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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Employers should not think they are God’s gift to people

Got a message through LinkedIn today.
“Hello Tania,
I just saw your profile on Linkedin. We specialize in SR&ED. Please send me your resume should we have a need for a Technical Writer. Your enthusiasm jumps off the page.”

This is really priceless. The author of the message did not even bother to say what kind of company they are, what are they looking for, what kind of a position they have, etc. (Yes, I could have looked them up, perfectly well, on LinkedIn or wherever, but if someone wants something from someone else and is trying to make the acquaintance, they should introduce themselves, just to be polite.)

They did not bother to ask me whether I am looking for anything right now, whether I WANT to work for them or not. They just condescended to put me on the list and keep me on file – and it looks like they were 150% sure that I would rush, head over heels, to send them my resume (losing my slippers on the way, as we say in Russian). I don’t think it is THAT bad in the job market that people would react to such “compelling” invitations; at least, in the job market for SR&ED writers. I see SR&ED job posts daily on Twitter. Am I missing something?

P.S. And the moral of that is: if I ever start looking for another position, I probably would not consider working for the company in question. See how much you can achieve for your company’s image with a short 2-line note?

Travelling rant

Schiphol airport in Amsterdam is one of the most badly designed I’ve ever seen. The security check is located right before each boarding gate. As a result, all the passengers for the flight arrive there at once and have to stand in a very long queue zigzagging between metal rails. Presumably, in the intervals between flights the security gate stands unused. This is instead of having a unified security check for all flights at the entrance of a big area, like in all the other airports, so the queues are small or none at all and the equipment utilization is uniform.

I had to stand in this security check queue for almost an hour, breathing into the neck of the person in front of me and feeling the coughs of the person behind, directed right at my head. Now I am down with a severe cold. It might be that the cold Amsterdam wind from the canals is to blame, but I suspect the person in the airport. Curse you, the Schiphol architect.

Bonus: a picture of morning rush hour in Leiden.

Google maps rant

While preparing for my European trip, I was using Google maps a lot. Naturally, I wanted to save the maps I created, to return to them later. And that’s where my problems started.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love Google suite of tools. They are extremely useful, usable and intuitive. I would not be able to function without Google calendar (and I totally love its easy integration with event organizing tools like Eventbrite). My business e-mail runs on Gmail. My business website is on Blogspot platform. I use Google analytics. And I am not paying a cent for all that. (I would have a hard time if Google suddenly decided to charge for all these things, I would have to pay through the nose. Just don’t tell Google, it may give them ideas.)

However, I was extremely disappointed with Google maps. They are as counter-intuitive as it gets. I was completely frustrated.

Intuitively, you expect the following sequence of operations:
1. You open a document.
2. You edit it.
3. You save it.
4. You can repeat pp. 2 and 3 as required.

Now, with Google maps it just does not work. Read the rest of this entry »

Crappy policy of LinkedIn

Today I wanted to invite someone to contact on LinkedIn and got the requirement to enter their e-mail address, followed by this warning:

“Your account has been restricted because a significant number of LinkedIn users whom you have invited to your network have indicated that they don’t know you. Use of LinkedIn is subject to the terms of our User Agreement, which you have violated. An example of the violation includes breach of Section 11, LinkedIn User DOs & DON’Ts.”

It says further that I can remove this restriction by acknowledging the policy, but if they “find me in violation” again, they may suspend my account altogether. I counted the “Don’t know” responses to my invitations and found there are exactly 10 of them. What the hell? I have had a LinkedIn account for, probably, 5 years or more, and I have over 500 contacts. In all these years, during my interactions with all these numbers of people just 10 of them said they did not know me. I would say I am a paragon of prudency and trustworthiness.

By the way, it is not true that these people did not know me: I always use only the business cards people give me (their own business cards, that is), and only after talking to them at a conference or something like that. In all these cases where the people said they did not know me, what they really meant was that they did not know me well enough and preferred not to connect. LinkedIn, however, does not distinguish between this case and the case when a complete stranger approaches you after telling LinkedIn he’s your friend. As God is my witness, I receive a lot of this crap, especially from recruiters, and this definitely must be stopped. I understand the need for such policy and I am all for it. But there is an obvious difference between approaching a complete stranger under false pretenses and trying to connect to someone you met at a conference and exchanged business cards with.

Also, I entered those e-mails when I sent out the invitations (since I had the business cards), so I don’t really see how the requirement to enter emails would prevent me from sending those invitations in the first place. Therefore, the policy is not only insulting but useless.

And the moral of that is… LinkedIn’s usability, that was always great, started, sadly, to leave much to be desired. I am not going to “remove the restriction” because the way they phrase it, it is an insulting lie. Agreeing to what they say basically equals admitting that I was trying to deceive people to get in contact with them, and agreeing to LinkedIn removing my account altogether on the slightest pretext. For example, if somebody else says “don’t know her” instead of “don’t know her well enough” (and the latter option just is not there when you accept or reject an invitation).

On volunteering

I had a most shocking experience today. It started quite innocently. I applied for volunteering at a two-day event, got an e-mail with my schedule (7 hours’ shifts both days, I thought it was a little bit too much but I wanted to attend the event anyway so I thought OK, no problem), shifted my other scheduled stuff around to free up these two days. I turned up on time, sat at a reception table and everything went well until, about three hours later, the person in charge told me that they don’t need me anymore and would manage on their own.
Here’s our further dialogue:

– So, shall I come tomorrow morning?
– No, we don’t need you.
– But I can still attend the conference tomorrow, right?
– No, sorry.
– But you gave me the schedule, I freed up these two days…
– It’s enough that we allow you to stay today and mingle with the attendees; we normally do not allow the volunteers to do that.

I was completely astonished. I have had volunteered at around 20 events in Toronto so far, and it is common understanding that, when a volunteer is not on duty, he or she gets to walk around at the event, attend any sessions if there is room enough, talk to whoever he or she pleases, etc. This is actually why people volunteer: to exchange some of their time for the right of attending an event and everything that comes with it (a networking opportunity, etc.). The concept of a volunteer being low caste and not allowed to touch the regular attendees lest he soil them with his impurity is entirely new to me. Now, I totally understand that sometimes the resources are limited and the volunteers do not get invited to a final reception or something. But this really takes the cake. I am probably lucky they allowed me to use the washroom at the venue and did not send me to a McDonalds up the street for that purpose.

Eats, shoots and leaves

I wonder why Facebook developers suppose I have only one friend.

my friend's wall

my friend's wall

This video is crap

If I were talking to these kids face to face, I would say: hey, how about cutting down your Facebook time and meaningless e-mails and putting in some work or getting proper sleep? Basically, what they say is “we don’t know how to control our own time waste but blame it all on teachers who should come up with some new and miraculous way of teaching us, so we can absorb knowledge without making any effort”.

Actually, I realize that the intended message of the video is somewhat different (modern education requires using new media, etc.). This is questionable but at least there is a point for discussion. (Really, I don’t see much difference between a teacher drawing on a blackboard and a projector projecting slides that depict stick figures as if drawn on a blackboard, as in this presentation.) But whoever created the video completely failed to make that point. His students come across, not as victims of rigid and obsolete system but as lazy whiners that cannot take the consequences of their own actions (wasting time on thousands of e-mails and not doing the required reading, for example). As to this reading not being directly related to the students’ everyday life – of course it is not. These students will enter the workforce 3 or 5 years from now and will still be in there 30 years from now. Why should they learn the templates and routines of today? This, indeed, would be a waste of time. Fundamental science is not “relevant” to what we do every day, i.e. get up, dress, prepare and eat a hamburger, take a bus. Fourier transforms are not “relevant”. Human genome sequencing is not “relevant”. “War and Peace” is not “relevant”. Asymmetric p-n-transitions are not “relevant”. But if you take them out of the humankind, we are no better than a tribe of savages involved in a cargo cult.

As I have already said here and here (incidentally, quoting McLuhan as the video does), the art that apes the everyday life is dead crap. The real art does not reflect – it synthesizes and predicts. The same goes for education. Once we start teaching the young people how to press buttons on the latest modern device, whatever it is at the moment, instead of teaching them “irrelevant” fundamental things, we are doomed.

Posted in education. Tags: . 2 Comments »