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A User-Hostile Service

Categories: Administrative, Education, Popular Culture, Social Commentary
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As one can surmise from the previous test posts, I've been trying (after three quarters of a year) to fix the problems with my Movable Type installation.

I went to one of the providers listed at MT as consultants, to try to get some help (unnamed, to protect the guilty). They have been somewhat helpful, in that they have eliminated possibilities of what the problem might be, but they haven't actually determined what the problem is ($150 later, and asking for more).

But that's not the point. The point is the (to me) user hostility of their system.

When I get an email from them, it comes in the following form:


[message from unnamed service...]

In my first response, I ignored it, and just replied below (as I always do, since as a long-time emailer, I bottom post to response).

The response was:



Your reply was blank. I'm assuming this is because you were trying to quote
me instead of deleting everything and then replying. Please give it a try
again by deleting all the original text.

Oh. OK.

They were serious.

They were determined to allow nothing that they emailed me to be quoted in my response. And moreover, even if I top posted, they didn't want to see their response in my response.

Is it just me, or are they nuts?

Here was my second email in response to this absurd and deliberate policy (the first was minimal, and unreplied to):

One other point. Do you realize how annoying it is to:

1) not include my response in your response and

2) make me jump through hoops to include your response in mine?

Not to mention top posting (though in this case, it's almost meaningless to distinguish between top and bottom posting).


Do you think that it enhances the customer relationship?

This alone is almost enough to make me want to write off my current investment in you as a bad one, and find someone who can help me without being such an email PITA.

The response?

Please help us understand why you feel like you should always include our response with ours? Our web based desk records everything, including our responses so we don't need to see it multiple times. This creates duplicate records.

We work with thousands of customers and didn't see this as a problem before.

Here is my response:

Please help us understand why you feel like you should always include our response with ours? Our web based desk records everything, including our responses so we don't need to see it multiple times. This creates duplicate records. ==========================================================

Yes, because bandwidth for a few lines of text is so expensive...

It is important because I would like to have some context for what I'm responding to, and you should have some context for what you're responding to, in the email to which you're responding. If I want to find out what we're talking about, I have to go back and dig into my outbox, to figure out WTF we're talking about. If you don't find this annoying, I don't frankly understand why. If you don't want excessive repetition, just delete the older stuff. That's how it worked on Usenet for years.


We work with thousands of customers and didn't see this as a problem before.

Then you must have worked with thousands of top-posting morons raised on Outlook and AOL, and who only know how to upload to blogs with FTP, thus opening themselves to attack. It drives old-timers like me, familiar with old-school email and Usenet, NUTS.
I have never before run into a system that MADE IT DIFFICULT (AND ATTEMPTED TO MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE, EVEN WARNED RESPONDENTS NOT TO DO IT) TO QUOTE AN EMAIL IN RESPONSE. This is a new, and infuriating system to me.

Can you point me to anyone else who has deliberately and maliciously set up their email responses this way, because it is a novel and off-putting approach, that has been making me angry with each exchange? I've been sort of happy with you, in that you seem to be attempting to help, even though you have made no progress whatsoever in solving my problem, other than telling me what it isn't, but you can't imagine how frustrating this is. Deliberately attempting (in futility, obviously) to make it impossible to include context of email responses is, to me, insane.

That's where it stands at this point. Who is nuts?

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Pete Zaitcev wrote:

Have you noticed that Instapundit has migrated to Wordpress? Seriously, MT is deader than Ares I.

Also, look at the situation from their side. Your righteous anger is going to be a topic of a water cooler conversation or a couple IM messages between the self-centered monkeys. That's about all it's going to accomplish.

T.L. James wrote:

Every time I updated MT, it took me many many hours over several days to get everything to work right. Tweaking templates, fixing CSS problems, etc. It took me under three hours start to finish to migrate to WordPress, including the time spent finding and editing a masthead graphic.

WP is easier to set up, easier to maintain, and easier to work with than least, the last version of MT that I bothered to install, three-plus years ago. It's worth considering a migration.

umm.... Wordpress?

Dave G wrote:

That's a perfect example of IT looking at users as an uneducated inconveinence. Way to typical. Why should they dirty themselevs with your lame questions?

These morons have been lead to believe that they're "engineers" because they passed a couple of tests and been given administrator passwords.

Big whoop.

I wouldn't pay a dime for that kind of service, and I'd run for the nearest alternative as fast as I could.

Paul Breed wrote:

Do a restrictive Google search on
convert from "wordpress to MT" :8 hits
convert from "wordpress to movable type" :21 hits
convert from "WP to MT" :39 hits

convert from "MT to WP":111
convert from "MT to wordpress" :123 hits
convert from "movable type to wordpress":322 hits

Score 68 to 556 Google knows all.

Mark wrote:

Since you asked ... I think you're both a little nuts, in that you're both obsessing about what really amounts to a detail, both determined to have it your own way in it, and both excessively aggravated by having to adjust to something a little different. Sort of like Adrian Monk and Harold Krenshaw, if you watch "Monk".

Josh Reiter wrote:

Pete Zaitcev wrote:
"Your righteous anger is going to be a topic of a water cooler conversation or a couple IM messages between the self-centered monkeys. That's about all it's going to accomplish.

LoL, Work in the IT support field very much Pete? That is exactly how the more colorful responses are treated by and large. Unless a team lead sees it or hears it then it might start a chain reaction of meetings upon meetings to discuss and morph into some other type of inane policy.

I will say that it is very odd to deliberately put one's customer through hoops like that. I often have to update tickets and exchange long discussions with customers. I just simply open a email, hit the reply button like I am going to respond, and then just copy and paste the customer's responses with the message header to serve as a time stamp of when the email was received and that is it. I then respond to the email directly from the ticket. Most ticketing systems integrated with email services. However, they generally only send messages out, there is often a separate repository where messages are received into.

On the other hand I kinda see where the support service is coming from. No doubt they have a ticket system that has a diary that logs every interaction (possibly even incoming messages). From a database stand point, yes, the servers could care less about a few extra bytes of data. However, the server is only able to analyze the data content so far. A human pair of eyes needs to review a problem issue at some point. Several different techs often scan through a single ticket diary to see what has and hasn't been done so far. At first you will work with a 1st level tech and he/she often escalates a ticket to 2nd or 3rd level. That higher level tech would often like to just read through the ticket diary and get a clear understand of the nature of the problem and what steps have been attempted to resolve it up unto that point. If there is a lot of gibberish and jargon that gets in the way of the meat and potatoes of the dialog then you as a customer can actually get more frustrated when a support tech follows-up with you and starts off on a resolution path that has already been attempted or worse yet, completely off base.

Their response is pure customer service mumbo jumbo, however. One of the top 10 list of things to do when a customer complains is to feign sympathy and then ask them to further explain the source of their frustration, "So that I can better understand how to improve our service". This is purely a cathartic exercise that opens up the floor to letting the customer vent for a while. When the customer finally winds down a bit then nod your head with agreement to the customer's concerns and proclaim, "I absolutely understand how frustrating that can be". Then, reiterate that "your opinions as a customer are important to the company" and how "we are always endeavoring to improve customer relations". When the customer interaction is complete then report to the break room where the drama story of the day can be relayed.

Sam Dinkin wrote:

Rand, I understand your frustration. But if you are looking for a solution to your bug rather than rationality from an insane system designed by people whose first language is computer programming, you might ask yourself if you want psychotherapy or bug fixes.

jrman wrote:

Bottom posting is like stapling copies of your references to the front of a term paper, or repeating a voicemail verbatim at the start of the return phone call.

We don't do it in any other similar situation, why does it make sense in email?

kurt9 wrote:

I have found that customer service, in general, in this country really sucks hard. The bigger the company, the worse the customer service is. I have found only one big company that has decent customer service and that is Southwest Airlines. Every other big company I have dealt with has had really bad customer service.

I believe that lousy customer service as well as the dysfunctional nature of bureaucracy in general is a contributory reason why the economy is collapsing. I believe that a long, deep recession is the existential result of dysfunctional corporate bureaucracy, of which poor customer service is one of the many symptoms thereof.

Rand Simberg wrote:

I'm not complaining about customer service, per se--the guy I've been dealing with has been reasonable. I'm complaining about the company's email policy.

Wince and Nod wrote:

We are all nuts.

I understand bottom posting. I understand why someone might like bottom posting. But I've tried it and I don't.

I do want my email chain to be an email chain.

Here's hoping for email 2.0, so Rand can read his email using bottom posting and I can read mine using top posting.


Rand Simberg wrote:

This isn't about top versus bottom posting. It's about not allowing quoting at all. That's what I find bizarre.

Orville wrote:

This particularly chaps my a$$. I started out years ago in customer service and eventually wound up in IT support before going into IT management now. You have two schools of behavior among helpdesk...

1. The stereotypical geek with no grooming or social skills who mocks your helplessness, and
2. Helpdesk folks who are really all about helping people solve problems.

I don't come from the old usenet bottom poster crowd, but I agree that this is poor service even if the schmuck consultant was nice to you.

Leland wrote:

Orville, you forgot the third option. The customer service representative bound by company policy to using a script troubleshooting plan to prevent the chance of exposing the company to risk. I've seen this done to both external and internal customers, and it amazes me as to why IT or CSR departments don't see how this would ever frustrate the customer. This is why I think many do consider customer service to be in decline. Sure there are vast people with problems that can be handled by stereotypes, but most customers, who can afford to walk to another vendor, are smart enough to have problems that can't easily be solved by a script. Such customers need personalized service and should instantly be treated differently by reasonable and capable support personnel.

Wince and Nod wrote:

This isn't about top versus bottom posting.

Yeah, that was a digression. Sorry for following it. But as I said, I do want my email chain to be an email chain. A good email 2.0 would allow MT's web based desk to only display the new material each time as well.

Maybe it could be something XML based, where each user generated event (create, reply, forward) is enclosed in it's own set of tags, with timestamp sent tags, timestamp receipt tags, and so on.

See? Just like rocket guys always want to talk about design, so do software guys.


ken anthony wrote:

This says it best...

These morons have been lead to believe that they're "engineers" because they passed a couple of tests and been given administrator passwords.

I like the way Dave expressed it.

The ability to put yourself in the other persons place is sadly lacking. Stupid business people demand the customer understand them. Smart business people try to understand the position of the customer.

I'd say the number of businesses that really understand customer service, whether big or small, runs something like 1% to 3%.

The software business is worse, because they have a financial incentive to misunderstand the customer. When support is a profit center, they also have a financial incentive to write crappy software (as long as it doesn't go past a certain threshold.)

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