Were you raised in a Barnes (and Noble)? B&N gets an F for customer service

Note: This blog is built out of a month of frustration, anger and general disappointment, so some adult language will likely follow.

Barnes & Noble can go straight to the fieriest depths of hell, which is, of course, a complete impossibility, but not because it’s a corporate entity already devoid of a soul but because the company is, I’m quite positive, hell itself.

I’ve not always felt this way. As recently as five weeks ago, I championed the company, even to the point of recommending Barnes & Noble’s e-reader, the nook, over the market leader, the Amazon Kindle.

It’s only fitting that the nook logo is a frowny face.

Oh, but then came four weeks ago, at which point the cracks in my long-standing appreciation of Barnes & Noble began to show, culminating into a full-out divorce following things I discovered on Tuesday. I share them with you now, in part to vent, but mostly to caution others who might be considering venturing into the nook world. I hope you will think long and hard against it, opting instead for wiser investments, such as the Kindle or simply tossing your cash out a window and watching it scatter off in the wind.

Mid-February, or In Which Kevin Learns the nook Technical Service People are Incompetent Morons
I spend the bulk of my daily lunch break reading, getting at least a good 45 minutes in before it’s time to start back to the grind. This one particular Thursday, as I got out my nook and prepared to get lost into a new story, I discovered the device had, without warning, completely reset itself, thus causing me to have to re-register the device.

This wouldn’t have been a problem, but my work doesn’t have a public wi-fi connection, so I had to wait until I returned home. This wouldn’t have been a problem, but my home wi-fi simply wouldn’t connect, no matter how many times I tried. I did some trouble-shooting with other devices, and everyone connected without a problem, and my password worked, leaving the fault lying with the nook.

I called customer service, explained the problem, got transferred to the nook technical support, explained the problem again and finally got a bit of help from a friendly representative. The only problem with him, though, was when he said his solution would work “10 out of 10 times,” leading me to believe that I had pretty good odds of it actually working.

It did not.

I called back, only this time, I began my descent through what has become the single worst (and longest) customer experience service in my life. The first person who answered could not be understood. This had less to do with the fact he spoke unintelligible English (although that certainly didn’t help) and more to do with the fact it sounded as though he was sitting in The Loudest Spot on the Planet.

Have you ever called someone who was in a crowded bar or at a concert, and no matter how loudly that person talks, you simply can’t hear much of what they’re saying over the din in the background? This was like that, only somehow louder and more annoying.

I asked the rep repeatedly if perhaps something could be done about the noise, but my pleas fell on deaf ears. I mean that quite literally; I doubt he was able to hear me.

He tried to help me, mostly by instructing me to turn the device off and then back on again. He repeated this four more times, none of which proved even slightly more effective than the previous times, unless you include its effectiveness in making me angry.

As he tried again (a sixth time total!) to have me shut the nook off and then on, I snapped.

“How many times can you ask me to do this and think it’s going to do ANYTHING different at all?” I asked, my voice raising.

“Sir, it is what the manual suggests.”

“Six times? SIX TIMES?!? Does it REALLY say that the customer should turn it off and on to infinity, or does it perhaps say that it might work after 17 times? Is that our goal?”

“Sir, I’m simply trying to help.”

“You are failing greatly at that. Also, I can’t take this noise any longer. I need to speak to someone else.”

He placed me on hold, where I waited for over 10 minutes. Barnes & Noble also has terrible hold music. They really need to improve that.

Finally, another rep got on the line, and after a quick review of the problem, he offered a sure-fire solution: “OK, sir, can you please shut the device off and turn it back on?”

I’m not sure what a wolfman feels like the morning after having turned into a wolfman, having terrorized a town at night only to wake up the next morning, back in human form, fairly certain things got out of hand but without a totally clear recollection.

I say that because I went full wolfman on the rep. I don’t recall everything, but there was some yelling, some vague threats, some very specific suggestions and some salty language.

I finally just asked if it wouldn’t be easier for me to take the damaged nook to a brick-and-mortar Barnes & Noble store and have it replaced. The rep agreed, telling me I’d get an email shortly thereafter allowing me to trade in my nook for a refurbished model. I wasn’t too happy about getting a used product, but that’s how their warranty works after 30 days, and, well, a used nook was better than the one I had which didn’t work at all.

By the next evening, I had the replacement nook in hand, back at my house and ready to get everything set up and working. The nook, however, had other ideas, choosing instead to have the exact same problem connecting to wi-fi that my previous one had. Instead of suffering through another call with B&N’s customer service, I searched online and learned several others had experienced a similar problem after switching to AT&T U-Verse for their internet service. This seemed odd because I had asked the technical support person exactly that and was told he’d never heard of such a problem.

I followed the advice on a forum (found on the B&N website, mind you, which maybe the tech support guy should perhaps be familiar with), and fixed the problem in under two minutes.

In order to help others who might be having a problem with this (OK, it was to actually be a smart ass, but whatever), I called the B&N support team and told them about both the problem and the very simple solution.

“Oh, that’s actually the first thing we ask people who have the connectivity problem,” this rep told me.

I’m pretty sure I howled.

Early March, or In Which Kevin Has Problems Getting the Proper Book to Download
I am a fan of the author Frank Bill. He writes gritty stories about towns similar to the one I grew up in, and the fact he’s from southern Indiana (near Louisville, I do believe) only makes it that much better. Last week, I couldn’t wait to download his new novel, Donnybrook, and get reading it over the weekend.

I downloaded it Wednesday night but didn’t open it because I was finishing up another novel. By the time my Thursday lunch break rolled around, I was anxious to open it, so imagine my surprise when despite clicking on a picture of the Donnybrook cover, the book that actually opened was a romance novel called Wed to a Highland Warrior.

I begrudgingly called B&N’s customer service line, and again was met with some lackluster customer service. This time, the rep (who appeared to be in a non-U.S. call center) had trouble accepting my claim from the start.

After I’d explained the situation, he said this: “So to recap, you downloaded the wrong book and need help getting the correct one?”

Um, no.

I tried explaining again, and he read his answers back to me from his manual and assured me that everything should be OK, despite heavily implying he didn’t believe me. He later confirmed this by saying he tried downloading the book on his own, only to see that it opened without a problem.

While this was going on, I took to Twitter to contact the author, who almost immediately wrote back and said I was the second person to have reported that exact problem to him. Look, no offense to Mr. Bill (again, I think he’s an excellent writer), but it’s not as if his book is a massive bestseller. If two people had reported the same problem downloading the book on their nook, it’s highly likely that those were the ONLY two people who had downloaded them on their nook.

Yet Barnes & Noble assured me it wasn’t a problem.

The rep, however, told me he’d refund my money and I could try downloading it again in two weeks. He never gave me a clear indication as to why I’d need to wait two weeks, but I also knew I wouldn’t wait that long because I wanted to read the book now, and this is America and we have no patience.

I ended up ordering a hardcopy of the book (it arrived Monday, and let me tell you, so far, Donnybrook is amazing), and by all accounts my money was refunded. It would have stopped there had it not been for another Twitter message from the author telling me he’d contacted his publisher and the problem was being resolved.

I called B&N back to find out why I’d been given such poor information, and this time the rep tried telling me he could fix everything simply by archiving and then re-opening the original purchase. One problem: the first rep had already deleted my book after giving the refund (which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do). This rep, though, couldn’t understand why the first guy even suggested that because a) it could’ve been fixed in a much easier fashion; and b) for reasons I still don’t understand, once you download a book, if it gets returned you can never download it again.

A hundred monkeys (particularly those dressed in vests) would likely provide better service, and that factors in their proclivity to toss their own poop.

I decided to try one more thing: I asked the guy if any downloaded version of Donnybrook from Barnes & Noble would work, or if they’d all default to Wed to a Highland Warrior. The rep explained that because the mistake was from the publishing company, all would open incorrectly. I asked him to humor me and try downloading it, which he did, and, of course, it opened as Wed to a Highland Warrior, meaning the original rep who claimed to have downloaded it was, in fact, lying.

I wrote an email to Barnes & Noble’s customer service center, fully explaining my problems and asking for someone to at least attempt to provide some sort of rationale behind all the bad advice I’d been given. Their answer skirted all issues raised, choosing instead to say they’re shocked because they usually have great customer service. This led to a response of my own:

I really find Barnes & Noble’s response to be lacking. Other than my money being refunded, which frankly isn’t something you should be applauded because you kinda have to give the money back, you’ve done zilch to try to make this better. I’m not a customer service expert (also, neither is anyone I’ve spoken with at Barnes & Noble), but here’s what I would have done after a certain level of customer dissatisfaction: “Sir, we apologize for all the problems, and in an effort to try to make it right, we have provided you with a copy of the book in question, at our cost, in your Nook library. Please enjoy.”
However, that would be a waste of time at this point because I already have the book through other means.
I also want to point out the absurdity of this statement: “The level of service you received is unusual, as we are accustomed to providing the highest quality customer service at all times.” I’m fairly certain you are confused as to the meaning of the words “unusual” and “highest quality,” because the last two major issues I’ve had with Barnes & Noble have been met with the lowest quality of customer service, which to me makes this quite usual.
To help, try this: http://www.amazon.com/Merriam-Websters-Collegiate-Dictionary-Edition-ebook/dp/B000SEGJ5S/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1362757226&sr=1-4&keywords=dictionary. When you download it, I hope you actually get the book you ordered. It’s frustrating when you don’t.
In summation, fuck that noise.
Yours very truly,
Kevin Hall

They sent me a $15 gift card.

Mid-March, or In Which the Proverbial Shit Hits the Metaphorical Fan
This past Monday, I received an email from Barnes & Noble saying that in order to process the return of my nook, I would need to contact them with a return authorization code provided in the email.

Seeing as how I had not attempted to return this nook, I found this email puzzling. I replied to it with a simple “Um, what?” and sent a longer email to Dan, a customer service rep with whom I’d previously spoken. Neither of my messages have yet to receive a reply.

On Tuesday, I spent the better part of my lunch break on the phone with various B&N customer service reps, trying to determine why I’d received this mysterious email, and no one could offer much help. Finally, after about 35 minutes on the phone, one rep said my account showed that I’d attempted to purchase a new nook at 5:40 p.m. on Monday.

I assured her I had not.

It was at this point I lost all interest in civility with Barnes & Noble, because someone somewhere had started messing with my account. This is definitely not acceptable, as I told the rep, who said she understood what I was feeling. I told her that I had just learned an unauthorized purchase had been attempted on my account, so I really doubted she fully understood what I was feeling unless she understood that I wanted to reach through the phone and start beating people with all the non-working nooks the company no doubt has in storage.

She gave me a number for the sales auditing department, saying they’d be able to assist me

Tuesday afternoon, I called that department, and after going through everything again, the rep told me they couldn’t help me and that I’d need to call customer service.

“They told me to call you!” I told her.

“I’m not sure why they did that because they would be the ones to help you. Nothing in our records shows anything on your account. I’ll transfer you back to them.”

I think the full moon returned.

The conversation took a turn somewhere along these lines.

“Now you listen to me, and you listen good. You will do nothing of the such. You are going to call them yourself and find out why their computer shows an attempted purchase at 5:40 p.m. and your computer shows nothing. Then you’re going to explain to me just what, exactly, Barnes & Noble is going to do to make this right.”

She at least tried.

The explanation was something along the lines of this: when I returned my nook, the company didn’t completely deregister the device. In the time since I returned it, someone else has bought it and has now returned it, and when they did, I got an email processing the return.

“So, to be clear, your company failed to completely wipe off all my information from my old nook?”

“That seems to be the case, yes.”

“You see how that’s a problem?”

“Yes, and to make it right, you have my word we will clear that information now as we switch the registration.”

“You understand that your word means nothing to me, right? I mean, your company is fully of liars and morons and I’m still wondering how you’re going to make this right.”

“You need to talk to our customer service for that.”

“No, I need the number for your legal department for that.”

“We aren’t authorized to transfer calls to them.”

Fortunately, there’s this invention called “Google,” and it’s not difficult at all to find B&N’s legal contact. I prepared a brief email for them, and I think it is about the only way this saga can end:

Dear Barnes and Noble lawyers: I plan on shipping you a fine collection of turds. Most will be of a human origin, but rest assured there will be a mix of cat and dog feces in there as well. I need to know, however, if you prefer UPS or FedEx.

Kevin Hall

P.S. I will be eating lots of corn.

5 thoughts on “Were you raised in a Barnes (and Noble)? B&N gets an F for customer service

  1. While I do not enjoy the meat and potatoes that brought this story to life, I commend you on a job well done. Golf clap sir; golf clap indeed.

  2. Pingback: My Life as Seinfeld: The Ticketmaster Battle | So … there I was

  3. Pingback: No clever headline needed: AT&T sucks | So … there I was

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