Thursday, May 08, 2008

Almost Helpful

This has happened twice in the last couple-three weeks. Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm not expressing myself clearly, or maybe I'm expecting too much of e-mail.

It goes like this:

I e-mail a given corporate entity with a fairly specific inquiry, and they promptly e-mail me back with a reply that almost does what I asked.

For instance: A couple of weeks ago, confronted with a massive cell-phone bill, I e-mailed Sprint to see what we could do to get it to quit competing with the house payment. I told them what we wanted in the way of calls, texting, etc., and for how many lines, and, in effect, asked for a quote.

(This was after some time banging around on their web site trying to figure out their Simply Everything plan, but the site is simply nothing on details.)

Well, I get back a very nice, very prompt reply from a customer service woman who is very much on board with the idea of trying to save me money...and if I just let her know what plan I want, she'll get me set up with it. Well, yes, thanks, but I had rather hoped that she would put the plan together and tell me about it. Helpful...but not quite.

And then yesterday I e-mailed a bank in Omaha in re a little mystery my brother and I have encountered regarding safe-deposit box keys that seem to belong to nothing. It dawned on me that my folks had done business with a particular bank when they lived in Omaha (through the mid-sixties) and wondered if they had somehow forgotten about a deposit box there. Unlikely, but possible. So I went online, found the successor to that long-ago bank, and e-mailed their customer service department with all the information I have: my parents' names, the number written on the case containing the keys, my parents' home address in Omaha, etc.

And this morning I log on to a very nice, very prompt reply from a customer service woman who provides me with the bank's phone number so I can call and talk to someone about it. Uh-huh, okay, but isn't it safe to assume that I could have found the phone number easily myself and that since I went to the trouble to find their email address and compose a message to them, perhaps I had a reason for not calling in the first place? ("Your call is important to us. That's why you're on hold. Please stay on hold, and enjoy the music we keep interrupting to tell you how important your call is to us...")

Again, almost helpful.

I recognize that there might be practical reasons for these and other entities to shy away from conducting certain aspects of business via e-mail. If the bank had said, "For security purposes, please call a personal banker," I probably would have thought it bogus, but at least I'd have had a reason of sorts. But in Sprint's case, wouldn't it have been better for them to have replied with, "Based on what you tell me your best bet would be Plan 9 from Outer Space, which would cost you 600 bazillion dollars a month for three lines"?

Especially since just last week I signed our daughter up for a really nice Verizon plan, and as long as we were in the store I asked the sales associate to give me some info on putting the whole household on the same plan.

Which he was more than happy to put together for me.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

No Worries! AOL Is Watching Out for You!

Well, they're at it again.

A couple-three years ago, my e-mail to friends and relatives who are still benightedly using AOL as their internet provider began to bounce. After some detective work, I deduced that AOL didn't like one or more of the links I include in my outgoing-mail signature. These included my e-mail address, my personal web page at Geocities (which they seem to hate), my genealogical page at FortuneCity (that seems to be the one they really hate), and gifs that link to Thunderbird and Firefox.

For a time, I gamely deleted the signature from AOL-bound e-mail, but never without a feeling of resentment. What business is it of AOL's if I want to put a link in, say, my correspondence with my cousin? Seems to me that that's between him and me, and AOL's paternalistic "at least one domain in your email that is generating substantial complaints from AOL members" is neither here nor there: I'm not e-mailing those whiners, I'm e-mailing my cousin!

And of course there would be those instances where I'd forget to delete the signature, and the e-mail would bounce back, and my resentment would increase, etc.

But then one day it seemed that there was no problem anymore, and my e-mail was making its way past the Moral Guardians of AOL Customers with no untoward difficulty, and life was good, or at least not too crappy.

Until this weekend. AOL is back to "protecting" my cousin--who is well into his adulthood, mind--from receiving any seditious materials from me. My cousin doesn't have any say in the matter. I don't have any say in the matter. AOL makes the decision for us, pre-emptorily, supposedly because of "substantial complaints" from members about other communication, having nothing to do with me or my cousin, they appear to have received from "one or more" of the domains referred to in my e-mail.

Get that: I'm not SENDING from a blacklisted domain. I'm merely referencing an address they don't like in my e-mail to ONE person who, foolishly, is a customer of theirs.

Yes, I'm working on the cousin to dump AOL. But of course it's a hassle to change ISPs, and I can't blame a guy for being unenthusiastic about it.

In the meantime, though, I find myself pretty peeved at the high-handedness of AOL.

But that is nothing knew. I recall a certain brouhaha some years ago when the media caught wind of AOL's having dumped a customer because she began some kind of online support or information group for survivors of breast cancer--and had had the nerve to use the B-word in the group's name, and in referencing the disease, and so on! Everyone knows that br**st is a dirty word, and so AOL, in its best Big Brother mode, blocked her from their network for the benefit of all. Until, that is, it hit the media, and AOL looked both stupid and paternalistic.

Obviously, the corporation learned nothing from that episode, and is once again setting itself up as the arbiter of what people may or may not read, and the Great and Wise Protector of All who might be exposed to such atrocities as

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Oh no! Your eyes, your eyes!!