Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Beware the Big Bad BlueWolf: How to lose customers in 4 easy steps

This is a true story. The names of the company, BlueWolf, has been changed to RedChihuahua in order to, hmmm, who cares.

Step 1: Misrepresent and Overpromise

BlueWolf RedChihuahua, a company claiming to specialize in database administration and consultation, contacted us at Lifesta to see if we needed their services. The BlueWolf RedChihuahua rep assured me they're expert at Amazon RDS databases, the type we were using.

We decided it wouldn't hurt to have someone review our databases and suggest ways of improving them. We signed a contract for 4 hours worth of work to review database performance and suggest improvements.

Step 2: Ask the customer how to do your job

Over the next couple of months BlueWolf RedChihuahua tried to access the database and configure it in order to do the review. Mostly it involved sending us incorrect instructions, asking for types of access that the RDS instances just don't provide, or telling us why it can't be done with the database we're using and would we consider upgrading? They can help…woof woof woof

Quick google searches showed that a) yes it can be done and b) you don't need to upgrade the database and c) BlueWolf RedChihuahua didn't have a clue. Ok - the last one didn't come up in the search. Maybe now it will.

(attention google search robot: BlueWolf doesn't have a clue, databases, bad service, review, unhappy customer)

In an ironic twist I had to keep sending them instructions on how to do their job and tell them where they're wrong.

Step 3: Bill the customer for your ineptitude

One day, an invoice arrived from BlueWolf RedChihuahua.

At this point BlueWolf RedChihuahua is still trying to enable logging in our database in order to figure out performance. So far, they weren't able to find the right "expert" in the company that knew how to do this. They also obviously didn't try google.

The bill was for "research and communication"*. They "investigated" and "communicated" how to do their work. Imagine our surprise. They haven't yet started the work we've contracted them for!

We challenged the bill, talking to the sales rep and emailing BlueWolf RedChihuahua management, explaining all this. There was only a short reply from Michael Kirven, one of BlueWolf RedChihuahua's co-founders. It read:

From: Michael Kirven michaelk@redchihuahua.com

To: me, Erika, Richard, Laurie, Iwona

Please file in small claims.



Naively, we figured at this point we're all going to slink into our respective corners and lick our wounds chihuahua-style, forgetting this unfortunate incident.

Alas, it was not to be!

Step 4: Cementing the relationship, mob-style

They sued us. Really. For $350, the bill we refused to pay. They actually sued us for it.

Let's put this in perspective:

- You hire an expert mechanic to tune-up your car

- The mechanic can't pop the hood, but keeps telling you to rub the antenna, squint at the windshield and in general "tickle under the side-mirrors - cars are ticklish and the hood will pop"

- He suggest that you trade-in the car for a better model. He can help...woof woof woof

- He then bills you for "research on how to pop car hoods"

- Then sues you when you refuse to pay

They say any publicity is good publicity, right BlueWolf RedChihuahua?

Beware the big bad BlueWolf RedChihuahua!



* Image taken from http://kallangroar.com/prime-league-youth-football/3174-sea-games-2009-semifinal-singapore-vs-vietnam-31.html

* The invoice was for: "research and communications re: slow query logging Investigated and communicated ways to enable slow query logging in RDS. Provided steps, resources and client communication."

* Yael, my business partner, send this email to Michael Kirven. We received no reply:

Subject: Before going to court

Dear Mr. Kirven,

I'm the CEO of Lifesta. We've engaged your company to perform a review of Lifesta's database in May 2011.

The project deliverables as detailed in the SOW are as follows:

- Examine 10 top slow queries and make recommendations on increasing performance (2 hours)

- Examine and make recommendations around indexes depending on top 15 queries by activity observed (2 hours)

While Lifesta's CTO, Eran Davidov, has been trying to help your team get access to our database, he has been surprised to discover that the team doesn't have the first idea about working with an Amazon RDS database. He has spent multiple hours exchanging emails and phone calls with your team effectively teaching them to access that type of database. Even more surprising was the bill we received at the end of June for 2 hours of work, which to our knowledge did no go towards any of the agreed upon deliverables.

As the 2 hours of work produced neither deliverable, partially or in full, and in fact cost us expensive work time, we asked for a clarification regarding the status of the work and which deliverable these hours were billed towards. We have heard absolutely nothing back. Multiple emails and voicemails left to your team members have produced no response except your reply to one of Eran's emails in which you asked your team to file a claim in small claims court, and subsequently the subpoena to appear in court.

I have spent many years in client services at McKinsey & Company and Sun Microsystems, and never have I seen a client service company choose to sue their clients before speaking to them. We are more than happy to discuss the situation and reach an agreement that is acceptable to both sides outside of court. As the founder of a client service organization I would assume that would be more agreeable to you as well than seeing your customers in court.