Tour’s Books Blog

December 23, 2012

Christmas 2012

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Since the world did not end on 12-21-12, we’ll be seeing in Christmas next Tuesday.  I might have a slight chance of a white Christmas, but it can be a mild one and I’ll be content.  Yes, I have books for my family, I always do.  And the complete set of Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies.  Some things are predictable.  (Like the fact I’ll want to see some Charlie Chan movies on Christmas Day.)

Now I’ve been reading a ton of books, so before I leave for colder climes, here are very short reviews:

Trapped by Kevin Hearne picks up 12 years after Tricked ended and Atticus’ student, Granuaile, is about to be bound to the Earth as the first new druid in thousands of years.  But all of the ‘paths’ between the worlds and travel via Earth paths are suddenly closed.  The reason is soon clear – Loki is loose, and Ragnaock  seems to be starting a bit early – and the damn Olympians are involved.  Of course, the only spot Atticus can use for his binding is Mt Olympus, but the Greek Gods (and their Roman counterparts) want Atticus’ head – preferably served on a tray.

Moving between Tír na nÓ, Mt Olympus and eastern Europe, battling vampires, various gods, and nursing injuries, Atticus tries to finish binding Granuaile, for her own safety – and because deep down, he’s been denying their mutual attraction.  Various characters from earlier books put in cameo appearances and a number of Irish gods.  Lief shows up scheming again, and the Morrigan, but this is mostly the Atticus and Grabuaile show with the wonderful Oberon along offering comments that can crack the reader up.

Not his best, but a very entertaining read and a solid B (3.9*) and recommended read for any fan of the series.   It helps to at least read Tricked prior to Trapped, preferably the whole series, to understand Atticus’ complicated relationships with the gods.  Amazon 4-for-3 for $5.99 with discount and worth it.  A quick read.

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I also read the Ann Charles paranormal mystery series set Deadwood – Nearly Departed in Deadwood, Optical Delusions in Deadwood, and Dead Case in Deadwood.  Humorous, increasingly paranormal, Nearly Departed introduces Violet Parker, the single mother of twins who’s father never had any part of their life.  She lives with her artist aunt in Deadwood, SD in an effort to start a new life as a realtor.  Being new to real estate in a down economy has been slow going, but her boss Jane has given her an ultimatum, sell a house within the month or lose her job.  The condescending jerk male agent, Ray, makes her life a misery in his all out, underhanded effort to get his nephew hired for her job.  Mona is the other agent and hates Ray as much as Violet does.  The only characters that gets short shrift are Jane and Violet’s aunt, but the others come alive – love them, hate them, relax and be entertained by them.  From petty office games to trying to sell the house inherited by a handsome man who is attracted to her, and their new office neighbor, Doc Nyce, who hires her to help him find a house that ‘smells right’, to a feisty rancher who agrees to let Violet sell his place, but she has to have one meal a week with him until it’s sold.  His nephew is the humorless police detective that keeps running into Violet.  Pure entertainment.  B+ (4.1*)  This book came via a book swap site.  If you like the Steph Plum series, give this a try.

Optical Delusions includes a freaky ghost/demon.  The Sturgis motorcycle rally, the largest in the US, brings lots of business into Deadwood, SD, including a couple interested in buying a house.  Well, it so happens that Violet agreed to list a house where a murder happened – a house no other agency would touch.  The house is in the neighboring town of Lead and turns out to be a real charmer.  To bad the Carharts and the so-called ‘fiance’ of the deceased that are selling are anything but.  Oh, and it’s hunted.

Compounding Violet’s problems in life is her first listing, Harvey.  She got his listing with the caveat she takes to one meal a weel.  At breakfast, he tells her way too much about his lively love life – and warns her  if  she takes the listing, her career, a fragile bud, will be flushed down the drain.  Thing is, sleazy Ray Underhill, wants nothing more than Violet out and his nephew in.  Her failure will be his opening.  So Violet once again must get a haunted house sold and solve a murder to save her job.  Her boss Jane, of Calamity Jane’s Realty, is going through another messy divorce, so her help comes from fellow realtor Mona.  And Doc Nyce, who tries, unsuccessfully tries to get her to NOT take the listing – and Violet who wants more of Doc.

The ending is not as surprising in the ‘who done it’ way, but the sudden shift to dark magic and raising demons that was disconcerting.  Overall, the book is well done and the fast pace makes up for the flaws, but that right angle turn was a bit more than the crazy serial killer in book one.  Like every ebook, there are editing/proofreading errors that can be distracting, but that’s not a fault of the story.

As a result, Optical Delusions had a different tone that Nearly Dead in Deadwood, and the ending begins the move to horror side, but still enjoyable mystery/humor/horror read.  I give it a B- (3.8*)  Purchased the ebook for $3.99 from Amazon and at that price, it was worth it.  Print book price is about $11-12, so the ebook is a bargain.  Try getting the print used, though the used prices on Amazon are still high when including shipping.

The third book in this series is Dead Case in Deadwood – which I got for free for my Kindle.  Tough to beat free.  Taking place mostly in a neighboring town, Violet is still sneaking around hooking up with Doc because she hasn’t worked up the nerve to tell her BFF Natalie that the object of her fantasies of ‘happily ever after’ made other plans – her.  Nat is still staying with Violet – sleeping in her bed – and she’s a bed hog, driving Violet to the sofa – or Doc’s bed.

A clairvoyant that’s a dead ringer for Honest Abe walks in the agency and asks for her by name.  He wants to buy a haunted hotel, but before he does, he has to be sure there are ghosts, and that means a seance, one Violet MUST attend.  It ends in the appearance of a demon that scares the spit out of Violet.  Even worse, her client maintains that claims Violet is kind of a ghost magnet, a natural channeler for spirits.  This one gets more into the paranormal side than Nearly Departed, and takes on some of the edge of horror.  Doc and Violet have a sort of relationship, but he’s still busy hiding a lot himself and her BFF wants him for herself.  Problem is, Violet wants him …….. and Doc wants Violet.  In the middle of all this, Violet has the contact to sell the house of the very uptight police detective

The is a whole subplot involving the local funeral home and Ray moving caskets – and Nat and Violet getting caught spying on the two brothers who own and operate the business.  Vampires get mentioned and once again, the demon that appeared in Optical Delusions returns in larger part here.

The problem here is Ms Charles has so many story lines going at once, the plot gets a bit garbled at times.  Still, it had good entertainment value despite shifting even more to the dark side with supposed demon cultists and human sacrifice.  The ending has several layers, and a final shocker with Jane, the agency owner.  NOTE:  There is more sex in this book than usual for the genre, so keep that in mind if there are younger readers.

Dead Case in Deadwood was a good read, but was getting a much darker tone from book 1.  It took one some of the black humor I associate with the Sandman Slim books by Richard Kadrey.  It still earns a B- (3.7), and I’ll be interested to see where Ms Charles takes this series, but stick with the ebooks.  Not worth the price of the print books.  Once again, in print, it runs $11-12.  Too high for this series.

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Another new series is by Lexi George, Demon Hunting in Dixie and Demon Hunting in the Deep South is worth reading for fans of Molly Harper’s books.  This series follows more in in the paranormal romance genre. with a healthy does of humor.  Unfortunately, I’ve run out of time, so I’ll review them when I get back from my family Christmas celebration, along with a bunch of mysteries and some smut.  Nothing like a little quality smut by Eve Langlis!

In the meantime, everyone have a great Christmas holiday!  Travel safely and don’t drink and drive.

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December 12, 2012

Lessons in Annoying Customers Amazon Style – The Follow-Up

Filed under: Editorial,opinion,Uncategorized — toursbooks @ 6:08 pm
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Well miracles do happen.  I actually got a email response from  a living, breathing person at Amazon.  Now, do I really think Jeff Bezos read my email?  No more than I believe that my US Senators read the emails I send them – and given the often bizarre non-responses I get from them, their staff doesn’t read them either.  Actually reaching anyone in a position of true authority in any company is difficult, in government it’s worse.  It doesn’t help that I view politicians (expert professional liars) on both sides (and their staff) as scum-sucking bottom feeders.  I usually hold a very slightly higher opinion of business executives (excluding bankers and financial service firms who rank right up there with minor demons from Hell and the professional liars), but realize that the lives of those in charge are more important than my issues.

One customer more or less really has no impact on a company.  Screwing up on Twitter and getting cyber-verse after your tail is a much taller order.  Still, at least attempting to reach a person in power sometimes pays off.  (Remind me to tell you about the time I asked American Express’s CEO if the company was run by the Marx Brothers or the Three Stooges – but that’s a whole other story that happened long before email – or Twitter.)  Anyway, much to my amazement, here is a pertinent response from Amazon.

Hi xxxxxx,

I’m xxxxxxxx of Amazon.com’s Executive Customer Relations team. Jeff Bezos received your e-mail and asked me to respond on his behalf.

First, I want to thank you for bringing this experience to our attention – as you know, we strive to be Earth’s Most Customer Centric Company and it’s truly disappointing to hear that wasn’t what you encountered when you contacted us.  I want to assure you I’ve personally reached out to the appropriate managers to ensure additional training is provided so this doesn’t happen for other customers in the future. 

Regarding your original question about the missing bar on detail pages of items you’ve already purchased, our technical team’s been notified of this issue and is working to resolve this as quickly as possible.  This is a feature that’s valuable to many of our customers for much the same reason you use it and there are no plans to disable it at this time.

xxxxxxxx I’m only sorry it took so much of your time to get the correct answer to your question.  Please know we appreciate your time in writing to us, and I hope you have great rest of your week and a happy holiday season.  Please feel free to write back to me directly by replying to this e-mail if you have any further questions.

Regards,

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Executive Customer Relations
Amazon.com

So there you go.  The answer I SHOULD have gotten when I first contacted Amazon Customer Service.  Was that so hard?  Did I really need to spend so many frustrating hours trying to get and answer – then killing orders to get their attention?  No.  No way should any customer service issue become such a problem.

If I had taken this to the Twitter-verse, Amazon might have paid attention faster.  Maybe that’s all companies understand these days, getting massive tweets about something.  And isn’t that a shame.  Maybe it’s as much to do with how we communicate and how companies respond to the pressure of social media as it is about doing the right thing.  Certainly social media is an immediate and powerful weapon, but one that is also often abused.  Still, it seems the big club really is far more effective than a single voice.  I will have to think about using it the future, however much I distrust it and the emotional tidal waves it causes.  Social media is an amazing tool for good and ill, but this blog is about as social as my media gets.

At least this story has an ending, but Amazon will not be seeing print book orders from until that status bar is back or they have something I’m dying to read.  I have so few Kindle books, I can easily check that inventory, but that’s pretty limited range of books since I still prefer print.

So there is the lesson for today.  You will eventually get an answer, of sorts, but at least a pertinent one, if you try hard enough.  Or you can stir up social media and see if that wakes them up.  Social media would likely be faster and far more effective.  LOL  But one fact remains, Amazon blew through a lot of customer goodwill and loyalty by how they handled this.  It’s not something I’ll forget quickly.

December 8, 2012

Lessons in Annoying Customers Amazon Style

Filed under: Editorial,opinion — toursbooks @ 6:29 pm
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OK, how many times have I mentioned Amazon here and their 4-for-3 deals that I use for most of the mass market books I buy?  Many, right?  I’ve often mentioned their quick delivery and ease of use.  But lately things are changing.  And yesterday, they made a huge error with me.

First of all, unless you have a specific order issue, customer service at Amazon is clueless.  Seriously, they fumble around giving these non-answers.  A couple of months ago Amazon began using FedEx Smartpost for many of their deliveries, in particular for pre-orders on new releases.  Given I’m an avid reader, that means once or twice a month I have to go to my mailbox and cart back as many as 10 corrugate cartons of books.  My brilliant Post Office even left them at my garage door where I would have run over them with my car when I backed out because unless I went around the back of the car, I would never have seen them.  Now carrying them near the house was nice, letting them SIT IN THE RAIN RATHER THAN PUT THEM UNDER THE OVERHANG AT MY DOOR, not so much.  Plus, they never even rang the bell to let me know I had packages.  Just two weeks before, UPS made a big delivery in the rain and put all the boxes in a big plastic bag and set it right by my door.

So, I contact Amazon and explain that FedEx Smartpost, while less expensive (why else would they do it?) is not their best idea and explain people who must walk to their mailbox, especially in areas with a lot of bad weather, will have problems.  They said they’d replace any wet books.  Excuse me, but if I slip on the ice getting the crap in and break my hip, will they replace that as well?  Did you miss my saying it wasn’t a good idea in areas with a lot of bad weather?  I even explained I often used a cane due to advanced arthritis in one leg causing stability problems.  Plus last year I broke a wrist.  How many of their customers have various health issues that make carrying large numbers of packages around an issue?  Probably a fair percent.  People who read print books tend to be older.  E-books appeal more to younger people.

OK this was an argument I knew I couldn’t win going in.  They basically don’t care if they inconvenience a % of their customers because they will still keep their profits up.  So, screw those customers who have issues.  A business decision pure and simple. I can understand that even if I don’t like it, though it made me start thinking twice about using them, especially in the winter when walking can be really tricky around here.  But what the heck, I’d deal or stop ordering.

Then came the big surprise.  As you know, I belong to PBS, Paperback Swap.  Now when you look a book up on PBS there is a link in Amazon blue and orange that says ‘Buy from Amazon’ and PBS gets a % of that sale each time a member uses that link.  It’s a great way to pre-order books in a series or by a favorite author.  Now Amazon had (note the use of past tense) a great feature that got me ordering more books, if I clicked through, next to my Prime membership logo at the top, an orange bar would appear and say “Oder Status: You ordered this book on (insert date).  To view the status of this order click here”.  That did two things, I could easily determine if that item was already ordered and two, I could view the order.  Now it would NOT say ‘you ordered this in hardcover’, but I could easily check on that just by clicking on that version of the book.  Even if I ordered a used copy, the feature would tell me that the book had been ordered.

When you pre-order book as much as 9 months out, it’s easy to forget if a specific book has already been ordered.  While it didn’t eliminate accidental duplicates, it greatly reduced them, and in doing so had me more willing to pre-order lots of books.  Well, when that most useful feature disappeared, I was both upset and concerned.  And an epic of Amazon customer service stupidity ensued.

It ended last might – well early this AM with a vain attempt to reach Jeff Bezos to express my frustration and absolute annoyance.  Below is the email I sent (I cleaned up one paragraph because it was 3AM and I got sloppy)

Mr Bezos (or whoever is actually reading this, if it’s even human),

I’ve just had an amazingly frustrating day dealing dealing with your so-called customer service.  After the attitude I got about my comments on your corporate switch to FedExSmartpost, I didn’t have high hopes, but you managed to fall below even my very modest expectations.

As a member of PBS (Paperback Swap), I was looking at books and using the link in PBS to “Buy from Amazon”.  I do this often for yet to be released or recently released books to create my wishlist or create an order.  Imagine my surprise when I linked to Amazon for a title I was fairly sure I had purchased when I didn’t see the bright orange Status line next to Prime  Member designation, didn’t appear.  So just to make sure the site had an issue, I looked up a book I had just received, Trapped by Kevin Hearne.  Lo and behold, no status line that said ‘You ordered this book on (date).  To view this order click here’.  hummmmm  So I checked two more recently received items and …………. no flag that they had been ordered.

Now when you order as many books as I do – hundreds a year – and most of those are on pre-order, I need an easy way to know if a title is already on order.  That is one of the main reasons Amazon is my preferred online book store.  It also is a very handy way to make sure an item I wish to re-order is the one I previously ordered – especially shipping supplies and other such items.   

So, being a reasonable person, I contacted Live Chat (someone calling themselves ‘Brian’ but I seriously doubt that was his name.) didn’t have any idea what I was asking about and told me there was no such feature.  He then went through a description on how I could search my order history.  Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight, I’m going to search my order history for every book I order, I mean, seriously, I have absolutely NOTHING better to do with my time.  I’m sure it’s the same for you.

Less than satisfied with that response, I ask for a customer service call and got someone named ‘Shirley’ – and if she was Shirley, my name is Natasha Kinsky.  Anyway, once I managed to translate her questions, I once again engaged in an exercise in futility in explaining the problem in hopes of getting an intelligent response.  I might not like it, but SOMEONE had to know what happened to that very useful feature.  Once again, my hopes were dashed and I got the description on how to search my order history. 

OK, I get it.  They have only certain scripted responses and not one single clue about what’s REALLY going on.  But I am nothing if not determined, so I send an email.  I mean surely there is intelligent life SOMEWHERE in Amazon.  Alas, my hopes were again dashed.   

My question was very specific.  Narrow, pointed and without any ambiguity.  I’ve even attached the various emails.  The responses get increasingly ‘canned’.  Not one single person said, “We have removed the order status bar and plan to 1 – reinstate by (insert date) or 2 – have no plans to continue that feature.”  Simple straightforward answer.  Did I get that?  No.  The answers were vague, non-specific, never mentioned the ONLY feature I was interested in, just gave me the usual ‘valued customer’ drivel – which is truly meaningless when you DO NOT ANSWER MY QUESTION! 

Now I have a really, REALLY low threshold for companies that do that to good customers.  I have a simple a direct response.  It is attached as a document titled ‘Cancelled Amazon Orders’.   

Amazon is convenient, it provides good delivery service, but lousy customer service, and when you ignore good customers, they find alternatives.  There are other ways to buy books, especially since that edge in sales tax is disappearing.  Yeah, the 4-for-3 is nice, but I end up buying books I have little interest in.  So I can do with less.  A LOT less.  I have hundreds of books I have yet to read and good town library.  Hey, life will go on – with a lot less Amazon in it. 

I hope, if nothing else comes of this, Amazon does two things, educates their customer service reps to the point where they can give intelligent answers without a script, and 2, stop trying to fool customers into thinking they’re speaking with ‘Shirley’ when it’s obviously someone for whom English is a second language and most assuredly NOT named Shirley – she couldn’t even say it without hesitation.  Insulting your customer’s intelligence is not a smart move. 

I will make a point of expressing my dissatisfaction in PBS and include this episode in my book blog.  It should at least entertain some people.

 

Sincerely annoyed,

How many orders did I cancel? 14.  How many books? 39, a combination of mass market, trade and hardcover that ranged in price from $7.99 to almost $20.  Think about this a moment.  That’s somewhere in the area of $400 in lost orders and probably 2 to 3 times that in future orders.

The two biggest expenses I have are property taxes and health insurance/medical dental costs.  Next is food.  Then books.  Now I do order more than books from Amazon, including very expensive folding chairs, kitchen appliances, and packing materials.  That little ‘you purchased this on ….’ also allowed me to be sure I was reordering what I had bought previously and wanted again.

Do I think my little protest will have any impact on the so-called ‘most customer-centric’ company on Earth?  HA, not a chance.  I am not delusional.  But I did learn something.  Better than half those books I cancelled will never be missed.  Any saving I had thanks to the 4-for-3 promotion was lost in my buying books I didn’t want all that much.  Something to flesh out the order.

Amazon failed miserably in customer service.  They are ill equipped to deal with anything that doesn’t have a stock phrase they can use.  AT NO TIME did any of the people I contacted discuss the specific feature I was questioning.  They even asked for an ORDER NUMBER.  HUH?  This is not about an order, it’s about a site feature.  It was repeatedly running head first into brick wall.  In the end, all I could shake my head in mingled amazement and disgust.  All Amazon had was a stock phrase book of meaningless general platitudes  they did NOT have any answers.  And because they didn’t LISTEN, they lost.  No one, not even one person said, “I don’t know the answer to that, but let me look into it and I will get back to you.”  That was the correct response when presented with a problem you don’t have the answer to.  Anyone who has dealt with technical people in any business knows this.  I had to say it myself more than once.  But at least the customer felt like they weren’t being brushed off, and I DID get answers if at all possible.  I didn’t ignore them, which, bullsh!t aside, Amazon did to me.

So that’s our lesson for today.  Winning customer loyalty takes time.  Losing it can happen in hours.  Customers do get even.  They leave.  They find alternatives.  I was once a loyal Ebay customer, now I’m not.  Hey, Amazon might be the biggest game in booktown, but they do have competitors, and maybe local bookstores will benefit from their failure.  So Amazon has proven to be just like every other big corporation, tone deaf to customers.  Alas, it’s the story of all big business.  Victims of their own success.

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