Named and Shamed

Tales of frustration. Read no further if you are a 'positive' person with no interest in hearing about things that have gone wrong.

It annoys me when I get bad service, etc, from people or organizations I think should Do Better. I believe that constructive complaining plays a big part in making things improve. This page contains some stories I think deserve to be told.

Below: Stories of experiences with.... Equiserve, Homebase (UK), Northwest Airlines/ KLM, IBM, Compaq, Toshiba.

Equiserve. I own shares in US companies. I am a US citizen. I live in the UK.

Because of that combination, I confuse the computer systems set up for paying dividends and accounting for that income... fair enough. From time to time Equiserve, a shareholder service provider, sends me W8-BEN forms. These are declarations for the tax authoritites. However, near the top of the W8-BEN used by Equiserve it says they are not to be used by US citizens. I believe the right form in my case is a W-9, and I duly return one of these to Equiserve with a request that they confirm they've had what they need. This they rarely do. Susequently, Equiserve sometimes begins to withhold part of my dividends.

Particularly frustrating was a recent conversation with an Equiserve person... not the person I first spoke to, but the person I was referred to when I asked for a supervisor. She kept saying that I needed to supply a W-8BEN... even when I'd told her I was a US citizen, and told her that I had instruction booklets from the IRS saying a W-8BEN wouldn't be right. (I hadn't at that time noticed the statement on Equiserve's own forms.) Why do I have to tell professionals things relevant to their job? Why does Equiserve so seldom respond when I write back in response to things they've sent me? Is it so much to ask that they confirm their acceptance of the information I present? Usually, the paperwork arises on things that I've already made declarations about in the past.

I bought an expensive "2000 hour" halogen lightbulb from Homebase, in the UK. It failed within less than a month. I wrote the head office, asking if they'd take a chance on my word.... of course, I could be a scam artist trying to get a new bulb for one that had given me reasonable service.

When I bought the bulb, I used my Homebase "Spend & Save" card- you know, one of those "loyalty cards" that lets the retailler track consumers' spending habits.

Homebase said they could only offer a refund if I had my "proof of purchase". They didn't dispute that the bulb had failed. They didn't say "how do we know how long the bulb had been used?" They just asked for a "proof of purchase", by which I presume they mean a receipt. Do you keep receipts for minor household consumables? In any case: if they really want to know I bought the bulb there, the information is in their computer already!

Northwest Airlines/ KLM...

Three stories here: Barfy brown gunge, Frequent flier frustrations and the Journey Through Hell

Barfy Brown Gunge: For a number of years, I flew NW between the UK to Boston and fairly regularly. (I now enjoy flying with Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic.) On many flights, after about 4 hours, a revolting brown substance began flowing down the bulkhead at the front of some sections, creating a pool of yuck where your feet and belongings would be. I always admired the flight attendants for their ability to appear puzzled by something that they must have seen many times. I always wondered why the airline didn't do something to fix the problem. I tried not to wonder what the brown stuff might be.

Frequent Flier Frustrations: I have a fair number of points built up with Northwest, who sold me on to KLM when NW wrapped up their frequent flier programme. Not unreasonably, these points lapse if they are not used within a certain period. Early in 1999 I tried to arrange a trip to use some of my aged points. I also tried to find out when the first of my 'too old' points would lapse, and how many would lapse. I phoned the only number available to me... a number in Holland... and sat on hold for ages several times. One time I did get through the agent couldn't tell me. Their problems are so severe that they were warning members of the 'rewards' programme that they were likely to have trouble contacting the 'service', and suggested we try the website instead. I did. I found it poorly designed, hard to navigate, and I couldn't find the information I needed. For details about my own circumstances I needed to register and obtain a PIN. I was told it would take about three weeks to arrive. (BTW- How can this possibly be justified?) Anyway, I struggled through the registration process. My PIN has come... it arrived in June.... not three weeks after requesting it... not even three MONTHS after requesting it! My chance of making a short trip had been in March. I also sent an email early in the year... again at the invitation of this mess of a programme. I had no reply.

Journey Through Hell: If seems I'm not the only one to have difficulties if I am foolish enough to use NW. Wall Street Journal, Europe, May 3, 1999 devoted column one of page one and ALL of page 13 to an account of a nightmare journey for some (never-again, one assumes) passengers of a Northwest flight. I can't recall WSJ ever giving a whole page to a single story. Of course, the flight was bedeviled by weather, and you can't blame airlines for that. However, there were many things I DO find unacceptable. For example: There was a temporary stop in Florida. Passengers were told to be ready for a 6:15am resumption of the flight. Any flier knows that you can't leave your hotel at 6:00 and take off at 6:15. WSJ suggests that people had 4:30 wake up calls. Again, according to WSJ, the crew arrived at the airport at 11am. We're told that due to FAA and union rest rules, they would not have been allowed to take off at 6:15. So why were the passengers told they 'needed' to be at the airport before the crew could fly? Northwest finally got the plane and the passengers to the airport they had paid to be taken to. AFTER the plane landed, they were stuck IN the aircraft, on the tarmac, for NEARLY SEVEN HOURS before they were allowed to de-plane. During that time food and water ran short, and the toilets ran over. This account is based on what I've read in the newspaper article cited. I've skipped many parts. You might like to ask Northwest for a reprint so that you can see the whole story and their 'response'. Part of it admits that some of their equipment in Detroit hadn't been winterized... this mess took place in January. It also tries to put some of the blame on employees for not turning up. I wonder how much effort went into persuading (i.e. overtime/ exceptional weather payments) employees to make an effort, in light of the crisis caused by the severe weather. I wonder how many employees decided they 'couldn't' make it through the storm because they have little interest in their employer's and customer's interests because they are not happy with how their employer treats them.


Before starting I would like to highlight a Good Experience I had with IBM. I had a Thinkpad which deteriorated, and finally died altogether. I phoned IBM's 'EasyServe'. The technician I spoke to ran the diagnostic session very well. He determined that my machine was still under warrantee. IBM sent me a box to send the computer to them in, repaired it quickly, and sent it back to me... and didn't even mess up what was on my hard drive. Tremendous! Especially as I was not the original owner of the machine, and it was more than a year old, I think.

However.... I wrote IBM (Armonk) on 16 September, 1997 with most of the following information. I never received any reply.....

I decided to add some memory to my ThinkPad. I spent 2-1/2 hours on the 'phone with IBM trying to find out what I needed and how to buy it under the 'friends & family' plan. Some people I spoke to didn't know if IBM sold memory for the Thinkpad. (The manual told me it was possible to upgrade... yes! I'd read it!) Others knew the 'FRU' number for what I needed, but couldn't sell it to me. The people who could sell me things couldn't do it from a FRU number, but couldn't tell me the part number to order. At the end of the 2-1/2 hours on the phone, I had two choices to add 8MB to my computer: $390 and $650.. and no one could tell me why one option was $260 better. At one point someone tried to get me to agree to a $35 charge to be told a part number, so I could order it. The next day, I had two 'follow-up' calls from IBM wanting me to complete a questionnaire about the level of my customer satisfaction. (They didn't see the humor when I said I might be able to help them... for a $35 fee.) Furthermore, when I took the trouble to give full details to one agent, and then asked for an address where I could contact him... he 'didn't know' his address, and failed to keep a promise to supply it later. The man was a supervisor, to whom I had asked to be transferred by the employee who called me.

Then I tried a non-IBM source. Four minutes to research options and 2 minutes to order (and they, unlike IBM, could ship USPS which suits me better due to problems over taking delivery at the house), and PC Connections (who also do Mac stuff), 1-800-800-2222 had taken my order for twice as much memory for $214.

Toshiba... and the joys of different economies...

Scenario A:

On the 16th of March, I ordered a CD Docker for their Portege from someone on the Toshiba resellers list. I had to supply my address, despite having been required to send cash with order and having told them I would collect the purchase from them. At that time they said Toshiba were projecting 4-5 weeks delivery. I didn't get the Docker for two months.

Scenario B:

In the US, on about 25 March, I phoned PC Connection, New Hampshire. In less than 5 minutes, I'd ordered a CD Docker, payment by credit card. In less than 36 hours it was delivered to the local address of my choice.

Maybe I should have known better than to buy from Toshiba. Some time ago when I needed a VCR remote control replacement, I didn't even receive a reply when I wrote asking to buy one.

Having said that, it is only fair to add that I am very happy with my Portege.

I wrote Toshiba, UK, for their thoughts on my experiences, and to their credit, they did send a thoughtful letter explaining some of the circumstances they contend with. It was explained that US equipment is often manufactured in the US, UK equipment manufactured in Germany or Japan. Import duties make it expensive for them to move inventory from US to the UK. Fine... makes a degree of sense... but: Both Dockers were marked 'made in Japan'. I think I'll buy from the US in future.


I bought a Presario 1620 laptop. With it, I bought the Corel Wordperfect 8 office suite. When I installed the Corel software, I started having trouble with the bundled fax/voicemail/speakerphone software supplied by Compaq with the machine. I checked the Compaq website, and soon found a 'patch' to repair the fax/etc system... congratulations to Compaq for the easy time I had, and for having identified the problem I was having. (And my thanks to the Orange, CT, CompUSA store who were more than reasonable in their help to me in getting to the bottom of all this. They were prepared to let me have desk, phone line, WinFax Pro from shelf, and several hours... and a promise of a full refund, and no charge for opening the WinFax, if I couldn't get the machine working. I still haven't... but that's a longer story.)

Back to the story... Wordperfect updates a DLL called WFC-something when you install it. The Compaq patch overwrites that DLL, replacing it with the older one. Sigh. I tried many tricks to fool the two into co-existing... WordPerfect's DLL in the WordPerfect directory, etc. I never did get the Compaq fax, etc software to so-exist with WordPerfect. I did find that buying WinFax Pro gave me a way to have WordPerfect and a way to fax in the same machine.

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