How not to run customer support

I just got back from vacation last week.  It was a whirlwind tour of Norway, Denmark, Belgium and the UK.  I had a great time, sampling a lot of beer and seeing a lot of cool places.

At the start of the trip, I was connecting from London Heathrow to Oslo.  Given I had around 5 hours to kill in Terminal 5, I decided to pony up for some airport wifi.  They have several providers in T5, and I went with the brand name I knew, which also had a decent price.  Boingo.

Everything was just peachy when I signed up. Then I tried to log in.  Complete brick wall – everything started timing out, and authentication just wouldn’t happen.  No biggie, I signed up for another provider and sent an email to them letting them know their wifi wasn’t working at that location and if I could get a refund.

Hi there,

I just tried to sign up for Boingo and it worked just fine for taking my credit card details.  However, after this I was unable to surf the internet – the client I downloaded could not authenticate me, nor did the online authentication work.  The online authentication seemed to work momentarily and then sites began timing out.  I tried restarting the computer and reconnecting, but even the unauthenticated pages wouldn’t work.  I had plenty of wireless signal.  I have screenshots of the problems if that helps.

I needed to use the net in a hurry and ended up having to buy access through another wifi provider.  Since Boingo could not provide the service I paid for, could I please get a refund?  My username is <xxx>.


After three days, I hadn’t heard anything.  Hmm, not a good sign.  This time I CCed service as well as support.


I haven’t heard anything back yet, and was hoping someone could help me with this?


This is the response I got (literally the whole email):

Thanks for contacting Boingo Wireless.

What is your username?

Irritating and unhelpful, but nevermind – I can understand that CSRs are usually busy and overworked.

Hi there,

As per my original email, it is <xxx>.


A day later I got another response…

Thanks for contacting Boingo Wireless.

It could be any number of things and your account status is active.

So that we can better trouble shoot you please call when you are at the hotspot location.

I didn’t think they could be serious. This is how you’ve trained your CSRs to help customers?  For a company that is based entirely on wireless hotspots?  You ask your travelling customers to go back to the hotspot they had trouble in and to troubleshoot from there, days after their missed opportunity?

Finally, I requested a refund again:


I was at Heathrow Airport for a period of 5 hours, and needed the service then.  I am in the middle of a trip, and I will not be back at the service location.

This is getting very frustrating – I would really like a refund, otherwise I will need to request a chargeback from my credit card company.


This was the response:

We were unable to locate an account for you, with the info provided below. You should not be charged.

At this point (a week after first requesting the refund), it seems like a customer care supervisor saw our back and forth, and thankfully intervened.  I can happily say I then received the refund:

Dear Tim Cederman-Haysom,

Thanks for contacting Boingo Wireless.

This is to confirm your refund of 5.95 to your credit card and we do apologize for this inconvenience.

If we can be of any additional help, please don’t hesitate to contact our Customer Care team.  We’re available 24/7.

Warm regards,
Brenda Cooper
Online Customer Care

It is safe to say that I stuck to Boingo alternatives for the rest of the trip.  The worst part about providing sub-par support like this is you don’t lose a single customer: you lose the word of mouth from them as well.  I’m still not sure why people skimp on providing excellent customer support when companies like Amazon, Fog Creek and Zappos have used customer support to as a way to get talked about, in a good way, and this word of mouth brings an incredible amount of business.

Incidently I had great service from The Cloud, the alternative I used, and T-mobile wasn’t bad either when my wife used it with her roaming account.

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