I have had two very differing experiences with Web businesses lately. One has left me seething with fury for almost five months. The other filled me with dread and Martin with foreboding, but came out beautifully.
As I’ve gained skill as a binder, I’ve decided to sell some of my work as well as giving it away (advt). Despite its negative connotations in some circles, I’m pretty much inseperable from the evilrooster identity as a bookbinder. So the obvious thing to do was to obtain the evilrooster.com domain name. I used to own it, several years ago, but never did much with it.
Now, I am – apart from a role player named Joe somewhere in the States who turns up on two or three sites – the only evilrooster on the Web. So I was not facing much competition for the name. But old domain names, no longer owned, don’t always vanish into the incohate pool of available URLs. If they are still linked somewhere on the web, then they are often bought, en bloc, by search engines and link farms, and redirected to the main search engine page. (It boosts a site’s Google rating to have multiple links into it.)
Evilrooster.com was such a site. It was owned by a search engine named Netster, on the strength of a link from my mother’s old site. That was discouraging. But the Netster site said that the company’s policy is “to transfer a domain name to any person or company that, in our reasonable opinion, has a legitimate claim to that domain name…We do not sell domain names”.
These are very important statements for Netster‘s sake, because the use of domains not immediately related to one’s business is a feature of cybersquatting. (The most famous example being whitehouse.com, which is a porn site – try whitehouse.gov for the seat of American government.) And the current body of decisions on cybersquatting makes it clear that buying a URL one is not entitled to with the intention of selling it to the proper owner at an inflated price is not on either.
(A related web offence, passing off is irrelevant to this discussion – they don’t bind books – but often gets mentioned in the same context as cybersquatting.)
But a policy is not the same as an action, and the new owners could very easily have put a maze of red tape in their policy on website transfers without breaking the rules. For instance, since I don’t have evilrooster trademarked, they could have denied that I am legally entitled to it. Or they could cut a deal with a registrar that includes a high price for domain name transfers, then recharge me their “costs” for handing over evilrooster.com. Neither would be illegal, and I would have fallen back on an alternative URL rather than get into a scrap about it.
Instead, they engaged in a very civil and helpful correspondence with me. In the absence of a trademark, they asked if I was using the identiy on my work. My rooster finishing tool came in handy then – it’s plainly visible on most of the bindings on my gallery page. So they agreed that I was entitled to the site. If I would get an account with their registrar, thy would initiate a transfer. I signed up with the registrar in question, and reviewed their pricing. Their transfer fee was not extortionate. Then I got an email from Netster, which I will quote verbatim.
We have moved the requested domain(s) to your account. Please take care to manage it from there. While during this process we have incurred transfer, registration, and administrative costs, it is not our desire to seek reimbursement from you. Instead, we would appreciate any positive references you might make about our search engine, www.netster.com. We are sure that would be more valuable to us than any fee.
That email made my day. When I get evilrooster.com redeveloped (watch this space for an announcement when it’s up, but don’t hold your breath. I do have a job and two small children, plus a lot of binding to finish before Christmas), I’ll be adding a link to Netster. Considering that they’re primarily a US-based site, I’m not likely to get a lot of use out of it, but maybe the link will be of use to them. I hope so; I want to encourage good Internet neighbours.
I wish everyone was as good as these guys. I wish that an internet-based book vendor, whom I had paid, was as friendly, communicative and effective as Netster.
There’s a book on headband construction that I wanted. I have a photocopy of it, from when it was out of print and unobtainable. Oak Knoll Press (to whom I will not link lest I boost their page rank), the publishers, printed a new edition, and I wanted to buy it, to support the bookbinding publishing market and the authors who did the work.
So I went to the Oak Knoll site. First problem: it doesn’t work in Firefox (the mouse-over activated pull-down menus have some strange ideas about where the mouse pointer is), so I needed to use Internet Explorer. It’s a minor nuisance.
I ordered the book on June 17 and paid for it by credit card. Oak Knoll emailed me and told me it would be about 1 week for processing the order, then 5 weeks’ surface shipping. So I expected it in late July.
By early August, I was wondering where my book was. I emailed Oak Knoll, and got no reply. I emailed again, and finally got an answer that showed that my email was caught in their spam filter. Without wanting to tell a business how to run itself, I might suggest that a spam filter that traps your customers’ emails is probably not a good thing.
Apparently, Oak Knoll’s postal supplier lost a bunch of June shipments somewhere in Florida. Did they email their European customers to find out whether the shipped books had arrived? Of course not. Did they contact me and tell me when I’d be shipped a replacement? Don’t be silly.
So I waited a bit, then tried again. Again, no one answered my emails. I finally called them and got some attention at the cost of a transatlantic phone call. They said they’d send out another copy on September 17 by expedited delivery, and could I contact them when it arrived? No estimate of delivery time was given, so I waited.
Finally, well into October, I got peeved and sent them another email. I can’t say I was surprised that they didn’t reply. Only when I sent another email, threatening to post an account of the transaction on the book-arts listserv, did a woman named Jeanette write back. She complained that I was “SHOUTING” at her, and that she was tired of it. She also said that the book should have been inserted into the UK postal service 8 – 10 days after shipping; clearly it had gone astray. Again. Not that they were interested in checking when they could wait for me to complain.
By this time, I was heartily regretting ever having tried to buy the book, or support their business in any way. I finally emailed them to say forget it, I’d source it elsewhere (a UK bookbinding supplier whom I trust to deliver what I’ve paid for, Shepherd’s). Then, after no reply, I emailed them the same thing again, and got an answer. Apparently, without telling me or updating my online order sheet (which I checked after logging onto IE, sigh), they’d already sent a third copy out.
They have since refunded my money, which they held for the 4 1/2 months that they fumbled delivery and failed at customer service. Murphy’s law says that the third copy of the book will arrive, at which point I will either contact them and pay again, or refuse delivery and notify them that it is on its way back to them. One thing is certain, though:
I will never buy anything from, or recommend that anyone buy from, Oak Knoll Books.
As publishers of bookbinding books, they will get some of my money from resellers, but I won’t deal with them directly again. To be clear: I accept that they can’t help it if their delivery company lets them down. But it’s when a problem occurs that a company gets the chance to show its competitive advantage. Oak Knoll’s policy of never answering customer emails the first time and without threats, much less actually communicating with them when they know things have gone wrong, does not shine.
One thought on “Web Businesses: A Study in Contrasts”
I’ve had similar experiences with people who sell things on the Internet myself. It drives me nuts.
And the sad thing is that more companies (at least more of the ones I deal with) are moving towards automated phone systems (when they have phone systems at all) and email systems with a concomitant dip in services.
I keep wondering what would happen if a company came along that actually made service a priority. Isn’t there a way for such a company to exist and survive?
I’m guessing there’s not, or we’d see more of them.
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