Another Rant: The Funranium Labs Customer Service Ethos

I do my best to compose these posts with the appropriate level of insobriety fueling me. I like to think that it allows me to summon the correct creativity needed to share More Awesome. In this case, it is the vitriol directed at organizations Doin’ It Wrong.

This morning I just shipped a replacement Stein of Science to a gentleman in Hawaii since the postal service decided to play hockey with his package. I’m girding myself to file the insurance claim (which I slap on every stein shipment for just this reason) but I am warmed by the thanks I received for turning a replacement out in 48hrs and not charging to ship it. With friends from Hawaii and Alaska, I know how goddamn irritating it is to see “Offer Not Available in AK & HI”. May your new stein arrive safely, Max.

I’m often complimented on my customer service and I can credit it to a couple of places: a childhood doing retail sales in a pet store run by my parents and the bad customer service I receive on a daily basis from a dozen or so major companies. Rather than be infuriated to the point I decide obliteration of all customer service reps is the only solution, I try to learn a lesson of what is going wrong here.

And if by some reason Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Verizon, AT&T, PG&E, United Airlines, Delta Airlines, Enterprise Car Rental, Kaiser Permanente, Delta Dental, the California Department of Motor Vehicles, or Fry’s Electronics are reading this, please know that I have had the teeth gritting opportunity to learn something from all of you.

The primary failure all of these organizations have had is by approaching their customer service as a potential expense rather than an opportunity to make a future sale. Sure, the future is a nebulous place whereas the cash they already got from me is SOLID. Can’t take the future to the bank. However Verizon, as my favorite dead horse to beat, may rest assured that that they so thoroughly held on to the value of the original sale that they lost a customer of 10 years, my business for the foreseeable future, and (as they’re still getting here) continued bad word of mouth exposure. AT&T has definitely not endeared itself to me but they haven’t, thus far, managed to pass the very high irritation bar Verizon established.

How did these organizations fail me and so many others? One could list the myriad ways, but it comes from failure to understand the fundamental exchange in customer service, which is this:



It’s really that simple. The next part is figuring out what the problem actually is and what help you can give.The customer has not contacted you because they feel like having a chat and have nothing better to do. If there was something wrong but it wasn’t important, they wouldn’t be spending their time to tell you about their problem.

Unfortunately, I find that customer service normally treats the problem as being “there is a customer trying to take the company’s money away”. The customer’s time is irrelevant to them as this isn’t something that can be seen in the balance sheet, so there is no particular incentive to be expedient. Customer service staff wages are already paid for so there is no particular bottom line gain to the company for them being expedient, only more money lost due to the increased number of refunds and return authorizations they process.

Another matter is the empowerment of service personnel. For large organizations, first tier customer service folks are a gauntlet for the customer to prove they are worthy of service. I can think of few jobs more depressing than one with scripted service interactions. You don’t have the power to approve anything, just provide roadblocks to quickly deny access to the rest of the customer service chain. A former corporate buyer I knew had the habit of immediately asking customer service representatives, “Do you have the authority to approve this?” If the answer was no, she asked for the rep’s supervisor, and repeated the question until she got to someone in sufficient authority to make a decision other than “No”. If you refused to pass her along or, even worse, your script took people like her into account and forced her through the gauntlet, there was price to paid, literally. She billed them for her wasted time on the next invoice they sent her and hooboy did it get ugly when they didn’t pay.

The lesson she taught me was that, from the customer perspective, the entire customer service hierarchy is superfluous until you get to the point that you hit someone that can make decisions. So, why don’t they have the authority? Either they hired incompetents too untrainable to have this authority OR the employees aren’t trusted to work in the company’s interest. Either way, this isn’t a good sign for the future of the company’s stock.

The alternative is that they simply don’t give a flying fuck once they get your cash. Their “customer service”, such that it is, exists to fulfill an organizational requirement, not actually function. See also: Death by Phone Tree, now with mystery auto-disconnects.

For better or for worse, Funranium Labs is me, my very patient webmaster, my even more patient Lovely Assistant, and the very brave volunteers that fill out the ranks of the Ambassadors…but mainly me. I would like to thank all the organizations that have given me so many object lessons in how to treat you all well. I think I’ve got it down to the point that I could do without any further education.

Oh wait, I have an insurance claim to make with USPS. Pardon me…it’s time to go take an advanced course.

London Service Starting

For everyone back in Merrie Olde Englande (well, international in general) the shipping for Black Blood of the Earth has always been prohibitive. Prohibitivr to the point that the postage almost costs as much as the product in some cases, as BBotE must ship express internationally. The per liter shipping price improves with the larger volume items, but it’s still a substantial investment for something you’ve never tasted.

But now London, England (not Ontario, sorry Canada) will have local distribution. That’s right! There is going to be a BBotE Pimp of London. I can hear the Warren Zevon parody in my head right now.

Next week, Justin will come into possession of a case of assorted 1L BBotE bottles. We went for the larger size to give a better volumetric bang for the buck/pound in Transatlantic shipping. Anticipated going price for local hand off is $80. Expensive, but a nice discount on what the normal price with shipping is (~$110 for a single 1L bottle) to London.

If you wish to partake in his delights, you may contact the Lord BBotE Pimp of London by email, [email protected]

In other news, I finally cleared up some production schedule to the point that I can do some experimenting again. The folks at Caffe Vita, who give me the Mundo Nuvo I so adore, gave me a sample of their Nicuraguan they’re quite proud of to play with. Considering the last time they gave me something they were proud of it was the Guatemalan Mundo Nuvo, I’m rather excited about this.

Right. Back to thinking about plutonium for a while instead of coffee.

Crazy Bastards At Work – Please Donate

So, the folks at Giant Bomb and got their hands on a respectable supply and variety of Black Blood of the Earth a couple of weeks ago and, so it seems, they’ve been hoarding it for this day.  Sometime around noon they began their 24 hour Oktoberkast podcastathon thingee in support of Child’s Play (no, not the murderous puppet movie franchise). Not long after, they promptly broke into the BBotE.

They’re still at it right now, nerding it up with the best of them, bless their hearts. Go have a viddy at them and perhaps, maybe, consider making a donation. If you can’t stand that much concentrated nerdery, you could just click here and donate directly to Child’s Play via Oktoberkast here.

The Best Product Review Ever

I am inordinately proud of this review of the 750ml bottle of Kona BBotE. I can only hope that BBotE causes similar adventure in your life:

The Kona is delicious, and even opening the corked bottle is a tactile experience. It felt like breaking the seal on some potent elixir.


I fed my housemate 30mL of the Blood. He walked outside without a word. 20 minutes later, he returned carrying a *fire door*.


Don’t mind me. I’m over here tearing up with laughter. I think it’s time for a cocktail. Have a good weekend, kids.

Reports From The Field

Rather than a Q&A, I have answers to questions I didn’t know existed from a couple of astute Test Subjects that need sharing. First, from Germany I have this fascinating missive:

I just liberated my shipment from the German customs office, and experienced something you might be interested in.

I declared BBotE as “coffee extract”, which seemed accurately enough, and then discovered that Germany still has a coffee tax (the things you forget…). In order to calculate this the dry coffee mass in the extract is needed. This seemed to promise some back and forth between me, you and the customs office, until I remebered to ask for the base amount of coffee tax.

4.78EUR per kilogram of dry mass.

I opted to declare the mass of the whole liquid content as dry coffee mass, paid 5.98EUR of coffee tax, and took my package home.

Interestingly, this particular bit of tax is something that is as old as the Franco-Prussian War and has fluctuated with time and government. I’m fond of the theory that the rise of chicory blended coffee in Germany was to help avoid this tax as it has traditionally been a “by weight”.

If you have interesting tales of tariffs, taxes, and customs I’d love to hear them. Generally, I hear “Got it. WOOOOO!!!” but not the travails. So far, only Royal Mail/Parcelforce (AKA Parcelfarce, as Charlie Stross likes to call them) have caused me any deep vexation, greatly delaying the delivery of a birthday stein to a certain bearded madman.

Meanwhile, in the vicinity of Seattle, Test Subject Scottie sends this:

See, I love to drink coffee, but for whatever reason (it actually isn’t the caffeine) it had a tendency for giving me headaches. Not one to shy away from a bad idea for immediate gratification, I bought BBotE anyway, and… no headache. I don’t know why, and I don’t care, because you have given me back the gift of delicious coffee.

In return for this treasure, I should tell you that I use a well-placed cup of the stuff to get my rather rotund self up and active when I haven’t done my work-out for the day. I’m not saying you SHOULD completely exaggerate that story to market BBotE as a means of losing weight, but if you did, I’d understand. It might also be of note that more than a few members of my family line were very wealthy snake-oil salesmen. You can interpret that how you like.

Whatever gets you going, sir. Always glad to hear BBotE helping folks out. Bizarre as it is to think of it as a health food, it’s genesis lays in my trying to reduce sugar intake as a diabetic. Speaking of headaches, Test Subject Jana in LA had this to say:

I’ve always loved deep, dark roasts both for taste and tunnel vision (or is it a worm hole?) effect. I’m a writer and live my life by deadlines that are less about sheer time than they are about getting to a better answer faster. Nothing does that like coffee.

Sadly, in my early 40s, coffee started not loving me. On a regular cup, within minutes, my face breaks out, eyes itch and puff up. Where I used to feel smoothly creative, my forehead feels like concrete and I just get angry. Even going into a coffeehouse where they’re pulling shots can be a problem. Tea is fine, so I assume it’s something about the coffee oils.

I tried cold drip coffee but I HATE the taste. I love green and black teas, but they don’t deliver the specific sense of concentration that coffee does. I’ve tried ingesting caffeine in just about every other way imaginable (yes, that way, too) and nothing works.

And then came Death Wish. While it hasn’t solved all of life’s problems, the smooth concentration and intense flavor are everything I love about coffee. And a bottle and a half later, no inflamed skin or itchy eyes. After Natara’s (ed: the Pimpstess of Greater LA) warnings to be judicious, I’ve found that 25ml in the morning over ice with milk and water is perfect. (More than that is like putting a vise around my head — still clear thinking, but pressurized.)

Better living through science, indeed.

I’m sure the ladies and gents out at Death Wish are happy to be part of the writing process.

South Pole Station Service Tunnels – You Probably Don’t Want To Think To Hard About What This Is

Anyway, those are a few interesting missives that have rolled in recently that I thought were worth sharing in lieu of the promised Antarctic Toilet Expedition. Fear not, procrastination will break eventually. In the meantime, a teaser.