t have an answer, but if I find a good one, I’ll link it on this post.) In my search, I stumbled on this article:

airpair article

Great! This looks like exactly what I’m looking for. I scroll down to check out the code.

airpair article

The code on AirPair’s blog posts is obfuscated. They want me to sign in with my GitHub account, just to see their code examples, and to make their blog post not worthless? WTF?

I did a quick search to see if others were complaining about this. This was about how I felt:

It gets better:

Write access, they want write access to my GitHub account so that I can read their dumb blog post?!? To be fair, they may have changed that, but still, seriously?

Look, I get it, you’re a company trying to sell your product, and you think that this would be a great way to get leads. Right? That’s fine, I guess, but this seems like an unnecessarily crappy way of going about it.

Here’s why, first, from my perspective, the developer community is quite unique in its culture of sharing information. We figure stuff out, and then tell our peers how we did it to make their lives easier (or as notes to our future selves). We typically do this for free. Now, if you’re going to go and write a book, by all means charge for it. That represents a significant amount of work and knowledge. However, for a little blog post or article, just about everybody in our community has converged on the idea that this stuff should be free.

Second, when you write most of an article in clear-text, and then start obfuscating the important bits that start about half-way down the page, you end up putting people in a position of either taking a loss on the time that they spent in their initial reading, or giving up information that they otherwise wouldn’t (and really shouldn’t if it’s still write access). That’s crappy thing number two.

Crappy thing number three is that again, most of the article’s in clear-text, and you can get the same search traffic as actual complete content. This, again, tricks users into visiting you.

The reason that I bothered to write this isn’t because I think that AirPair is a terrible company. It seems like their core business is a great idea, and something that would be very useful. I hope that their company does well. The reason that I’m writing this is to make sure that people know that when they see ‘airpair’ in their search results, that that is a junk link, and they should skip that result and move on.

AirPair, if you see this, please stop the shenanigans and gimmicks, and be straight with people. It’s really too bad too, since there are plenty of other ways of getting what you want (like newsletters with collections of useful posts on topics that people care about), without doing this sort of thing. Also, if you didn’t obfuscate your content, you might start becoming more of a popular resource for this content, which would potentially increase your traffic, and probably help your branding quite a bit. As it stands, I’ll remember AirPair only as something to avoid.

01 Jan 2014, 05:46

The Space Monkey Upgrade Scam

The Space Monkey Upgrade Scam

Earlier this year, Space Monkey launched their Kickstarter campaign for their device and service. Before I get into my issue, I’ll give you a short background.

About Space Monkey

Space Monkey is a cloud storage solution that offers 1TB of storage for $10/month, by doing things a little differently. They give you a device to use, you put your files on the device, your data is encrypted on the device, then chunked up and backed up across their network via Bittorrent. It’s a really cool idea, and I had been following the company since they won a startup competition a couple years ago. When I got the email that they had launched a Kickstarter, I immediately backed the project at the $99 level (“Early-bird special. 1 Terabyte of Space Monkey storage for 12 months (device included in your subscription).”), and emailed all of my friends about it. They have been shipping devices for the last couple of months, and appear to be making good progress through their queue. I’ve had mine for a couple weeks. The jury is still out for me as to how I feel about the service. It’s the sort of thing that really requires a fair amount of time dealing with it before you can make a fair evaluation. That said, so far, I like it.

The Upgrade

About two or three weeks ago, I started getting emails from Space Monkey about ‘upgrading’ my service. They are starting to sell the device on their site, and the pricing is different. Basically, now they’re selling the device and first year of service for $199, and going forward the service is $49/yr instead of $110. The upgrade email was asking Kickstarter backers to pay $79 to buy out their device from Space Monkey, and that they would get onto the $49 plan after the first year (which had already been paid for). Another week goes by and they threw in 6 months of service along with the $79 fee. The deadline was to be the end of December. That’s the backstory.

I’m going to hold off on giving my feelings about this, I’ll come back to that shortly. I can see two ways of looking at this. One way is to say, ok $80 to buy out the device then getting 6 months of service, and then paying less going forward is not a bad deal. The other way is to say, as far as I’m concerned, I already own the device, so what am I paying $80 for aside from to have Space Monkey switch my plan for me? Other people might fall somewhere in between, being annoyed at needing to pay $80, but thinking it’s a good enough deal or simply not wanting to make an issue of it.

If you don’t think that you own the device, then I don’t think that the upgrade offer is a bad deal. It offers a certain value, and I think the value is in line with the offer.

If you do think you own the device, this is email is a big deal! They are claiming to own something that you thought you bought from them already, and trying to sell it to you a second time. Regardless of whether or not you want the upgrade, it is really important to get this issue straightened out. It is also a huge red flag that might make you question whether or not you want to invest any more of your time or effort into getting your data onto their service, given that trust may now be a serious issue.

I own the device that I’ve already paid for and have in my possession

My view is that I own the device, and I’m upset that they’re claiming that I need to pay them $80 to buy a device that I already paid for. Given that this is my view, I emailed Space Monkey’s support and asked them to clarify the offer, what exactly I’m paying for, since I already own the device. What followed was a long back and forth email, which was incredibly frustrating.

Essentially, their view was that I was leasing the device from them, and that at the end of the service if I didn’t want to renew, that I would need to send the device back. The upgrade fee was to cover the cost of the device. A customer service rep wrote to me, “We said in the rewards "device included in subscription,” as in it was no longer included without the subscription.“ They also mentioned that they had said something about leasing the device somewhere in the FAQs. As such, the offer makes sense and is fair.

I responded, that "device included in subscription” does not mean “it was no longer included without the subscription”, that though it may have been the intended implied meaning, it was never made explicit (and I didn’t even think that it was implied). They should have been explicit about this in the flow for backing their Kickstarter project. They did not, apparently they had people ask the question, and answered it as they were leasing the device, but it was never made clear in the flow of backing their project. The example that I gave was that if I were to walk into Verizon and get one of their free phones that accompanies the service, I get to keep the phone when my contract is up. To me, “device included in subscription” means that the cost of the device is rolled into the service fees. This made sense to me because they’re distributing all of their backups across a P2P network, and therefore probably don’t have much storage costs themselves. The cost to them is probably incredibly low per customer. What’s more, the device is pretty useless without the service, and it’s way cheaper than the competition. If they give users a good experience in their first year, they’ve probably got a customer for at least a few years.

I went back and re-read the Kickstarter and did not find any reference to the idea that I would be leasing the device from them. I asked the customer service rep to prove to me that they owned the device and that I was leasing it. I also asked them to tell me how they planned on reclaiming the device at the end of my service when I refused to return it. They could not give me a satisfactory answer to the question of proving that they owned it (aside from saying that if I continued to use it, I would be entering into a new agreement that they owned it). They did not even attempt to answer my second question.

Now that I’ve given you a short version of the back and forth between myself and Space Monkey’s CS reps, as well as links to the Kickstarter and Space Monkey’s site. I’m putting it to the internet, because I’m completely sick of thinking about this:

  • Who owns the device?
  • Is the offer reasonable?
  • Should I be upset about this?
  • Should I just send it back and ask for a refund?
  • What should I do???

Update

I decided to go for the refund.

There was a decent discussion on Hacker News earlier, where some of the Space Monkey employees weighed in and offered their perspective.

I’d also like to be clear about why I used the term 'scam’ in the title. I was referring to the upgrade offer specifically, not their service. Their service seems like a legitimate service, and that they had simply screwed up the wording on their Kickstarter page. As I have outlined, they did not do the work necessary to state explicitly that the device was a lease. I think that they are aware of this, and are hoping to sort of sneak this by customers in their upgrade offer (though I do not know). When you try to sell somebody the same thing twice, by being sneaky, that is a scam.

13 Dec 2013, 19:14

Verizon Support Call Quality

Verizon Support Call Quality

Why is the call quality of Verizon’s support so terrible? They are supposed to be a telecom company, which is usually supposed to mean that they’re going to be responsible for handling all of your calls. So, why is the quality of their support lines so poor? I’m not talking the service that the reps give, that’s a whole other story.

It seems like if you have a call with perfect clarity, it should be to the mothership. Instead, it sounds like the representatives are hanging out at the beach, talking amongst themselves (I can actually hear several other people’s conversations).

I’ve since moved off of Verizon to T-Mobile, and luckily have not needed to call their customer service yet. And, even luckier, Talkray’s call quality is consistently very good.

15 Apr 2013, 01:07

Verizon Wireless broke my brand new Chromebook Pixel LTE

Verizon Wireless broke my brand new Chromebook Pixel LTE

Wow, looking at my last few blog posts, I’ve had a bad few weeks dealing with corporations. After this, I promise to get back to my regularly scheduled programming and not complain so much. Alright, on to today’s story.

Why I’m writing about this

Chromebook Pixel LTE owners should read this if they’re planning on activating their SIM, especially if they’re adding it to an existing shared data plan, as opposed to simply activating it through the guided tool provided with the device. I don’t know exactly how Verizon broke my device, so I’d love to hear from Google if they have any thoughts on this.

My Pixel

For a few months now, I’ve been really wanting to pick up a new laptop. I had my company’s laptop, and a few devices at home, but nothing that I could really feel free and comfortable hacking on my own projects on. I had been looking around for a while, and sort of settled on a Macbook Retina 15. I liked the specs, and the great screen, but I wasn’t very excited about getting another Apple product. I had also looked at a few PC laptops with the thought of installing Linux on them. However, the best supported among those options was the Dell Sputnik 2, and I was a bit worried it being able to handle a few use cases. I also was a bit worried that if I bought a machine to install Linux on, that I would spend more time playing with Linux than I would developing. Then, Google announced the Pixel, and a few Googlers were posting about crouton. Crouton is a project that allows Chromebooks to run Linux in a chrooted environment, with full hardware support for just about everything that you could think of, including being able to use multiple displays. Perfect.

I decided that a home server would be a good compliment to the Chromebook, for doing the heavier sorts of tasks that I like to run once in a while, like compiling Android from source. And, buying the Pixel and server together was less than the Macbook Retina. I decided to go with the LTE version since I have Verizon, and occasionally will tether my phone to my laptop when I need the web, and I figured that I’d prefer to have something on-board rather than killing my phone’s battery.

Setting up the Pixel

Now, as I mentioned, I wanted to be able to run crouton, so that meant that I needed to enable dev mode on my Chromebook. Enabling dev mode means that you basically wipe the device, and start from scratch, running an unverified instance of Chrome OS. From there, you can set up crouton and install Ubuntu. Now, anyone who’s installed some flavor of Linux on a laptop knows that no matter how well supported the device is, there are still going to be pain points, things that will require you to spend some time and solve. The Chromebook Pixel was no different. That’s not to say that there were any overly complicated stumbling blocks, but there was a decent amount of setup, couple with my setting up things like Eclipse and ADT for my Android development work. Altogether, I’d estimate that I had put about 15-20 hours worth of work into getting my environment set up the way that I wanted, and eliminating the issues that I had initially had with the setup.

Once I had the thing set up, I was very happy with it. The Pixel checked all the boxes of what I needed in a machine, and an environment. The next thing to do was to get the LTE set up, so that when I go off to coffee shops with over-crowded WiFi, that I could still be productive. Off to Verizon!

EDIT: Instructions on how to do this yourself.

Meanwhile, at Verizon Wireless

I made the trip to a local Verizon Wireless store to have my brand new (< 1 week) Chromebook Pixel LTE device added to my shared data plan. My wife and I have a shared data plan, and adding the Pixel was supposed to cost around an extra $10/month, I figured that’s not a bad deal. We go in, and the reps are pretty nice, the guy that I was working with hadn’t seen the Pixel before, but seemed to be familiar enough with Chromebooks, at least in theory. We got started, and he asked me to hand over the device. No problem, I figured that they were used to doing this sort of thing, what could go wrong, except for maybe losing my browser session.

When he handed it back to me the first time, because he couldn’t find the SIM card’s IMEI, I noticed that he had killed my browser session. It was annoying, and certainly inconsiderate, but not a huge deal, I was looking up some stuff on Go Lang, nothing I couldn’t find again. I didn’t think much of it. I found the IMEI, and handed the device back. He seemed to be having trouble with their system, in trying to add the device to my shared data plan. This was a bit annoying, but it’s a brand new device and apparently Verizon’s process is device-centric. With Verizon, they don’t have a general process where they can simply take a SIM card, say, this now belongs to so-and-so’s shared plan, and will cost $10/mo to connect. This seems like the way it should be, but it isn’t. Instead, they have to find the device in their system, and then see what plans are available for it, and then see if they can hook it up to an existing account. Apparently, the tablet version of their software was allowing them to do this, but the desktop version wasn’t. No idea why, I didn’t really care either. At this point, the guy called over a manager to help him out. She knew that there had been a rep that had done this before, but apparently nobody in the store had, or knew exactly what to do, so they were going to just muddle through.

Eventually, they were able to get the plan added to the account correctly, and all that was left was to active the SIM. They asked me to reboot the device, hoping that would help. I rebooted it, signed in, and still was unable to connect. I handed it back, and they worked on it for another 5-10 minutes. Then, they seemed to get excited, saying that they had successfully activated it, and that I just had to log back into my account. This time though, when they handed me my device the ‘login screen’ was not the login screen, instead it was the device setup screen. WTF? I was very confused.

I entered my credentials and was greeted with a blank, fresh screen, just like the one that I saw when I booted the device for the first time. I was very worried at this point. I tried opening a shell, a sure-fire way to test if you’re in dev mode or not, I opened the console and entered 'shell’, it returned “Unknown command: 'shell’”. Shit. I rebooted the device, no dev-mode scary warning screen. There goes 15 hours worth of work.

I am livid.

I calmly looked at the manager and informed her that they had wiped my device in the process of setting up LTE access. She didn’t really know what I meant, and I tried my best to explain. I said that everything was gone, not just my account, but everything on the device, things that weren’t a part of what gets automatically backed up. She was very apologetic, and I let her know that a simple apology was not going to cut it. She asked me what I wanted her to do, and I said, make me an offer. She went into the back room for about 10 minutes or so.

When she came back, she said that she had spoken with their financial department and determined that they would give me a $35 credit to my account. I believe that that’s what they charge for device activations. I calmly explained that I had spent about 15-20 hours configuring the device, and that I would have to do that again. I also explained that if I were to bill out my time hourly, the low end would be at around $100/hr. I said that a $35 credit was not going to cut it. I tried again to get her to understand what she had done. I said, “imagine that you had given me your laptop for me to install something on it. I do that, and I hand it back to you and everything is gone. All your music, all your data, everything. How would you feel? Do you think $35 would cover it?” Unfortunately, my time had run out, and I needed to leave. I couldn’t wait around for another round of her checking with the financial department. I asked her to have them call me tomorrow.

Why I’m so upset

One thing that really bugged me about the experience was that neither rep took any responsibility for what they had done. They kept saying, “all we did was activate the LTE modem, I don’t know how this could happen”. If you’re going to work on someone’s device, and you break it, you need to accept responsibility for that. End of story. Another thing that bugs me about this is that while it is part of the Verizon rep’s job to activate Chromebook devices, they don’t seem to have had any training about it, or even to know the basics of how to navigate the OS. This is a failing on both Verizon and Google. Google went out with an LTE device, with Verizon as a promotional partner, and didn’t make sure that the Verizon reps had the proper training to deal with the device without breaking it.

To be fair to the reps, what likely happened is that they rebooted my device, and hit the space bar - that’s how you get the device back into verified mode. I had asked them if they rebooted it, and they said that they hadn’t; I honestly don’t know if they knew enough about what they were doing to be sure. It’s also possible that activating the new SIM card really did hard-reset the device, or that part of their instructions were to take it out of dev mode, and they simply didn’t own up to that. I don’t know exactly what happened, because I couldn’t see what they were doing. Regardless, what matters is the result, and that they caused it. I trusted them with my device, and they violated that trust.

Google is owed some of the responsibility here for making it so easy to wipe out a device in the course of doing something seemingly simple, like activating a SIM card. I’ll be filing a bug report today on Chrome OS about switching between dev and verified modes, that it should require the primary user’s password.

Where things are now

There’s no resolution at present. I’m waiting to hear from Verizon. I would like them to offer me something substantial for the grief that they’ve caused. I will also be asking them what they plan on doing in the future to ensure that this sort of thing does not happen again. I will update this post when this issue gets resolved.

Updates

Update 1:

+Charles Hardy mentioned that if you can talk the VZW reps into giving you the card and doing it yourself, it’s a fairly easy process. He said that you just need to get a SIM that’s been added to your account, and replace the SIM in the Pixel with the new one. Then, reboot and go through the activation process on the Pixel like normal.

Update 2:

Just got off the phone with Verizon, they offered a $55 credit, $20 more than the last offer. I told them that that was unacceptable, but the manager I spoke with was not willing to budge. We’ll see what happens next.

Update 3:

Submitted as an issue to Google. I went through the process suggested by Google for submitting feature feedback and suggestions.

chrome://help/ -&gt; "Report an Issue"

Update 4:

+Melissa Daniels responded to my G+ post on this, and said that she passed my feedback regarding switching between verified and dev mode to the appropriate team. That’s good to hear!

More bad news on the Verizon side, I logged into my account this morning and found that they were charging me twice as much as they said they were going to when I was in the store. They told me $10/mo, and I’m looking at my account that says $20/mo. The rep that I’m talking to seems nice, hopefully she can get some of this fixed.

Update 5:

Verizon offered me a $120 credit, and I’m taking that one. Amy the CSR came through!

As far as the monthly access fee goes, $20/mo is what Verizon charges for USB modems and netbooks, and $10/mo is what they charge for tablets. They are counting this as a USB modem or netbook, and won’t budge on it. Apparently that’s how it’s in their system, and the various blogs that reported otherwise, along with the in-store rep that I spoke with, were incorrect.

I think that I’ll probably keep the data, since I’ll be saving roughly that amount on reducing my Dropbox usage, though I’m quite unhappy with Verizon on this. There are several reasons that I’m still annoyed, but the main one is that I don’t really understand why they have vastly different rates to connect devices to the shared data plan that you’re already paying for. Some devices are $5, and some are $20.

I think that this is where I will leave off with this post, since the main issue was resolved, and I don’t see any movement on the monthly fee issue.

Update 6:

Really, this is the last one. Melissa Daniels is going to follow up with VZW on this issue for me, which I really appreciate. She’s really working to make sure that everyone with a Chromebook has a great experience.

The last rep that I spoke with at Verizon said that he would be following up with the local store to make sure that the reps there get up to speed on their training, as well as learn how to communicate things like monthly charges better to customers.

All-round, this was basically the result that I was looking for.

Update 7:

Here are instructions on how to do this yourself.

Update 8:

From Melissa Daniels in this post:


Hi all, As a heads up, for those of you who are looking to activate, the steps for activation are as follows

For calling or in store: Process is as follows, user needs their ICCID (sim card ID), IMEI (device ID) and their existing Verizon account # and login details.
Call VZW post paid service at 1-800-256-4646 and press #2

We’re actively working to resolve these issues and streamline this process (as well as update our content on our own help center as well as on VZW’s) and truly appreciate everyone’s patience.

As +Trond Wuellner mentioned, the pricing should only be $10 – not $20.

Thanks!


So, that’s $10/month to add the Chromebook Pixel LTE to a shared data plan coming from two Google reps (Trond Wuellner is the other, see the thread). Trond mentioned in another comment that they (at Google) were working with a team at Verizon to get this issue taken care of and fix the pricing for everybody. I will update here again once I see this reflected in my bill, or if there are any other developments.

Update 9:

I did need to call Verizon to get the bill fixed. However, I was only on the phone for about 10 minutes, and everything’s in order, including a refund for the extra charges.

02 Apr 2013, 16:03

Kaiser Permanente's billing system is insane.

Kaiser Permanente’s billing system is insane.

I work for a very small startup.

We are small enough that buying a company insurance plan doesn’t really get you anything over individual rates. A couple of us are also on spouses’ company insurance plans, only leaving two or three of us actually going through our company for insurance. As a result, our structure is that we choose the insurance that we want, pay for it out of pocket, and then submit the monthly bills for reimbursement. This works out reasonably well, I get the insurance I want, and the company pays for it. Great!

When going through all of our options, my wife and I landed on Kaiser Permanente. The price seemed reasonable, they had pretty good ratings, and the coverage seemed to be decent as well. Initially, things went smoothly. Then, all of a sudden, the bills stopped coming. We had signed up for Kaiser’s automatic EFT program so that we could automate the process of paying them every month, just like we do for every other bill that we pay. I have set up automatic payments for nearly every service that I have used since I started paying bills, as those systems became available.

Manual bill paying punishes customers

The whole process stresses me out. Let’s step through the process for paper bills, you have to watch your physical mailbox and sift through all the junk looking for something important. Then, you get it, and have to open the several important looking things to further weed out junk. You are rewarded by finding something that tells you that you owe money somewhere. Next, you have to write a check, put it in the envelope (usually requiring a stamp, cheap bastards) and mail out the bill and the check, hopefully in enough time to get there by the due date. The whole process punishes you, there is no single reward in any of those steps of bill paying. You need to sift through your mail and are punished for finding what you’re looking for (the bill). Then, you act on that and are punished again - both needing to shell out money, a stamp and needing to get the thing to a mailbox.

The process for manual online payments is slightly better, but not by much. First, you need to keep an eye on your email inbox, looking for sifting through all the junk, looking for something important. When you find a bill, you’re still punished by finding it, in that you’re told that you owe money to someone. Now, you need to go to the website and remember a password, where the password requirements strip out the special characters and shorten the usual password that you use. Now, you’ve managed to log in, and now need to navigate their crappy interface to figure out where you can actually pay your bill. You do that, then you need to pull out your credit card. Now, you step through the overly long payment process and save a pdf of the confirmation page.

Neither of those options are fun, and both of them punish you throughout the process. Many of the services that we use seem to just be there, in the background, and you don’t think about them all that much. I want them to be billed in a way that I don’t need to think about them all that much. I budget for what gets paid, set up the automated payments, and let it run itself. Periodically, I’ll run through and audit things, looking at my bank statements for amounts that differ from what I had expected to see, and then log into those billing sites to track down the bill in question and look it over. This system works out pretty well, and while there have been a couple of times where I’ve overpaid for a few months, I’ve always been able to have it corrected after looking things over and contacting the company involved. No problem.

Kaiser and the EFT

Then came Kaiser. We signed up for their EFT system that was pitched to us along with one of our bills. Great, we thought, no more sending checks in the mail, this will all be handled for us. We signed up, and it was handled for us. Until, a couple months later when the bills stopped coming in. We called Kaiser and asked them to send the statements, and they did. Ok, small glitch, no big deal. The next month, the same thing happened. Again, we called, this time, asking if there was something strange going on. On the phone, I was told that when you sign up for EFT, you stop receiving bills in the mail. Alright, I thought, I’ll just get them online. I checked the billing section of my account and there had been nothing saved in there since we signed up for the EFT. At this point, I had no way to prove, beyond the withdrawals from my bank account, that I was paying Kaiser, or what I was paying them for!

At this point, I was quite confused. Why was there no digital record of all of my bills? The first bill was there, but none of the others. I don’t think that I have ever encountered something like this before.

Kaiser’s response

I asked Kaiser what was going on. They told me that in the EFT agreement that I had signed, it said that we would stop receiving bills. I asked what about the electronic copies, they said that we would stop receiving those too. (I’m going to continue this based on the assumption that they were correct in that the EFT agreement stated that bills would stop coming, however that isn’t true.) I asked how I could obtain a record of payment for my healthcare, they said, ‘look at your bank statement’. I was floored. I asked to speak with a manager.

I spent an hour on the phone with a manager 'discussing’ this issue. I’m fairly stubborn, and logical, and simply couldn’t accept his answer. The answer to this, was repeatedly that when you sign up for EFT with Kaiser, they stop sending you any form of a bill or statement, and that this is reasonable because you should expect it and can look at your bank statement. This didn’t work for me for two main reasons, I need the statements to get reimbursed, and I generally want to have some record from the people that I am paying of what I’m paying for. Another reason that this didn’t work for me was that it was completely illogical. No other company that I have dealt with has ever operated this way. Ok, if I sign up for automated monthly payments, and you don’t want to pay for paper bills to be sent every month, that’s fine, as long as I can access them online.

They claimed that this system was paperless, but it was really statementless! I couldn’t log in to get those statements online, because the statements didn’t exist - or so they claimed. I kept grilling the guy on how they were billing me if they weren’t able to generate a statement, and he kept saying that it was all just automatic, and that this is what I had agreed to (again, according to the agreement, this is not what I had agreed to). He went on to claim that all the companies that he dealt with operated in this way. I said 'bullshit’! This manager was lying to me on the phone. I’ve never heard of a company operating this way, even cable and telecom companies do a better job with billing than this. My main question was this, 'why can’t you generate the electronic bills and make them available to me through your web portal?’ This wouldn’t require much investment beyond ~1MB per month per customer, something they do for anyone who doesn’t enable EFT. It would take years for a single customer to cost them a cent in server storage. He kept claiming that the EFT system just wouldn’t do that, and that I was unreasonable for asking for it. I suppose that the insane part of this is that I kept asking the rep the same questions, expecting different answers. All I wanted to hear was, 'yeah, you know, you’re right, this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, our system is not set up in a great way, and we should fix this.’ Or, at the very least, 'yes, the system is screwed up, I’ll pass this along to my bosses.’ Instead, this guy claimed that they were doing the reasonable thing.

Ok, let’s do a little math here. To simplify, let’s assume that the storage cost for storing a customer’s records is $0.01/yr. If someone needs to call customer service to request a bill while on EFT, they would spend maybe 10 minutes on the phone. If the rep is getting paid $15/h, then each call costs them about $2.50. For each call that they eliminate, they could store statements for 250 customers for one year. Now, I’m going to use Wikipedia’s numbers for the Northern California region, which has 3,351,449 members. If they stored all the records for everyone, that comes out to $33,514.49/yr. If more than 13,405 people (~0.4% of their customers) call in once in a year or over 1,117 people (~0.033% of their custmers) call every month requesting their bill, Kaiser is losing money.

Kaiser’s business is billing

This was obviously incredibly frustrating to someone who has worked on medical billing systems, and knows for a fact that, even if they are odd and difficult to work with, they can be tied together when necessary. My larger concern was that Kaiser’s business, for the most part, is billing. Billing should be Kaiser’s core competency, their business is to shuffle money around and to keep track of it. Mostly, this means billing customers, sometimes it means paying bills sent by medical institutions. If Kaiser has this much trouble sending me my monthly bill, what’s going to happen when I actually need to use them for something, or when my bill becomes more complicated than my monthly premium?

Conclusion

Again, working at a startup, I simply don’t have much time to dump into investigating this further, or finding different insurance and switching over. I’m strongly considering it. In the meantime, I cancelled our automatic EFT, and the bills have magically started coming again. What do you think? Is any of this reasonable on Kaiser’s part? Or are they just terrible at what they do? Here’s a pdf of the EFT agreement that I found, nowhere in it does it mention anything about paperless or statementless billing.

01 Apr 2013, 22:45

Open letter to CitiBank on their horrible surveys

Open letter to CitiBank on their horrible surveys

I recently activated a new Citi Card, and had a pretty decent experience with the customer service there. I thought they did a really good job, mainly because they didn’t ask me to repeat anything and two seconds after I said that I needed the card activated it was done, and I was able to get off the phone and move on with my live. Today, they sent me a survey about the experience, and I decided to fill it out, since I thought that the rep did an exceptional job.

However, the survey software that they use seems to be designed to be frustrating and take way more time and thought than should be necessary. Further, I would be willing to bet money that this design is leading to a higher percentage of people like me, who get frustrated and give up a quarter of the way through.

The following is a response to the second ‘comment’ section of a survey that they sent me.

What is the primary reason for the score of 9 you just gave? Please be as specific as possible.

(Do not include any confidential information in your comments such as account number, PIN, password, etc.)

This answer is not related to the question asked.

The design of this survey is so poorly designed that this is as far as I’m willing to go. For one thing, you’re asking me redundant information right now. How is this significantly different from whether or not I would recommend the service based on the customer service experience? Are you trying to waste my time by repeating questions to me, and asking me to write comments to you about them individually?

Do you usually count from 1 to 10 backwards? Why don’t you give any visual queues besides text for the ratings? Are you not concerned about people getting confused and responding the opposite of what they intend to?

Why are you taking up the entire horizontal space of my screen? I have a fairly large screen and actually need to turn my head to see all of this information.

Why am I only 28% of the way through? Do you seriously expect people to click through all the way to 100%? What’s your completion rate for these things? If I were doing this, I would have maybe four pages, and the progress bar would not be a depressing grey with a percentage in it. (By the way, I did the math, and you went from 24% - 25% from the last page to this, which means 4% per step, which comes out to 25 questions that I need to answer!)

Don’t you guys make enough money to be able to afford to build better experiences for your customers? Are you concerned that a terrible experience with your survey software will have a negative impact on the answers given, or reflect poorly on your company?

If your company’s survey looks like this, you’re doing it wrong.