Posts Tagged "customer service"


Clicking around nothing in particular recently, I found a list of something like 11 things Baristas want you to know. Here was number 7:

ScreenHunter_232 Apr. 22 11.46

It says, “If you asked for decaf, I gave you decaf. You don’t need to ask me repeatedly. I am not out to get you.”

And I’m not out to piss you off when I ask you repeatedly.

I have a caffeine allergy. It’s one of those allergies where I can have a little of something, but if I go above a certain threshold, that allergy is 100% ON. I can have about as much caffeine as you’d find in a can of Coke, about 40mg, in a day. Or I can have a little dark chocolate. Or some decaf coffee or espresso.

One thing I definitely can’t have would be regular coffee. Certainly not regular espresso. That will be very bad. That would be like 4x what I can handle and I won’t even see it coming.

If I go over my threshold, I get a basilar migraine for about 12 hours. Nothing cures it or makes it go away other than time. I have to wait it out. So it’s best to stay under that threshold. And since I was diagnosed in 1984, I’ve gotten very good at knowing where that line is.

I love decaf coffee. Love the taste of it. Don’t want to give it up because baristas have made me sick three times in 15 years.

You’re not out to get me, but you’re human. You might make a mistake.

I evidently DO need to ask repeatedly because in the last 15 years, Starbucks baristas have:

  • Given me caffeine 3 times no matter how many times I checked if it was decaf and told them I have an allergy. They deserve a special rung of hell.
  • Remade my drink (various baristas in various locations) because when I double-checked, they suddenly weren’t sure if they had pulled a decaf shot or not. Grateful to them!

I’m going to ask repeatedly. Please learn to not take that personally.

I once asked a barista in an airport if she were sure she was giving me decaf. She snidely said, “I CAN read.” OK, I bet you can read. But anybody can make a mistake.

Please work WITH me. Please be understanding. If I ask that much, it must be important to me. I know you’re not out to get me. But I also know that it’s human to grab the wrong thing. We’re all capable of it.

Thank you.

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I can’t believe this is still a thing. Based on the request to renew the license of my FTP software, it still is a thing.

ScreenHunter_214 Apr. 18 11.43

This email is coming from an unmonitored account or so says the copy. Yet when I hit reply, the email went to sales@.

That’s the right thing to do… though they do need to update their form email to say you can hit reply if you need help.

Every email you send should allow replies.

The reply doesn’t have to go to the same person, department, or mailing list that sent the email to the recipient. But if people naturally hit reply, let that email go SOMEWHERE where it gets attention.

Perhaps that reply generates a support ticket. Perhaps it goes to a real person or team. But it shouldn’t go nowhere.

And we shouldn’t even message people anything that sounds like they won’t be able to easily get service or support. Need help? Hit reply. Make it easy for them.

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We use live chat on our website. I man it (woman it?) personally. I’m happy to answer questions people have as they move around our site. Plus, if people are having trouble finding something, this helps me improve areas of the site people may find unclear.

I heard that Facebook wants you to get Messenger on your site so you can chat. But can Messenger do this?

ScreenHunter_199 Apr. 14 14.02

This is Olark, a chat system I like and use (and would recommend). When someone hits the site, I get the IP (not pictured here) and their best guess at the location.

“This is a new customer” would say something different if Olark thinks or knows this visitor has been here before.

I can see how they got to my site and what pages they’re on. Looks like someone might have questions!

I could wait to see if this person starts the live chat or emails me.

We have a chat offering in the bottom right but Olark lets me do a proactive chat. So I asked this person if I could answer any questions about our live public Axure training workshops. Yes. He/she wanted to know the pricing for the live San Francisco workshops as well as whether or not I thought someone who has been using Axure a while would get something out of it. Great questions!

We chatted a few minutes. I even managed to make this person LOL over chat, which is a fun customer service moment.

Can your live chat do that?

I don’t just need reactive chat. I want the chance to consider proactively reaching out to someone who perhaps is a return visitor, someone who perhaps looks like he is hitting a bunch of similar pages and perhaps having trouble finding the answers he wants.

Olark isn’t the only game in town but I am really liking their system. Go proactive!

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People Deeply Love Our Axure Training


Posted By on Apr 14, 2015

Another testimonial has just rolled in for our Axure training, and we couldn’t be prouder.

We now have a heart-warming pile of happy testimonials from UXers around North America who have taken our public San Francisco workshops, private one-on-one remote training, private in-person corporate team training, and pre-recorded video courses.

Kind words have come in from agencies, Fortune 100 companies, smaller (but still important) companies, and up-and-coming UX practitioners including designers transitioning to UX careers.

Read The Love!

"Our client needed to get their whole design team proficient with Axure. Debbie worked with us to create a curriculum that benefitted both novices and the intermediate team members. Her conversational style and real world experience made the dense material fun and easy to absorb. Our client was thrilled and immediately started putting the lessons into practice. We are very lucky to have worked with Debbie. I look forward to working with her in the future."
- Manifest Digital, who brought Debbie in to train Kohl's in Wisconsin

"Debbie has a talent to explain things in a very practical and easy to follow style. She showed our team the basic ropes of Axure and enabled us to start exploring additional functionality on our own. I especially liked that her teaching style is very hands on, guiding her students through step by step examples. She inspired all of us to start utilizing Axure as a prototyping and wireframing tool."
- User Experience Lead at Razorfish

"Debbie's Axure​ training is absolutely THE BEST program available. I have tried several online courses, two thick books, a few short seminars, and even a two-day competitive bootcamp, and NONE of them even came CLOSE to the quality of Debbie's course. While other trainers seem to jump randomly from topic to topic, she takes you through the program in a logical flow, making sure that you understand each concept before moving onto the next. She is great at assessing the level of her students, and allows you to set the pace that works best for you. Her calm style and friendly demeanor puts her students at ease and makes the program seem much less intimidating."
- Live, remote training student

"I'm a newbie to Axure, as green as it gets. Axure's videos proved to be too advanced and only confused me. What I needed and wanted was to first be introduced to the UI and have it explained to me at a very basic level. I wanted to watch something then have the confidence to be able to do it myself in the real world. Debbie’s style makes it easy to understand, easy to keep up with, and by the end made me less scared of the Axure program. No other resource or video I've seen so far has explained things so well. Some people are born to teach and Debbie is one of them."
- Video course student

"Debbie is a good choice to gain a solid foundation in Axure knowledge. Her training is very flexible and reliable. Whether you want to learn something specific or are just getting started Deb will put together a plan that works specifically for you. I felt Deb went above and beyond to accommodate my schedule (3 hour time difference) and answered all e-mails and questions very promptly."
- Live, remote training student

"The instructor is very clear and is easy to understand. This goes a long way for me. Also, the instructor breaks down concepts into bite sized chunks so it's much easier to learn. I take a lot of courses here at Udemy, Treehouse and Lynda.com and she ranks amongst the best."
- Video course student

"I found this course to be the perfect way to get going with Axure RP Pro 7. Debbie gets straight to it and there was no fluff or wasted time in the videos. I learned a lot and I'm confident now to explore Axure further on my own. Of course I will be signing up for Debbie's other Udemy course, I want to learn more!"
- Video course student

"Debbie is really good at Axure RP Pro and one of the few experts with this software. Definitely recommended if you are interesting in learning more about it!"
- Live, remote training student

"I enjoyed this course. It was well-presented and provided a good solid overview of the basic elements of Axure RP Pro. As an almost complete beginner to Axure (I'd used it prior for one week) this course helped me discover things about Axure I wasn't aware of and helped make the interface a lot less daunting."
- Video course student
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I Forgot My Username


Posted By on Apr 3, 2015

I was on the website for a company… a company I have recently replaced with a competitor. I needed to log in. I needed my login name and my password. Well, I forgot those.

The wasn’t a “I forgot my login name” but there was a link that was something along the lines of account info retrieval.

And here is the page to which it took me:

ScreenHunter_238 Feb. 28 08.34

First I thought I was on the wrong form. I must be on a general contact form. Nope. I looked at the page headline and I DO appear to be on a page that helps me retrieve the login name I can’t remember.

And that’s a LOT of required fields.

I just emailed them and said I’m not filling that out. Send me my login name and a temporary password. Within hours, someone emailed me my login name and a temporary password.

Why couldn’t the website initiate that? Why have this form at all?

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Setting Expectations Is Important


Posted By on Jan 19, 2015

In nearly 20 years of consulting, I’ve found that one of the best things I can do is set expectations. This is especially important at the start of a relationship. People are wondering what can we do for them? What will it cost? How long will it take? What effort will the client need to put in? And so much more.

The best I can do is lay that out as clearly as I can. Where I can’t, ask the right questions to give me the info I need to then lay it out clearly.

Here’s What It Looks Like When You Don’t Do That

I wrote to a SEO service to ask about what they can do for a client. I gave them an overview of the situation and some goals. I said the budget is a bit on the low side, so I need to understand more about what they do and what that costs. Is it a one-time fee where they set something up and that lasts a long time? Is it a monthly service where I pay monthly and something actively happens monthly?

After asking some preliminary questions and getting my answers, I got this reply:

There are a lot of variables and unknowns here, so it’s a little tough to get too specific on what can be done and under what timeframe/budget.

I recommend we get started on an hourly consulting basis and then put next steps in place from there. My hourly rate is $175. Please let me know if you’d like to move forward, and we can schedule time.

This is a recipe for this being a money pit. Without concrete goals, understanding what tasks will be done or services will be provided, and so many other things, why should anybody start paying this company anything per hour? If I start paying you $175/hr, am I paying you to get questions answered so you can draw up a proposal?

Without written goals and everybody on the same page, it’s easy to keep burning money by the hour on someone saying he’s doing something. But is he meeting expectations? Did he reach the goals? You’ll never know if you haven’t agreed in writing on what this is.

And it’s never a good sign when someone providing a service finds it hard to get specific about what he or his company will be doing… but you SHOULD start paying.

I see people entering into these arrangement all the time. They must be doing it out of trust on the assumption that this person is an expert. They assume he will bill fairly and get things done. I suggest NOT doing business with someone like this.

Because I can’t imagine someone coming to us needing UX help, and me saying, “Well, there are lots of unknowns here. I can’t get specific yet on what we can do. But let me start billing you $X/hour to put the next steps in place.” I can’t even imagine thinking that let alone saying that to a potential customer.

When I declined and suggested that I should find someone whose styles in communication and expectation-setting matched mine, I got an email back that included:

It’s totally fine if you want to pass — we have a lot going on.

Nice touch. I love the, “I’m probably too busy to work with you anyway,” thing. Another thing I can’t imagine saying to a client I was hoping to get. I could see myself saying that to a client I was turning down, which is rather rare. And thanks for the permission to not work with you!

If you charge for consultations and to prepare a proposal, then just tell me what that is. Making it an hourly fee leaves it too open to be a sucking vortex of fees before I’ve even decided to engage your company.

Make Sure Expectations Are Set

No matter which side of a business deal you’re on, make sure expectations are clear. In writing is best so there are no disputes later about what the project includes and excludes. The person or company providing the services should be asking lots of (the right) questions since the customer often doesn’t even know what to ask. Your expertise as a consultant starts when you ask me the right questions to be able to define the project, know if you are a match to our needs, and be able to come up with a concrete financial and service proposal.

Anything else should set off a red flag. Run from those.

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LivingSocial was offering a voucher for a chocolate-making workshop with Rachel Dunn Chocolates. I’m already pretty good with chocolate, but I thought it might be a nice weekend adventure for me and my boyfriend. So I bought it.

I did read LivingSocial’s fine print first, which among other things said:

  • Open toe shoes, cologne, perfume, finger nail polish, and facial jewelry not allowed

I thought that seemed a little weird but assumed it was for sanitary reasons. You don’t want someone’s nose ring falling into the chocolate. You don’t want toes in chocolate. And someone just hates cologne. I have no facial piercings. OK, I meet the fine print conditions, this should be fine.

I then looked at their website to find that they hadn’t yet scheduled when future classes would be. I had no idea what dates and times were available. So I emailed asking which dates and times would be coming up and did they have Saturday 4 October.

I never heard back.

2 weeks later, I tried to just sign up on their website. There was a special link that took me to a page for people with LivingSocial vouchers. You choose from a dropdown menu which deals site you used and you type/paste in your voucher. I did that and it said my code wasn’t valid. That means I’m stuck trying to get these people some other way, and I already know they don’t answer emails.

I tried emailing anyway. I gave my LivingSocial code and what date I want since by then, they had put lots of months’ dates on the workshop calendar. We want 4 October. I eventually heard from someone named Randy, who asked my LivingSocial code (ugh that was in my email) and both of our names. OK, here’s the code again and our names.

I never heard back.

10 days before the workshop, I emailed again… any update on getting us into the 4 October workshop? Didn’t hear back.

7 days before the workshop, I called. Got voicemail. Left my details and asked for a call back. Didn’t get a call back. I got an email confirming I was signed up for the 4 October workshop. FUCKING FINALLY!

Except there was one problem. The email had EXTRA terms and rules the LivingSocial offer didn’t state.

That’s bait and switch. That means I bought the deal under one set of conditions and am now being told that if I don’t agree to THIS set of terms and conditions, I can’t come. Well that’s not cool, especially considering LivingSocial DOES give you a spot for all the terms and conditions you need to tell people.

The main problem was that the form I’d have to sign defines “facial jewelry” as including necklaces (OK, I don’t have to wear mine) and earrings (evidently ears are now on the face). It also said to leave cell phones home. That seems weird. I guess I’d leave it in the CAR. Usually I see workshops say no cell phone use and they ask you to put it on silent or power it down. She doesn’t even want you to have a phone in the building.

But about those earrings. I have 7 piercings in my ears and they are all CBRs aka “captive bead rings.” This is NOT a picture of me but this is kinda what my ears look like though I have a thicker gauge (image found on bodyartforms.com):

NEW EARRINGS_1

These are put in with a special tool whose name I don’t know. But it looks like this (image found on painfulpleasures.com):

cbr_3

It’s like a reverse pliers of some sort with notches so the ring doesn’t slip when you’re gently squeezing it. I have one somewhere… maybe. My kinda squeamish boyfriend (sorry, honey) had to take these out for my gall bladder surgery in 2012. The poor guy was nearly hyperventilating every time he had to take one out or put it back in. We didn’t have the right tool, and he was really nervous about slipping.

I’d imagine the chocolate people are worried about jewellery falling into food, machines, etc… And that can make sense. But my earrings can’t come out, at least not without a serious tool.

The bottom line was: I cancelled the workshops

After the customer service annoyances of emailing multiple times with no responses, a booking website that couldn’t do a booking, a workshop web page that didn’t list upcoming workshops, and a voicemail asking for a call back that prompted no call back PLUS the bonus of bait-and-switch workshop terms and fine print, I felt pretty done with these people. Bad user experience, and I didn’t even get there yet. I already felt unwelcome and like a bad dog.

Good luck, chocolate people. And next time you find yourself at a computer, other than actually answering emails, why not update your daily deals so that they have the FULL terms and conditions that you require. Some of those terms might be dealbreakers to your potential customers, and it makes no sense to surprise us later with extra terms and conditions when you can lay them ALL out up front.

And PS: ears are not on your face. They’re just not. I found websites about facial piercings that said that while earrings are very popular, they are not considered facial piercings. Necks are probably not on your face either, so you might want to re-word the whole bit about facial piercings.

ScreenHunter_155 Sep. 27 11.41

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Monday was an air travel day for me. I started in Atlanta, where my flight was delayed, causing me to miss my connecting flight. United automatically put me on the next possible flight, but there were only middle seats left. Oh well. At least I’m still in Premium Economy with more legroom. It’ll be a four hour flight home. Those usually go well.

I boarded the plane looking for row 10. I got to row 10 and saw three people in three seats. A mother was on the aisle. An infant (no car seat) was in the middle seat. The father was at the window. I asked if they had seat 10E. No, they didn’t. The mother put the baby in the father’s arms in the window seat, and told me that was my seat.

I asked which one of them would be moving so their family can sit together. They said they were not going to move. I was shocked and alarmed.

I said, “You’re kidding me. You expect me to sit between you for 4 hours while you talk to each other and pass a baby back and forth?” The mother exploded, “We will not pass the baby back and forth! This is YOUR seat, ma’am. These are our seats, and we’re happy with them! You are being very rude!” Really? I’m rude???

I sat in the middle seat because the line to board was stopped behind me. I had been standing in the aisle. I needed to think of what to do next so I sat down to think about what options I might have. The infant in the father’s arms was shrieking, reaching and calling for Mama. Every time the infant shrieked, the father praised her and encouraged her. I glared at him. The baby then got a hold of the safety card and threw it at me. I glared at him.

I then noticed that the family also had a younger son, maybe 4 years old on the other aisle seat across from the mother. Well, this is silly. Why aren’t the four of them in the 3 seats together? Why would they want me in the middle of their family? The mother was telling the little boy that they would just hold hands across the aisle the whole flight. Huh?

The plane was nearly done boarding and the announcement came that the flight was going to be full. I realised I was not going to be able to take another seat without switching, and who else would possibly want to sit in the literal middle of this family with the shrieking infant and the mother and father talking across me? I wish I knew the language they spoke. I’d love to hear what the mother was thinking, planning, and ordering the husband to do. You could hear his tone was a question and her reply was an order.

I don’t get panic attacks, and I wondered if I was starting to get one. I was sweating. I was angry. My heart was pounding. This was just ridiculous. I understand that they may have taken the window and aisle hoping the middle would be open and they’d get a free seat for their “baby in arms” traveller. But the middle seat was taken… and they expected a stranger to sit there?

Running out of patience and barely holding on to sanity, I turned to the mother and said, “Ma’am, how much do I have to pay you for to you to move your character over there to this seat and I’ll take his aisle seat?”

The mother was incensed. How DARE I call her son a character! That is her son! Of course, that was 10,000 times better than what I was thinking of calling any member of this family.

The mother than said to me the most interesting sentence I have heard from a crazy person in a very long time.

“I was GOING to ask you if you wanted to switch seats with my son, but now that you are being SO RUDE, you can stay there.”

So you’re punishing me? You’re going to separate your family and punish ME. You’re going to promise to not pass the baby around, which means letting this child scream for her mother… which means having this child stuck at the window seat and not able to be taken to the lavatory to be changed… to punish ME for being so rude? Your poor family. These poor children. The mother/wife they have to deal with daily. I almost felt sorry for them and the future.

I told her that she was being rude and unreasonable. No, she told me I was the one who was rude, and I can stay in that seat.

I didn’t. I got up with all of my things and went to the flight attendant. I told her the story. She was surprised.

She told me that in 16 years of flying, she had never seen anything like that. She has seen married couples sitting in aisle and window because that’s what each prefer, but not with children. She has seen people take aisle and window hoping the middle is free, and then moving when a stranger was seated there. But she had never in her career seen a family with a child of any age but certainly not an infant purposefully split themselves up and want a stranger sitting between the parents.

She told me that she can’t force anybody to sit in seats other than the ones that they are assigned to. I said I understand, but I think I’m having a minor panic attack, and these people are just crazy. The infant is shrieking, they are encouraging that, and now they want to punish me? I have NO idea what’s coming next, and can’t sit there. She said maybe she can find another passenger to change.

I found out later from her that she went there to try to fix this situation and basically told the family that they should sit together. The flight attendant suggested that the young boy on the other aisle move to the middle seat with them. They weren’t sure they wanted to do that. The flight attendant asked the man in the other middle seat of row 10 if he would move. He was flying alone. He didn’t care where he sat. He was willing to move.

According to the flight attendant, when the family saw this, they decided to move their boy to sit with them and give that man the aisle seat the boy had. The flight attendant said it was fixed, and I walked back to find the man in the other middle seat moving into the aisle.

I figured not everybody had to shuffle around, so I said, “If this aisle seat is now open, I could sit here.” Both the mother and the father started SCREAMING, “No! No! No! We said HE can sit in our son’s seat! That is OUR son’s seat and we are only letting HIM sit in it. You can sit in the middle seat.”

The behaviour of these people was just amazing. They are still trying to punish and control me, a total stranger, and why? Because I didn’t want to sit between them. They decided that I was rude for saying something to them. I am the bad guy and I must be punished over and over.

Well, like I said earlier, on United planes in Economy Plus, a middle seat isn’t that bad! I’ve had them before. The legroom is really good, and the middle isn’t my first choice but it’s not bad. So I took the middle seat. I thanked the man over and over (and I’m still grateful) that his willingness to move around helped me get out of a very bad situation. I offered to buy him a drink but he said no. I offered to buy him snacks but he said no. I said I was very grateful and if he changed his mind, I sure owed him.

Later in the flight, we got to talking. He was nice to talk to. I was very happy to be sitting next to him.

Many times during the flight, I looked over at the family. Dad with baby, Mom obsessively playing Candy Crush on her iPhone. Mom with baby sleeping on her. Baby doing a lot of shrieking and everybody encouraging that. Mom taking baby to bathroom to be changed.

What the HELL were they going to do if I had sat between them and they had promised to not pass the baby around? They were willing to give that baby an upsetting and uncomfy flight to teach me a lesson (that I wasn’t learning) about being rude to them (by asking a family to sit together)?

I can’t say enough about how stressful this was. Typing about it and retelling the story stresses me out.

The previous record holder for worst person on an airplane.

I was once on a plane when the flight attendant realised that a mother and her two young children had been split up. The mother was in a middle in one row. The children were in middle and window in another row. They needed to be together.

The flight attendant asked the woman sitting next to the kids if she would please change her seat so that the mother can sit with her children, who looked like they were 7 and 8. The woman said no. The flight attendant offered her a free drink. The woman said no. I ended up fixing everything so the family could be together. I previously thought THAT was the worst person to board an aircraft. But this family beats her!

The woman who wanted to keep someone else’s family separated takes second place to the mother who wanted to keep her own family separated despite what would have been best for the four of them. This family is run by an evil, controlling tyrant mother and the Dad was just a typical spineless “whatever she says” kind of guy.

So what can an airline do about this?

Thanks to United for a lot of great flights and a flight attendant who managed to solve this puzzle. But it shouldn’t have been this hard, nor should it have been a “let’s hope crazy people stop being crazy and allow something reasonable to happen” situation.

Thinking now as a user experience person…

  1. An airline should make sure that any family travelling with infant-in-arms is seated together with no empty seats. Even if the flight isn’t full, it might fill up. If the flight before it is cancelled, it’ll easily fill up. And if it’s not full, let the family spread out after boarding is completed. The airline system knows not to sit the person carrying a dog on board next to the person carrying a cat on board. You can set your system up to flag a family like this and make sure they sit together.
  2. Second, an airline should have a policy that no stranger should be forced to sit between people travelling in the same party. I shouldn’t have to sit between husband and wife, sister and sister, or an engaged couple. They are probably going to talk to each other. They might pass things to each other. An airline should be allowed to FORCE people in the same party to sit together and not make strangers sit between them IF the stranger in the middle has a problem with being in the middle.
  3. You know what would be really cool? If the seating map showed how people are grouped. For example, draw a box around certain seats to show me those people booked together. Draw a box around the 40 seats booked by the teen tour. Draw a box around the 2 seats for the couple on their honeymoon. Or if I click on a seat that’s taken, light up the seats travelling with that passenger.

    It can be a toggle to hide this or show this. But man, that would tell me a LOT when I am trying to pick my seat. Of course in a perfect world, you’d also show me where a baby in arms is seated and where children under 5 are seated. But I’ll start with my idea to display groupings of people so that I can make sure I’m not sitting in the middle of a family. I COULD have chosen better for myself if I had better info. There were other middle seats open when I made my selection. I could have known the others were not in the middle of a family.

A friend said next time, don’t even talk to the people. Don’t ask them to move. Just go straight to a flight attendant and ask them to fix the situation. I guess I will stop expecting people to be reasonable. Evidently I can’t assume a mother would want to sit with her own husband and infant. I should just have someone else sort out the mess.

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Last week, I wrote a blog post about RelayRides. The short version is that their customer support seemed non-existent, and I was too concerned about insurance to be their customer. The longer version is a good read.

After that blog post, RelayRides tweeted me that they wanted to “clarify” things I wrote in my blog post. This implies that things I wrote were incorrect and needed to be corrected. OK, whatcha got?

I was emailed by the “Community Manager” named Steve. He wanted to schedule calls with me. I didn’t want to take the time. Plus, I like having everything in writing. It makes quoting people SO much easier later.

In short, I had a few key questions that nobody from RelayRides had answered:

  • If someone renting my car causes a bad accident, can I be personally sued as the car owner?
  • Why do you only have $1M of insurance when that’s what I have as a UX consultant? Given the total carnage a car can cause, shouldn’t you have way more insurance?
  • If someone renting my car causes a bad accident that creates millions of dollars in medical care for injured people, who pays that? RelayRides only carries $1 million in insurance. What if someone sues for $15M for ongoing medical care for gravely injured people? Am I stuck paying for that? Who pays that?

Those were the types of questions I’d love to get clarified because in reality, I hoped RelayRides had all ducks in a row and would tell me that renting with them is a zero liability, zero financial risk activity for a car owner. I’d LOVE to be using a service like that. My car sits in my driveway unused.

So how were those emails with RelayRides?

Painful. I learned two main things from Steve’s emails back and forth for days:

  1. California has a law that allows people to rent their cars to other people without having commercial plates or commercial insurance. OK, so we can legally DO it. That still doesn’t answer the insurance questions.
  2. RelayRides is proud of their $1M insurance policy because it’s so much more than the state minimum. It’s so much more than most people buy for their own car insurance.

That’s true. I don’t carry $1M of insurance. But I also don’t expect to cause $1M or more of sue-able carnage. I don’t get into car accidents or cause them. There are a number of personality traits I have and choices I make that make me really unlikely to cause any car accident ever. Which means my insurance won’t be paying for someone else’s medical care. The person responsible for the accident will be stuck with that, and I’m rather confident it won’t be me.

That doesn’t mean that I can be sure that strangers renting my car are as serious as I am about personal choices, rules of the road, health, and defensive driving. For all I know, I’m renting to a guy with a drinking habit and insomnia who sometimes loses consciousness behind the wheel. He could cause over $1M in bodily harm.

So that’s great for most people that you went higher than state minimums. Thanks! But what happens when someone is sued for $15M and you have $1M of insurance? I never got that answer. What I’ve chosen personally for my car insurance is barely relevant. You’re picking strangers to drive my car and you’re putting your insurance on the line. Does that insurance really protect me in a worst case scenario?

Did you ever learn why they didn’t previously answer your emails asking these questions?

Steve acted like it was some awful customer service snafu that my same questions weren’t answered in my original email to customer service when my car had a potential rental… nor were the questions answered after I rejected the rental and emailed the company to tell them my concerns. A customer service OOPS, he was sure.

But it’s not an awful customer service mistake at all because Steve, Mr Community Manager, didn’t answer them either. He wanted me to take a phone call with the COO, but I want things in writing. TELL me in writing that I will have no liability. Because I can’t find that anywhere on your site in writing. Can’t tell me in writing? Then something’s up.

And everything’s coming up roses!

Steve also gleefully told me that their marketplace has been working just fine and just the way it was designed. Great! Will it work when a guy driving my car crashes into a school bus of kids and paralyses all of them? I need a platform that works in ALL cases, not just the happiest cases where everything goes right.

I shop Amazon because they cover my butt the moment I have a concern or complaint, no negotiation, no “OH we don’t cover that.” I go to a mechanic that stands behind his work if the work doesn’t turn out to fix my problem. When I consult for eBay sellers, we have a clause in our contract that says if something we put in the seller’s eBay listings breaks eBay rules at the time we install it, we will fix the problem at no charge since it’s our fault.

I’m not comfy with a platform that is playing 80/20 rule with people’s lives and medical needs when the chips are down and things go really badly. Any of us can end up in the 20.

So what did he clarify from your original blog post?

Nothing. I still don’t know what my original blog post had so wrong other than it drew attention to things to which they don’t want attention drawn.

I also knew that it was going to be a weak conversation when Steve replied to one of my emails complaining about how upsetting it was to get an email with profanities. I was unhappy with his email linking me to go read things on his site (that I had already read) and referred to that as “shit” he linked. And when he happily told me that a recent court case they were involved in was resolved to their satisfaction, I congratulated him on not getting “unwantedly fucked.”

When an adult professional acts medieval Puritan about “shit” and “fuck” when not used AT the person (it’s not like I said he was a fucking shithead), I know he doesn’t have much to say and needs to fill email space by acting like I’ve written something so awful. Put the focus on ME.

Hey, Deb. What happened when you asked him a fifth time to answer your same questions?

When I tried again to get my same questions answered, Steve wrote me back that their marketplace was not going to be for everybody. He then wrote, “Good bye!”

Good bye, Steve, Community Manager for RelayRides. You had a chance to clarify for me, and you didn’t. You had the chance to retain me as a customer by addressing my concerns, and you didn’t (and you didn’t).

Maybe I should talk to COO Alex Benn. Even if he doesn’t answer my questions either, he should know this is his community manager.

The sharing economy is a work in progress.

In my previous blog post about RelayRides, I said that given this approach, RelayRides has to hope that their drivers are either too lazy to have researched these liability issues OR don’t mind huge amounts of personal and financial risk. Because if anybody really stopped, researched, and cared about some bad potential outcomes, I’m not sure anybody would rent their personal car to friends or strangers.

I remind all of you to dig deeper. The sharing economy is still finding its sea legs. There are lots of legal holes, and in this case, insurance and liability holes. RelayRides isn’t alone in facing these issues. But they are alone in contacting me directly claiming they wanted to clarify things, and then not answering my questions.

Good bye! I asked Steve to please cancel and delete my account yesterday morning.

Remember when Steve apologised for my struggle to get off their mailing lists and said I wouldn’t get another email again?

Yes, that was part of our days of emails back and forth. Yesterday afternoon, I got this!

ScreenHunter_102 Jul. 22 16.21

Test Name is a nice touch, Community Manager Steve. I unsubscribed AGAIN. I figured that I guess I’ll have to log into my account, delete my account, and really get myself off their email lists.

I went to their website. Went to log in. And got this dialogue box:

ScreenHunter_103 Jul. 22 16.22

Wow! Hey, fine by me. But if you cancelled my account and don’t want me back, and you promised you’d stop emailing me, why are you still emailing me? Now you look silly on top of looking very silly.

Good bye!

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Since I mostly drive my moto, my car sits in the driveway. I’m thinking about selling it, but my boyfriend thinks we won’t be able to share his car. I’m not convinced, so I’ll spend the rest of the year keeping a list of when I use my car so I can then present a good case for selling it.

I found out about RelayRides. It’s like Uber backwards. It’s like AirBnB for cars. You offer your car for people to rent. RelayRides takes car of matching people with you, handling the transaction, etc… They’re the platform.

Well this would be great! Even if I break even on my monthly loan and insurance payment, at least it’s money coming in for a car otherwise sitting in my driveway. So I posted my car for a few dollars less per day than RelayRides suggested. I figured with all the cars available near me, I’d have weeks to keep researching them before someone actually wanted it.

The next day, someone requested to rent my car for a month.

Holy cats, that went fast! Um, OK… Well, the guy seemed like a perfect rental on paper. Looks 50-something. American guy living in Israel. Has his own little marketing company. OK, hypothetically, he should be a low risk, responsible guy.

I emailed RelayRides from their contact page. I asked them to please clarify insurance, especially in light of what I’ve been reading online. Nobody ever responded.

I asked my boyfriend what he thought. Boyfriend did some Googling and wrote back with an article where some people who rented their cars through RelayRides ended up being stuck in really bad insurance situations. In one case, someone other than the renter damaged the car, the renter didn’t feel like getting a police report, and the car owner got stuck paying the insurance deductible. In a way worse case, a driver of a rented car killed himself when he crashed into a car. All of the passengers ended up with critical injuries. The medical bills for multiple people totalled more than the $1M insurance RelayRides carries.

As a UX consultant, I carry $1M of insurance. And I am really unlikely to damage your property, send you to the hospital, make you need lifelong care, or kill you. Beyond unlikely!

So how is it that someone could assess the risk of a car rental and decide that only $1M is needed? The cost of 50 years of daily care for someone who is paralysed runs around $14M.

But wait, it gets worse. My insurance company said they wouldn’t cover me at all when my car is rented.

You might think hey, I have good car insurance. If someone got into an accident, I’d just have my insurance cover it. Well newsflash, they probably won’t.

Why? Because you probably have a personal car insurance policy. You didn’t insure your car as a business vehicle. You didn’t tell the insurance company that other people will be driving it so you can make money. This means you need a commercial policy because this is a commercial activity. A personal policy would not cover a business use of the car. So expect your insurance company to stay totally out of anything that happens while your car is on a RelayRides adventure.

And in some states, you can be sued personally as the car owner.

It’s all bad, so I rejected the rental request (at least you can do that!) and explained to him what I learned… and that I just can’t take that risk. He was very nice and understood. I deactivated my car’s listing on RelayRides.

RelayRides then emailed me about rejecting that rental. Why they thought I rejected it was way wrong.

When you agree to rent your car, you put in an address where people can meet you (like your home) or you pick an airport. I picked a shopping centre near my home (why would I give my home address out?!?!?!?) and I picked the SFO airport. Sure, I’ll go meet people at the airport. A $25 cab home is worth making nearly $500 by renting my car out for a month (though I would be 1099’ed and have to pay taxes).

The email I got after rejecting the rental said that they found that many people don’t want to go to the airport. So here’s a new service they’ll offer so I don’t have to go to the airport.

You mean you think I wrote in my profile that I WOULD go to the airport and then rejected nearly $500 because I didn’t want to go to the airport? I would think that the people who didn’t want to go to the airport are the people who did NOT mark their profile as willing to go to the airport! Try emailing THEM!

I wrote back a long email about why I declined the rental. Nobody wrote me back even though it was a real human’s email and not a no-reply. So that’s twice I contacted them with my concerns and got no reply.

And then they put me on their mailing list and started mailing me about coming to their cool car owners’ parties. I keep trying to unsubscribe, but it looks like each email is its own mailing list… so I guess I’ll be unsubscribing from party and webinar invites forever.

This means their target car owner does no research or doesn’t mind serious personal and financial risk.

If that were my target audience, I would be trying to anticipate their problems and solving them. Your target car owner doesn’t read fine print and doesn’t imagine possible outcomes.

You don’t want to go to an airport? We have a $X service where you leave the car with us and we personally connect with your renter.

You are concerned that $1M in insurance isn’t enough because it’s what a UX consultant doing Axure prototypes carries for liability? You’re right. We went and got a $50M insurance policy, and here is our written guarantee that a car owner will NEVER pay a dollar for anything a renter does. We’ll also agree to hold you personally harmless and make sure our legal team fights for you (ie: covers your legal fees) if someone personally sues you because of something that happens in/because of your vehicle.

I need my problem solved, and my problem is way more than a cool website and some nice options like approving or declining a rental request. I have serious problems that can’t be swept under the rug.

RelayRides could have made crazy money off my car. It sits in the driveway because I drive the most beautiful moto ever made. My car is in near perfect condition. It gets great mileage. Easy to park. Good cargo space. I’m the original owner. It’s a 2011 Honda Fit with under 23,000 miles. I barely drive it. I’d love to rent it out. But not while the insurance situation is too risky. Maybe I’ll end up selling it next year.

Maybe RelayRides will improve their insurance situation. They should then email me and tell me to come back. If it’s not too late.

Edited 18 July 2014 to include my attempt to contact customer service before I rejected the rental.

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