Sunday, September 27, 2009

Another customer gone

Consumerism is down and companies are trying harder to get your business.  Well, at least some of them are.

I'm amazed at some of the sales I see.  25% off plus free shipping.  As one would expect, prices fall  when people have less money to spend, but is it all about money?

As companies cut prices, they have to cut costs too.  Have you ever called a company, any company, to become their customer?  Almost immediately you will have a live person on the phone.  Call the same company now that you are already a customer and try to get live support.  You will probably wait on hold through a series of voice menus (listen carefully, because their voice menus have recently changed) and you may end up with a person in a half hour or so.

For many online retailers, it is almost impossible to find a contact phone number.  The price we pay for low prices is the inability to contact the seller if something goes wrong.  Sure enough, I checked on the Epocrates website and they have links for live chat or to email them.  No phone number that I could find.  For an interesting story about Amazon's contact number, see this link.

Companies must do research on how severely service can decline before customers flee, even if prices are low.  Of course if service is poor everywhere, then we shop based on price alone.  I would think that when one buys a household item like a washing machine, low price is the main factor and one will take the risk that service won't be required. 

If you buy something like internet service, or phone service, then you want a company that takes good care of it's customers.  It's worth a little extra money.  I suspect that when the economy turns around, it will be the companies that provide good customer service that do well.

I had an interesting experience recently.  I received an email from Epocrates, a company that provides information on medications and other medical information to portable devices like Palm Pilots and iPhones.  The email informed me that in appreciation of my being a loyal customer (since 2002) I was being given special notice that they will no longer be supporting Palm devices that go with Macintosh computers.  I wonder what they do for their non-loyal customers? 

Now, I don't want to be too hard on them.  There was a special offer for me by which I could receive an ipod touch and Epocrates software for $199.  This is actually a pretty good deal since an ipod touch costs about $180 and the software costs $159.  But the thing that bothers me is that they are abandoning a loyal customer, and the only way I can remain a loyal customer is to shell out $200 for a device I don't need.  They point out that the offer saves me almost $200, but I went to their website to find that the regular price, for non-loyal customers is $309, so I'm really saving $110.  It probably makes sense to you if you took marketing courses.

I wrote back a thoughtful email, explaining how it was disappointing that they would drop support for the Macintosh and expect their loyal customers to spend $200 to get something they already had-a working epocrates system.  I have an ipod and I don't need another one.  I love my Mac and I'm not going to buy a Windows computer.  My suggestion to them was that they treat their loyal customers to a free ipod touch with a paid renewal of their subscription to Epocrates.  That way they would maintain their customers and would be making a genuine good will gesture.  I know I would have been swayed.  I should also mention that I always thought Epocrates was a good product and I used it frequently.

I probably would have been swayed just to receive a real reply from a real person.  Instead I received a canned reply from "Gold Support" at Epocrates thanking me for my suggestion, and letting me know it had been forwarded to the Product Development Team for consideration.  Nobody signed his or her name at the end of the email from Gold Support.

I don't expect to hear from them again, but if I do I will post it here and eat my humble pie, but it seems to me that customer service, like so many things, is just words and not action.  "Gold Support".  "Loyal Customer".  It all means nothing.  Show me the money.

In the meantime, as it turns out, there is now competition for Epocrates.  Medscape Mobile is free.


  1. Hello DGMD,

    First off, we want to thank you for being a loyal supporter of Epocrates. We would also like to apologize if you felt your email to us went unnoticed. We sent your feedback to our product development team -- they appreciate all insights from our customers and in turn investigate each of them before responding back.

    Loyal customers, such as yourself, deserve the best attention and support and we're sorry your recent experience left you thinking anything otherwise. Please know that we value your input and your continued support.

    Best wishes,
    The Epocrates Team

  2. Dear Epocrates,
    Thank you for responding. I appreciate the sentiments but I still feel that it is an unfair deal, typical of what many businesses are doing. At some point we need to be treated like valued customers rather than just called valued customers. I will be sure to post if I hear back from the product development team.

  3. Yup, I had the same reaction about ePocrates, but I have been using their free product, so didn't have much to gripe about or expect. As it turns out, I"ve successfully been continuing with my weekly updates of my Palm, on my Mac running OS X 10.5.
    I hear that with 10.6 (Snow Leopard), Palm owners are left out in the cold entirely unless they buy The Missing Sync. But that's Palm and Apple's fault, not ePocrates'. On the other hand, what a good motivation to treat myself to a Touch.

  4. I agree it's a nice justification for a new toy, but my point is that if they truly valued their loyal customers they would find a way to maintain support for them. Offer Missing Sync at a bargain price. The bogus offer was insulting to me and probably others, as was the impersonal service under the pretense of taking care of loyal customers. That just doesn't fly with me.