Groupon. Customer service from hell

Everyone knows Groupon. You pay a 30% or even lower share of the regular price for a service or event admission, the business gets new clientele, Groupon gets its share, and everybody’s happy. Right? Wrong. This week, I had about the worst experience of my life with Groupon’s customer service.

Recently, Groupon introduced a new feature, points, which supposedly make your savings even greater. It works like this: when you buy something on Groupon’s website, you get 10 points for each dollar you spend, and when you’ve accumulated a certain amount, you can redeem them for new purchases. To do this, you must go to the points page and press one of the “Redeem X points for Y dollars off Z dollars purchase” button. After that, when you buy something for Z dollars or more, the “Y dollars off” button turns up automatically during the checkout, you press it, and Bob’s your uncle. The usability of the process leaves something to be desired, but the entire thing seems extremely simple and transparent, right? Wrong.

So, one fine day, about a week ago, I realized that I had accumulated enough points and it’s time to spend them. I had used the points system several times before and didn’t expect any trouble. Just then a nice deal with a ski resort (lift tickets, equipment rentals, that kind of thing) came up, and seeing as my son was going to come and visit me around Christmas, I thought we could have a great time skiing.

So I went to the points page and selected “Redeem 10,000 points for $10 off a purchase of $20 or more”. Then I pressed the Buy button on the deal’s page, was transferred to the checkout… but my discount of $10 was not there, even though I was going to make a purchase that cost more than $20. I tried again… still no success. This is when I contacted Groupon’s customer service, explaining that the points feature didn’t work and asking for help.

Now, this was not the first time I had to deal with Groupon’s customer service. In my previous experience, some representatives may not have been not very knowledgeable, but they were invariably polite, listened to what I had to say, and seemed genuinely interested in remedying my situation. Not anymore!

What do you expect when you tell a customer service employee that their company’s product doesn’t work? Naturally, you expect them to ask you questions about what exactly didn’t work, what exactly were you trying to do, etc. However, this time the first response to my message was a standard greeting followed by a copy-paste of the website page containing instructions on points usage. I admit I blew a gasket just then as I had explained in great detail in my initial message that I knew how points worked, in general, and I have used them in the past successfully. So my response to this was somewhat impatient.

Now – I don’t know whether this was intentional or not – my call was not assigned any ticket or number. So every time I responded to a message from a customer service representative, it got into the queue as a new call and was assigned to a new representative. And all of them responded identically: first a greeting full of cheerful idiocy (“Oh, sorry for your frustration! Now we know what went wrong!”) and then a copy-paste from the website user page containing instructions on using the points system. Every time I responded to such a message, I got a new representative, a new portion of cheerful idiocy, and a new copy-pasted instructions page. In vain had I explained that I KNOW how to use points, that THIS TIME IT DIDN’T WORK and this means that SOMETHING WENT WRONG and they should find out the details from me to learn what exactly happened. This “dialogue ad absurdum” continued, and, as a result, I got four nearly identical and useless messages from four different customer service representatives. NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THEM asked a single question to find out what happened. (To prove that I am not inventing this, here are their names: Jonnice C, Solomon Sharon, Gokula K, and Mohan Karthik L.)

Now, I have an inkling of what may have been wrong (drawing upon my 20+ years in IT), and I would have shared my insights with anyone from Groupon, had they expressed at least some interest in the matter. However, no such luck.

Honestly, I think that a three-year-old child would have done better than those people. Her technical knowledge would be about at par with theirs, and a three-year-old at least possesses a healthy interest towards what’s going on around her, which these people are utterly devoid of. The only explanation I can think of is that Groupon, caring about its bottom line, got rid of human customer service altogether and replaced it with an app that reacts to certain keywords (in my case, “frustration”, “problem”, and “points”) and just returns a corresponding help entry preceded by a few placating words (also canned).

The overall score:

Me: minus 10,000 points (if you mark them for redemption and don’t use them within a week, they evaporate prematurely), the deal that expired while I was trying to talk to the service-bots, and some negative emotions.

Groupon: minus some lost profit and minus one customer. There are plenty of fish in the ocean and plenty of discount websites out there, such as,,, etc., where hopefully the customer service is more up to it  (or at least actually present). It looks like it’s time for me to explore new horizons. Bye bye, Groupon!

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Want to head to FITC Toronto in April for FREE?

Once again, FITC is offering women in the digital space the opportunity to attend Canada’s largest design and technology conference for free! Simply share why you want to attend and your advice for other women in tech in the most creative way you can muster up. Submit your entry before February 28th. See the full details and submit your entry at Good luck!

It’s time for garden work again

I am going to St.Mary of Egypt Refuge to plant stuff!
Anticipating blackflies. Enjoy the song!

P.S. something wrong with the stupid WordPress – the video is here

UPDATE. Stupid WordPress posted this twice, after pretending for two hours that it is not going to post at all. To avoid duplicate posts, here’s my photo from today:


It’s time for garden work again

I am going to St.Mary of Egypt Refuge to plant stuff!
Anticipating blackflies. Enjoy the song!

AcceleratorU webinar on intellectual property; discount code

Finally someone helps make sense of Intellectual Property!

Join the webinar July 30 or Aug 7.

AcceleratorU launches its Webinar series on IP, with “Demystifying Intellectual Property, An Essential, Actionable Introduction”.

Register at 

Use code catasoi25 for 25% off

International Innovation Conference at the University of Waterloo

On July 10-11, 2013, the International Conference on Innovation was held in Waterloo, ON.

One of the conference organizers was CERBA – Canada Eurasia Russia Business Association. The main topic of the conference was creation and growth of small and medium innovation businesses with international focus at large science hubs. The purpose of the conference was to promote innovation among youth and to stimulate productive collaboration among scientific&educational institutions and industrial  enterprises, development of professional collaboration and international cooperation, and creation of an open environment for cooperation, education and knowledge exchange.

The first day of the conference included three  sessions:

1: Commercialization of Innovations Projects in the Global Market: Challenges and Perspectives
2: The Economics of Leadership and Innovation
3: Innovation Journey: Path to success.

The fourth session (on the next day) was on academia and industry collaboration.

The speakers were renowned educators, scientists, CEOs, heads of research centers, government representatives, embassy officials etc. Some of the keynote speakers were: George Wright, Director, Global Industrial Partnerships, Office of Research, University of Waterloo; Peter Molnar, Advisor, International Research Collaborations, Ministry of Economic Development, Trade, and Employment, Ministry of Research and Innovation; Emil Strumban, Director, Multinational Startups, International Centre for Innovative Technology Transfer; Alina Pekarsky, President, Sci-Tech Ventures Associates; Senior Account Executive, Russia & CIS Programs, Schulich Executive Education Centre, York University; Irina Muhina, Managing Director, Manulife Asset Management Centre; Cedric Jeannot, CEO, I Think Security, and many others.

Here is what Peter Braid, MP, Kitchener-Waterloo said during his welcome remarks: “Waterloo Region is well-known as a centre of technology and innovation. Our first-rate universities and research institutions attract bright young minds that are generating new and exciting discoveries that will change the world. At the same time, our supportive ecosystem helps to channel this creativity towards economic opportunities that will ensure a prosperous future”.

The audience wanted to learn more about the Canadian Foreign Investments regulations and how Canada provides incentives to the foreign investors from different industries. The panelists explained that Canada has a decentralized approach between Federal and Provincial Government having differing strategies when it comes to attracting foreign investments and the related regulations. Moreover, they noted that the government at various levels provides tailor made incentive packages to each individual FDI project. The Canadian government is focused on creating an innovative commercially-dynamic and entrepreneurial-friendly business climate which will attract more FDIs. The country doesn’t offer specialized incentives to foreign investors, however they have a strategy to stimulate investments in innovative industries.

The advice that the speakers gave to the entrepreneurs is to never go alone, instead they should seek technological soulmates. Stay persistent; don’t expect too much help from the government. On the other side, students should be encouraged to implement their ideas and find professors who will continuously support and motivate them. And, most importantly, students were advised to create a great network of professionals around themselves in order to realize their goals more efficiently.

After the end of the conference, the attendees were taken for a tour in the Communitech hub, an innovation hub where industry leaders, startups, and students come together.

Communitech outside
They were told a success story of Bufferbox, an innovative and successful startup based in the Hub.
BufferboxBufferBox Inc. is a Canadian startup company from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada co-founded by Jay Shah, Aditya Bali, and Mike McCauley. It is a service offering users a temporary parcel pickup station for packages ordered online. After conducting a pilot trial at the University of Waterloo, the service began spreading to various locations in the Greater Toronto Area. A deal was announced in early November 2012 to install kiosks at GO Transit stations.
In 2012 BufferBox had been acquired by Google for more than $25 million. The acquisition is seen as a step to compete with Amazon’s Locker service.

Virtualreality A demonstration of virtual reality environment (created by a company member of the Hub) for the conference attendees.

MaRS Introduces the impact 8 venture bootcamp

With a view to boosting the investment pipeline and accelerating innovative, sustainable solutions to social and environmental challenges, the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing is launching a new initiative—impact 8—to fast-track social ventures to a greater stage of investment readiness, help them attract financing and scale their impact.

The impact 8 venture bootcamp targets high-impact entrepreneurs with blended value propositions: social enterprises, social purpose businesses and co-operatives with the potential to turn investment into positive social or environmental impact and financial returns

Impact 8 provides:

  • Skills development
  • Advisory services
  • Mentorship
  • Expanded networks
  • Peer learning
  • Opportunities to pitch to impact investors

The eight-week program is intensive yet flexible, consisting of two days of on-site workshops bi-weekly, select guests speaker and networking events, online programming and one-to-one meetings with mentors and expert advisors.

More details here


Long time no write

Just realised it’s been over 6 months since the last time I posted here.

Nothing special happened in the meantime, except that my elder son has been accepted to a master program in Carnegie Mellon and I am taking him there in early August. I am very happy and proud.

Yesterday I’ve been to Camaraderie  [re]Launch Party. Camaraderie is a coworking space that used to be in the east part of the Toronto downtown. Now they have moved to a nice place on Roncesvalles, just a few minutes’ walk from Dundas West subway station. Here’s their website: They have a nice collection of books on business on premises (together with a coffee-maker and other things vital for business), and, since I am moving into a smaller apartment, I decided to donate my collection of business books to them. However my hoarding instinct cannot tolerate me parting with the books, so maybe I should give each of them one final reading and review them here. Stay with me for updates on great books such as The Whuffie Factor by Tara Hunt.


Technical writing in a nutshell


I finally got a round tuit!

Jokes aside, I have finally got around to revamping my business website: Russian Translation and Technical Writing in Toronto. You are very welcome to have a look.

Bonus: a picture of a Round Tuit and an explanation of what it is.