31 July 2007

We’re sorry but…

Filed under: Rants

As those of you that read this space know, I am a writer by trade.

Right now, my job is to write documentation for a large internet serivice provider to assist customers with the company’s software. I’ve done this sort of thing, in one flavor or another, for nearly two decades.

Perhaps that is why the following is so frustrating to me.

Last week I was switching BlackBerry devices and needed to change my device ID from one to another so my email could find me. This can be done on the handsets themselves, but it is easier to do it from my cell phone company’s website, or so I thought.

It was about 8pm on Thursday night when I went there to find the place in shambles. There were broken images and “we’re currently under maintenance” notices all over the place. This in itself was annoying enough, as it was frankly “prime time” for self-service web requirements, but what really got me about it was the fact that their SSL certificate wasn’t completely encrypting the pages.

For those of you who don’t know, a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate is a protocol that allows two computers to create a secure tunnel across the internet to transmit information that cannot be eavesdropped on. This is done via a certificate which is purchased by a company for their website from a trusted 3rd party who guarantees in various degrees based to the type of certificate that the website is who they say they are, and not a group of cyber-villains in a smoky room outside Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

So, here I am on the cell phone company’s website with a broken SSL connection. Now, for the most part, I like my cell phone company. I’ve been with them, in their various names, for more than 10 years and found them to provide reasonable service and do it well. With this in mind, I decided to send them an email telling them that they had a broken SSL connection (which may or may not have exposed the personal information of customers who did not realize that their connection was not encrypted to the outside world).

Side note: Don’t enter any information on a website that you wouldn’t feel comfortable having written on the bathroom wall at the Maricopa County jail in a sharpie without ensuring that the site you’re using has a valid and working SSL certificate. If you don’t see a padlock next to the web address or in the bottom status area of your screen, you may as well be writing your credit card number on index cards and throwing them out the window of your car.

I went to the website’s email form (which was also broken, SSL-wise), wrote up a detailed note explaining what the problems were and how to fix them, and sent it off. Then, between lingering mold spores and torrential rain storms I forgot all about it until I awoke this morning to my BlackBerry flashing with my morning mail.

Inside, with the three server cluster switches, my “on this day” WikiPedia article (very cool, by the way if you’re interested) and an offer for a cruise through the Russian heartland on a barge was a note from the cell phone company.

In it was a very poorly worded apology, stating that in effect that: “If” the website wasn’t working at the time I reported (which they would neither confirm or deny) and any other problems that “I” may have experienced (i.e. the SSL issue, which I presume they were referring to but didn’t mention by name) I should just clear my cookies and browser cache and everything would be fine. Nothing to be concerned about.

Excuse me?

This was obviously a canned message written by someone whose best career option is to work in email support at 3am. I understand that. However, wouldn’t you think that when said person got an email that was not the usual “cnt snd txt 2 my bff” and contained specific technical information about a frankly rather critical problem, that they would, oh, I don’t know, forward it to someone who actually knew what they were doing? (insert exasperated sigh here)

Are we to the point where all responses are just going to come in the form of canned answers?

“Thank you for contacting Online Support and for your purchase of a Renault Dingo, we’re sorry that your car isn’t working, but if you turn it off and back on again it will be fine.”

“Thank you for contacting Customer Support. We’re sorry that the Whizz-o-matic food processor cut your finger off. Cleaning the blades well with Aquafina bottled water and Whizz-o-matic brand cleaning solution will ensure that your processor brings years of repeated use.”

“We’re sorry, the number you have dialed, 9-1-2, is not in service. If you meant to call 9-1-1, please hang up; dial 0-212-555-1212, inserting your area code and assigned number for directory information in place of 0-212-555-1212. Ask for emergency services.

Note: If you do not know your assigned number for directory information, please visit our award winning customer service web page and look under Customer Services > Telephone Numbers > Local Services > Telephone Numbers > Emergency Services > Local Services > Telephone Numbers > Your Local Emergency Services Telephone Numbers and call the number buried in the contact information at the bottom to find your assigned number for directory information.

State to the automated operator exactly what type of emergency you are experiencing in descending order of classification. For example: Human; violence; break-in; robbery; man in house; with gun (state type and model of gun), etc.. If you continue to have issues, please clear your phone’s cookies and cache and try again. Thank you for your patronage of T-Mobile 9-1-1.”

Lovely, I can’t wait.

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