Terrible Customer Service Problems we’ve all had, and solutions (Comcast, Verizon, Amazon, etc.)

Problem #1 — English as a secondary language.

As an American, I expect customer service representatives of American companies to communicate the same way I do.

As American’s we have a certain tempo to our speech, a unique dialect, certain colloquial expressions that we use, and we should expect the customer service of major corporations that we pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to a year to communicate with us in our own language.

English is not the same in other parts of the world. Not only is it insulting and infuriating that these American companies are sending jobs overseas, but the representatives that they are hiring quite often do not have the ability to fix the majority of problems, nor are they able to understand what the problem is.

Rather than accept this as “just the way things are,” here’s a solution.

Solution #1 — Insist that you will only talk with someone in the United States.

It doesn’t make you a bigot, insensitive, racist, or rude to want to talk with someone that can understand you, provide you with good customer service, and has the ability to communicate in a way in which you understand them. I’ve tried this solution with a few different companies. My advice, don’t even wait for a minute of conversation. The second the customer service rep answers the phone, ask them if they are in the Unites States. If they say “no,” then immediately ask them to transfer to someone in the US. To do otherwise is an exercise in frustration.

Problem #2 — Time is money, they’re wasting yours.

Your time is valuable. There’s a million other things in this world that we would all rather do than to call customer service. Ever spent an hour, two, three, or even more on the phone trying to get something fixed?

I spent an hour today helping a friend with their Comcast issues — that was after they had already spent three hours on the phone over the last two days trying to get their issues solved without any positive results. I’m happy to say, we got it resolved. Still, in this case, it had taken four hours total in order to get a resolution. That’s unacceptable! However, it did lead to the genesis of this article.

Solution #2 — Ask for a credit or a discount.

The worst that can happen when asking for something is that they say “no.” So, ask! In regards to the aforementioned Comcast issue, I asked for a full month of service for free — it would have been close to $200. I explained that four hours is inexcusable, a waste of their time, and it costs them time away from running their business (my friend is self employed). Now in full fairness, when I called Comcast, I actually said I was my friend. We thought we would get better results if I just assumed his identity for the purpose of the call.

At first, the customer service representative put us on hold to see what he could do. He came back and offered a $20 credit. At this time, the problems my friend was having still weren’t resolved, and I explained that $20 isn’t enough considering that their Comcast bill for personal and work was over $300+ dollars a month. Furthermore, they still didn’t have service and no definitive answer as for when it would be reconnected. I kept insisting and pushing for a full month of credit. Finally, after a few minutes of his nonsense, I asked him to put me on the phone with a supervisor that has more “power” than he does. He scoffed at me and insisted his supervisor wouldn’t do better, but transferred me nonetheless.

When talking with the supervisor, he first offered a waiver of a monthly service fee for a full year (approximately $17/month for 12 months). Well, I explained that while that was nice and all, but it wasn’t enough and asked for a credit in addition to this. This back and forth (and I told the supervisor this as well) felt like buying a car with him just giving me a little bit at a time. I explained that I wanted the bottom line, what’s it gonna take to get you into this car today, price. Yes, I used that terminology. Finally, he offered a $60 credit. Not content with that, and I figured he’s already budging, I asked for the $17/month credit for a year in addition to that. He agreed! Honestly, it’s a negotiation. Companies are not in the business of giving you money back, a discount, or something for free, but in order to keep a customer happy, they will — sometimes.

Now, with some companies, they are very obliged to help once you ask for a discount or something for free. It also helps to be in good standing with them — i.e. paying your bills on time. A month ago, I upgraded to the new iPhone 6 with Verizon. They wanted to charge me a $30 upgrade fee. When I balked at it, they customer service rep told me it was a “legitimate charge.” While it might be a “legitimate charge” I explained, it was unethical and gouging. Especially, since they weren’t doing anything for me. I was paying for the phone and locking into a two year contract. So, I asked her to waive it. She was unable to waive it to do company policy. Not content with that, I explained that if she couldn’t waive the fee, then she should give me a courtesy discount of $30 on my next bill — she agreed! Bottom line, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Problem #3 — Not all companies are created equal.

Unfortunately, as consumers we only have so many choices when it comes to certain things. With Comcast, for many of us it’s the only viable choice for high speed internet. Where I live, I can get 50Mbps downstream with Comcast. The other major competitor is Century Link, and they offer 1.5 Mbps. Hardly a choice. Thus, rendering Comcast a monopoly. They pretty much are a utility. I “need” the internet connection to the house, the same as I need electricity, water, sewer, garbage, etc. That being said, they really don’t have to do anything to please you as a customer. They know I’m not going to go anywhere.

Verizon and other cell phone carriers lock you into contracts. I never understood why I have to lock into a contract to give them money. Again, since they have you locked in, they really don’t need to do anything to make you happy.

Solution #3 — Vote with your dollars / do research.

When it comes to retailers, there are many other options. Amazon is well known for their fantastic customer service, but there are other great companies out there as well. One such site to review internet retailiers in Reseller Ratings. You can see feedback from other consumers and watch out for problematic retailers. Avoid sellers on sites such as Amazon and eBay that have little or no feedback — let someone else be the guinea pig.

Problem #4 — The customer isn’t always right.

Whoever came up with the idea that the customer is always right has obviously never worked in customer service. Quite often the customer is wrong, has unrealistic expectations, doesn’t pay their bill, and tries to scam the retailer they are working with. Unfortunately, these people make it harder for the rest of us to get a resolution.

Solution #5 — Don’t be that guy/gal.

Before calling a company and raising a stink, make sure that you’re justified, you’ve got your facts inline, and ask yourself what a reasonable outcome would be.

When you call these companies, you need to be sure of yourself, forceful in the sense that you need to tell them the solution that you expect, sometimes you even need to be insistent and your own advocate, don’t let them walk all over you and waste your time with stupid questions. However, sometimes the problem is actually the customer. Could it be something wrong on your end? Don’t be nasty and call the customer service rep names, yell at them, or “go off.”

Conclusion

As a customer, you need to stand up for yourself. You might not get the service or result that is fair, but you deserve proper customer service. Ask for it. You need to tell them how to do their job. It’s unfortunate, but unless you are clear about your expectations and outcomes and ask for what it is you want, then you are essentially throwing your problem to the wolves.

Best of luck, and feel free to post your own customer service experiences in the comments below.

It's OK to have more than one camera.

I love my Fuji X-T1. It's actually probably my favorite camera to use, but I don't understand people dropping their 5D3s. Different cameras, different possibilities. This past Saturday, I shot a kids karate tournament. 2500 photos, autofocus tracking, high fps, big buffer, fast focusing zoom lenses. I would not have been able to do this with the x-t1.

My advice to anyone thinking about dumping their 5d3 - keep both!

Custom Lightroom preset is attached and also available for download on the side.

Lightroom Presets

Building on my last posting, I have been messing around with my own curves and combining that with the Camera Calibration profiles built into Lightroom.  

Here's one that I created today for the X-T1.  You can download it from the link below this post.

Also, I will start saving all of my Lightroom Presets here: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B20XjuhgBhZLdXpHMXhncFBrRlE&usp=drive_web 

Please note, there is also a link to the presets on the left hand side of my blog's homepage (toward the bottom of the page under the "downloads" section).

These photos were shot today at the Tacoma Art Museum's Dia de los Muertos event. It's free, it's fun, and great for families. These were all shot with the Fuji X-T1, 56mm f/1.2, and available light.

Don't waste your money on VSCO.

VSCO is a bunch of film emulation presets for Lightroom that you can buy online. They're very expensive, there's no way to try them before you buy, and even though I have bought two of their preset packs in the past, I don't use them.

One of the least discussed, but most powerful tools used in developing your raw images in Lightroom is the curves tool. Compared to photoshop, it's not as responsive, and hard to tweak. However, it seems to have the same functionality as Photoshop's curves. Over the years, I have seen many free curves available online for Photoshop that emulate various films and looks. After all, Photoshop has been around much longer than Lightroom. 

I figured there had to be a way to convert all of these Photoshop curves into Lightroom compatible curves. Sure enough, I found two ways. The first one is an application for Mac (incidentally, if you're not on a Mac - switch, you'll be happier) - https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/curvesconverter/id590353436?mt=12. It cost me $0.99 and is well worth it. The second method is available here - http://fredrikforsberg.se/acvconverter/. It's free, but a little more complicated, and it will work on a PC.

I spent about an hour or so today finding free Photoshop curves online and then one by one converting them to Lightroom curves. I haven't played with them much at all, just a few minutes, but they are giving me some amazing starting places for my images. You can download them all here: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B20XjuhgBhZLUXBYS0psakQtTW8&usp=drive_web.

If you have any other curves or find any other curves online that I haven't included here, please email them on over and I'll post them for others to download as well.

Here are some photos from today - my daughter's 7th birthday party. Processed mainly with curves and tweaked in Lightroom.

Happy Halloween!

These were shot with a Canon 5D Mark III using the 600EX-RT flash off camera and the ST-E3-RT wireless transmitter. I had the camera in my right hand and the flash in my left. Definitely not comfortable, but effective in a pinch. I used a large Rogue Flashbender to soften and spread the light.

Whenever I use a flash, the results are so much better than when I don't. It's the difference between shots that have depth and vibrancy version pretty plain shots. I go through phases with my photography where I use JPEGs and no flash (the easiest) to shooting RAW only, using flash, and post processing every image.

Regarding post processing, I am using Lightroom and Photoshop for pretty much everything. I've tried various plugins for both Lightroom and Photoshop, but I never quite find one that does everything. So most of the time, I start from scratch and tweak the image to my liking. These were solely processed in Lightroom.

Flickr - It's awful, but what do you expect for free?

Over the past few years, I've alternated between SmugMug and Zenfolio for hosting my images - primarily just an online disaster backup, but a place that people could download resolution photos of events that I have shot. However, most people view my photos on Facebook.  While Facebook is great for sharing, it's not full resolution, and not everyone is on Facebook, and thus not a complete solution.

I like Zenfolio's service better than SmugMug's because it's easier to use and includes a blog option. However, you have to pay over $150 a year to not advertise Zenfolio all over your site.  SmugMug tries to push it's printing services all over the place on your site (yes you can disable it), but it's a cludgy interface.  Furthermore, there's no blog option, and it still costs $60.

Now neither one is a lot of money compared to any photographic device or knick knack you would buy. Still, in my case, since no one really visits there because they already saw the images on Facebook, it's unnecessary expense just to use as disaster recovery and the occasional full resolution photo download. So, I have moved to Flickr. http://photos.bershatsky.com/

What's great about Flickr?

  • Free
  • 1TB
  • Did I mention it's free and there's a full terabyte?
  • Photostream is nice and responsive
  • Dynamically sized site
  • Albums are just as nice as the photostream
  • Mobile app
  • Full resolution views look great

What's not so great about Flickr?

  • Ugly Yahoo toolbars (yes, more than one) plague all views except full screen images
  • Ads - they show up in your slideshows, on the screen, etc.
  • Cannot organize your photos or sort them at all.
  • Must open a Yahoo mail account.
  • Uploader works terribly

I have found a few workarounds that make Flickr easier to use though:

  • Install AdBlock on your browser to get rid of ads.
  • Upload using PhotoMechanic - you can upload the original files where as the Lightroom plugin re-saves your files (generational loss)

Bottom line, with the money I save on SmugMug or Zenfolio, I'll use spend it here on my PostHaven account - it's so far the easiest and cleanest blogging interface that I have found. I'll talk more about PostHaven in another post.



Edgewood Karate's Annual Halloween Party & When to Shoot Black and White

This is the 3rd year in a row that we've attended our Karate school's Halloween party. Our Sensei, Tony Bennest, has really made this a community event - free to attend. Tonight there were over 200 attendees. It takes a village to put on this party, and many students spent hours at the dojo today preparing, cleaning, and putting away after the party. Nadia and I were there this afternoon for about an hour and a half doing our part.

These photos were all shot with the Olympus E-M1 using Olympus prime lenses. The outdoor shots were taken with the 45mm f/1.8, the indoor shots were mainly shot with the 17mm f/1.8, and a few were shot with the 25mm f/1.8. All of these photos are straight out of the camera, but a few were cropped in Photo Mechanic. The bulk of these were shot at 3200 ISO.

Experience has taught me that shooting in a dark room with all sorts of crazy lighting conditions can lead to some very tough photographic problems - white balance being all over the place, uneven lighting, and the terrible things it does to skin tones. However, when you shoot black and white, all you need to worry about is composing the shot, focusing, and exposure.

For this type of situation, the E-M1 is the perfect camera. I didn't use the viewfinder once, I didn't have time to carefully compose my shots, I needed fast AF, light and compact due to the cramped space (there were a lot of people), and I used the facial AF and touchscreen to shoot 100% of the time.

The outdoors photos of our family were shot by the neighbor girl. I set the camera up, explained how to push the shutter button, and let her have at it.

Fuji X30 - Initial Impressions Review

With regards to the new Fuji X30, one has to acknowledge that of course there are bigger and better cameras on the market in terms of image quality, sensor size, and optics. However, the Fuji X30 fills a niche of being a compact point and shoot with great and useable images straight out of the camera - complete with Fuji colors.

PROS:

  • Compact

  • Fast AF

  • Fuji Colors

  • Integrated EVF

  • Bright lens

  • Super Macro Mode - yes, that's what they call it

  • Built in flash

  • Focus peaking

  • Fast FPS in burst mode

  • Movie mode can do 24 fps and you can control shutter and aperture during movie mode! Also continuous AF in movie mode

  • Customizable buttons

  • Lotsa buttons

  • Tilty / flippy screen

CONS:

  • EVF isn’t the best

  • Higher ISOs produce visible noise and smearing

  • Variable aperture lens

  • You have to set the ISO in a menu prior to shooting a movie.

  • Not enough buttons

  • No touch screen

Basically, for the money you pay, it’s a great camera. I’ve owned a Sony RX100 before (an original one) that I bought used on Craigslist. I used it for about a week and then sold it online because I didn’t enjoy the camera at all. Granted, that’s like comparing a Fuji X10 to a Sony RX100 mark III, but still I’ve used and owned a few Sony cameras and camcorders over the years and in general, I don’t like the JPG engines, controls, layouts, etc.

I’ve owned a Fuji X100S before, and it’s a great camera, but the X30 is more convenient, faster, has facial AF, and does better macro. What’s the difference - the X100S has better image quality, costs more, and isn't nearly as responsive or convenient.

The X30 is great little camera that won’t replace your more expensive gear, but it does compliment it well.

Here are some shots straight out of the camera:

Leica Lied - Bottom Line. Goodbye X typ 113. The Leica Hype

The camera has been returned.  For the kind of money that Leica charges, I expect them to be truthful with their specifications.  

I just posted my review of this camera on Amazon.

By Noah Bershatsky on October 23, 2014
Color Name: Silver Verified Purchase

Camera itself feels kind of cheap in the hands. The shutter button is kind of wobbly, the camera is plasticy, and even though it looks metallic, it's not. The image quality is very good, but the RAW DNG files are processed with a crazy embedded tone curve in Lightroom. I had to use the Adobe Profile Editor in order to come up with a more neutral curve.

The problem that I had with this camera that caused me to return it is that the lens is not a constant f/1.7 like advertised. Instead, it's a variable aperture lens. Quite often stopping down to f/2.8!

For the same price as this camera, you can go out and buy a quality mirrorless camera with a better lens like a Fuji X-T1 and 23mm f/1.4 lens. I own that camera, it has better IQ, better build quality, f/1.4 (constant aperture), and a beautiful EVF.

This was my first and will probably be my last Leica."
I own a few prime lenses with apertures ranging from f/1.2 to f/1.4 from Olympus, Fuji, Canon, and Zeiss. In every single case, those lenses allow me to shoot at their largest f-stop. They are not variable in their aperture, they are constant. Leica is touted by many as being the "crème de la crème" of lenses and cameras - for the same price as the Leica X 113, you could get better lenses, bodies, and images from a variety of manufacturers. My recommendation - get over the Leica hype.

One thing that never ceases to astound me is the nonsense in online camera forums. There are so many brand loyalists, apologists, and fanboys that throw logic out of the window. Not only that, these trolls appear everywhere including reviews. Just a day later after I posted my review on Amazon, a troll had to post their opinion and their justified brand loyalist propaganda ("logic").


"Initial post: Oct 24, 2014 6:31:11 AM PDT

Danny L. Chatham says:

Absolute nonsense,this camera is a beautiful precision made Leica,and yes the lense does stop down to F2 it only 
does so at 4ft or less.to say this camera is less built than any Fuji is absurd.In addition Leica is so obsessed with
optical quality they designed the lense to stop down in order to maintain their optical standards."
Notice the fanboy propagandist verbiage - "beautiful precision," "obsessed with optical quality," etc. (sigh). 

Final words and "insightful analysis" - feel free to quote me:
  • Very nice JPEGs out of camera
  • Sharp lens
  • Finicky controls
  • Plasticy and cheapy feeling
  • It's really a variable aperture lens and should really be advertised as an f/2.2-2.8 camera
  • Adobe Lightroom applies a crazy curve to the initial DNG that you have to counteract in order to get a good starting place
  • Overpriced
  • Consider other brands first - ignore the Leica name.