Screenshot_20160319-023643Here’s a postscript to that story I posted the other day about Barnes & Noble stealing my very first e-book: they ended up giving it back to me after all.

One of the criticisms I’d taken in the comments to my prior post, here and elsewhere, was that I didn’t bother phoning Barnes & Noble’s tech support line, when they might possibly have been able to clear the matter up. There’s a simple reason for that—I really really hate, with a burning passion, talking to tech support on the phone. This is why I always use email or chat support when it’s available.

I’d already given B&N’s chat tech support a chance, and he hadn’t been willing or able to do a damned thing—which he should have been able to do just as readily as someone could have over the phone. Every time I’ve ever used Amazon’s chat support, they fixed my issue on the first try, including the time my Kindle simply wouldn’t update at all.

I didn’t want to call Barnes & Noble because I didn’t relish the idea of spending minutes waiting on hold, then trying to make my situation understood to some low-paid phone bank drone who might not even speak English as his first language, probably wouldn’t believe me that I was trying to get back a book I’d bought in 1998, and I doubted would even have the power to resolve my issue if he did. I’ve worked phone tech support myself, for a contractor to Best Buy, and I basically had no power to resolve much of anything beyond telling people how to make sure their TV wasn’t working. I didn’t feel like talking to another me and ending up with both of us more frustrated if he couldn’t fix my issue.

Of course, those are just my preconceptions. B&N phone support could have been perfectly fine. But given that, as I’d said, I’d backed up the book externally when I’d originally bought it, I didn’t feel like putting myself through that level of aggravation for such a small reward. I’d given Barnes & Noble support the one shot it deserved, the company had blown it, and I was done with it. But it was still a good chance to make a point about the obnoxiousness of DRM and how badly-run the Nook e-books division was.

But then, yesterday afternoon, my phone rang, and it turned out to be a Barnes & Noble support representative named Stephanie. She apologized for the poor experience I’d had with chat support, said she’d swapped the original edition of A Fire Upon the Deep back in, and asked me to check my Nook shelf to make sure. I did, and there it was.

I can’t say I was entirely surprised—I had actually been curious whether Barnes & Noble would hear about my poor experience with their chat support and feel the need to get in touch. If they didn’t, then there was no hope for them. But as it turns out, they did, and cleared it right up—without me having to wait on hold, or talk to some first-tier phone bank drone who couldn’t do anything.

So, whatever else I can say about Barnes & Noble—that its stores have lost their direction, it won’t even price-match itself, its e-book files and application are obnoxiously locked down even beyond what Amazon does with its DRMed titles, and it’s not doing a very good job of competing with Amazon on either the paper or electronic fronts—at least its customer service department is willing to go the extra mile. Good for them.

Now if only the rest of the company could take a cue from that department’s attitude and fix some of its other problems.


  1. Reminds me of the time I complained in a public venue about a poor interaction with the WordPress Theme Review Team, and a senior member thereof contacted me to resolve the issue. Very nice of them, but… They also made sure to berate me for not escalating it through the regular channels first. Um, what was I supposed to believe when the ticket in question was promptly closed after a negative answer?

    First impressions matter. Underpaid, poorly trained and unhappy level 1 support reps are a net liability to any business that has a public to deal with.

  2. So you have this problem with a book you bought at Barnes & Noble and so you’re chatting via text to tech support and they suggest if you change your communication medium with tech support to voice rather than text then that will fix your problem? I don’t see how switching from text to voice communication with B&N tech support would resolve your issue, or why they would suggest it would? How odd.

  3. Somehow I doubt that your chat exchange was a major factor in their decision to contact you. I’m glad they did, but I share your amazement at the helpfulness of the customer service rep.

    I, too, would rather (insert favorite hated activity) than call the tech support at B&N. And I have left a few Highly Dissatisfied comments in the several chat sessions I had (before I became convinced I was not dealing with a human being), and nobody called to help me get my Sherlock Holmes collection….

    That being said, I’m surprised that they care enough to worry about one more person complaining about their service. There are entire websites dedicated to venting about B&N’s bafflingly terrible customer service; maybe one of your readers works for B&N and sent someone Important an email. So hurray for the rep who called you and acted like someone we would actually WANT to call for help!

  4. Clearly, I need to start a blog that gets read by enough people that it gets read by a B&N customer service person willing to get stuff fixed. I sent emails, chatted online and called B&N multiple times about the problems with the complete Lord of the Rings replaced by The Two Towers, the swap of the novel of The Kite Flyer with the graphic novel of the same name, the permanent pre-release status of Hammered, and any other Fictionwise->B&N errors that I had discovered, and the only response I ever got was either “it’s been noted and we’ll fix it eventually,” or “we’ll look into it (without promising anything)”.

  5. I had a similar experience with Microsoft with my Office 365 subscription – first it kept asking for the license to update excel and then Windows told me to contact tech support because there was a problem with my Windows 8.1 license.

    After 4 HOURS on the phone with tech support from Microsoft, I was able to easily fix the problem … now all my machines run on Ubuntu.

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