Initially, I had intended this post to be one of my “rant” posts. In fact, I’d already written it in my head after a frustrating day of wrestling with a combination of badly-behaved piece of network hardware and unhelpful front-line tech support personnel. Regular followers of my blog are familiar with my rant posts. Whenever I have a negative customer experience with a company or product, I’ll vent about it here and then tweet a link to the blog post to the company’s Twitter account and post it on their Facebook wall. And in all fairness, if they address the concern, I always post it here as a follow-up.
But today’s post isn’t a rant… it’s actually a rave, because a the company’s customer service and social media employees were able to get to me before I got to them.
Last Thursday, I decided to install a couple of hardware pieces that had been sitting (still boxed) in my office for the past few months: a BLI-28000 PowerCost Monitor and a BLI-31100 PowerCost Monitor WiFi Gateway, both from Blueline Innovations (they won’t be reviewed in this article, but a full review of these products is in the works). The Blueline PowerCost Monitor allows homeowners to see their electrical usage in real time via an optical sensor that reads direct from a house’s power meter, and then transmits that info to a desktop LCD unit. I was able to hook up the PowerCost Monitor in a matter of minutes. However, when I attempted to add the WiFi Gateway, which allows you to transmit the collected usage over your local WiFi connection and out over the Internet to third-party analysis providers or even your local power company, I had nothing but problems. I spent hours trying to get it working, plugging it in to my PC, updating the firmware, attempting to put it in sync mode, and following the instructions to the letter every time.
My first call to Blueline’s tech support staff made things even worse. To put it kindly, the technician provided no help at all, and seemed lost at multiple points of our conversation. Within a few minutes, it was obvious that I actually knew more about the product than he did. At some point he also realized this, and offered to “escalate” me to “tier 2” tech support… meaning he took my name and number and told me someone would call back. Yeah, sure. I’ve heard the “tier 2 will call you back” line before from plenty of companies. I decided not to hold my breath. I spent a couple more hours after the phone call still wrangling with the WiFi gateway, and was finally able to at least get it connected to my network, but still couldn’t get it to interface with the sensor on my power meter, even when I relocated the WiFi gateway to within inches of the sensor. In frustration, I called tech support again, hoping someone else would answer the phone. Someone else did, and although he was more familiar with their products than the first guy, after 30 mins we ended up at the same place: “I can ask tier 2 tech support call you back.” Sigh.
I was flying to Utah in the following morning for a few days, so I decided that if/when “tier 2 support” ever did get manage to get a hold of me, the troubleshooting would have to wait a few more days until I got back to Seattle. My wife and I were heading out to dinner that night to celebrate Valentine’s Day, so I didn’t take the time to write a full rant that evening (wink wink, nudge nudge). I was, however, able to post one final plea for help on Blueline’s Facebook page before I left my office to get ready for dinner:
While in the shower, I made the decision to write a scathing blog post about my negative experience with Blueline products the following day, and then I put it out of my mind and thought nothing more about it for the rest of the night.
I didn’t have time to write my rant before heading to the airport the next morning, and had planned to write it later that evening. However, when I turned on my phone after landing in Utah, I saw that I’d missed a call from an unknown number and also that I had a new voicemail message. I also had a new email message in my inbox, meaning the caller paid attention to my outgoing message, which warns (in Leonard Nimoy’s voice) that I never listen to voicemails, and so it’s best to email me instead. The email read:
My name is Jeremy and I am contacting you from Blue Line Innovations. The reason I am contacting you is that I have received a case where you Cannot set up the Wi-Fi unit. I looked over your Facebook post and we feel that this issue is caused by you having a defective Wi-Fi unit.
What I would like to do is send you a new Wi-Fi unit pre-programmed to the Cloud partner that you would like to work with (Eragy, Plottwatt, etc…)
Can you please let me know your shipping address and the cloud partner you would like to register with and it will be my pleasure to send you a new Wi-Fi unit.
Customer Care Manager
Blueline Innovations Inc.
Ok – time to take notes, folks. That right there is what’s called a perfectly written customer service email. It gets immediately to the point, shows understanding of the issue without condescension, and politely proposes a solution with which a customer can’t argue. I checked Blueline’s Facebook page, and saw someone had responded there, too:
Social media works, people… and apparently, so do the Blueline Customer Care department and Social Media managers. Top scores all around.
As you can see from the thread, I replied on Facebook and told them I wouldn’t be able to confirm that the replacement unit had fixed the issue until I get home from Utah in a few more days, although I suspect it probably will (fingers crossed). Regardless, after this excellent customer service interaction, I’m confident that if I do still have any issues, Jeremy and his customer care crew will help get to the bottom of it.
And while some part of me wishes that “escalating to tier 2 support” had meant an immediate phone transfer last Wednesday afternoon, I have to admit that I realize it can’t always be that way. Still, I’m very impressed with how Blueline has handled my issue so far, as well as their excellent use of social tools to communicate with their customers and resolve their concerns.
Update: March 7, 2013
It’s been a while since I first created this post on Feb 16, 2013, but the replacement PCM WiFi unit arrived from Blue Line yesterday via FedEx. I downloaded and ran the installation wizard to configure it with my wireless network (I still think it’s lame that it’s a Wireless B device, but I’ll talk about that in my full review). When prompted by the wizard, I unplugged the USB cable from the computer and took the unit out to the garage and plugged it into power, put it in sync mode, then sync’d it with my PowerCost Monitor. This time, the LED status light turned green, which is always a good sign!
I came back inside and pressed the “Next” button on the installation wizard. That’s when I saw the first sign of trouble:
I kept waiting, and waiting, but the wizard never changed, and never un-greyed the “Finish” button. So I checked my DHCP server to find the IP address that was assigned to the unit (that’s not something an everyday consumer should have to do), and then pointed my web browser at that IP address. My hopes were raised again when I saw this:
This status page shows that the PCM WiFi unit is communicating with my sensor and that it’s connected to my WiFi. It’s also showing energy usage of 0.641 KW. Now all I needed to do was hit that Activate button, and everything would be cool.
I’d already set up a PeoplePower account, and clicking that Activate button took me to the PeoplePower login page. I typed in my email address and password, then got this:
After hitting OK on that dialog box, my screen is stuck at:
I tried in both Chrome and Internet Explorer, with the same result.
After reporting the issue via email to Jermy @ BlueLine, I received a prompt email reply that he’d get on the case with PeoplePower. He also suggested I tried to re-configure the PCM WiFi to work with one of their other cloud partners, PlotWatt or MyEragy.
I was out of the office for most of the day, so I planned to try MyEragy when I got back in. By the time I had, however, I had received an email from Jeremy saying that the PeoplePower people had told him it should all be fixed now, so I gave it another go.
Same problem, and same terrible English syntax in the error message. 🙁 It seems PeoplePower need to get some more power to their people.
I had really wanted to use PeoplePower, since they are the only provider that allows me to monitor my energy usage via a mobile app. But instead of waiting around for them to get their issue resolved, I decided to try setting up the device to work with MyEragy. To do this, I needed to go back out to the garage and retrieve the unit, so I could plug it into my PC via USB and run the MyEragy-specific setup wizard. When I did, the wizard informed me that there were 2 updates pending on my unit. Then it said: “Please disconnect your device’s USB cable. Leave the AC adapter attached. DO NOT reconnect until prompted to do so”
There are two problems with that statement. First, it’s missing a period at the end. Second, I didn’t HAVE the AC adapter attached! It was still out in the garage, because every time I’d plugged the into into the computer in the past, it had powered itself via the USB cable! Argh… another trip out to the garage to fetch the power adapter…
I retrieved the power adapter from the garage, brought it back into my office, and plugged it into the PCM WiFi unit. A few moments later, the wizard prompted me to reconnect the USB cable. It then asked me to disconnect the USB a second time to complete the update (and leave the AC adapter attached again), and that the process would take approximately 30 seconds. Eventually, it told me “Your PowerCost Monitor WiFi unit is running the most up-to-date software.”
I then re-entered all the wireless network settings for my house, and moved on to the final step of the wizard, where it asked me to do the sync process with my sensor again.
This time, when I got to the “Checking your device status…” wizard screen, I got “COMPLETE!” as the Wireless Network and Sensor Status (and the embedded web server page confirmed).
Then, after clicking the activation link, that one turned to “COMPLETE!” too.
I was next prompted to create a new MyEragy account and create a password. However, when I went to log in, that password didn’t work…
A few seconds later, however, a confirmation email arrived from MyEragy — with my temporary passcode with which to login. After logging in, I was prompted to create a new password… which I did… and I set it to the initial password I’d used a moment earlier and which was apparently ignored. 🙂
So finally… FINALLY… I’m collecting power data for my residential meter and feeding it to a third-party cloud analytics partner. Again, I’ll do a full review on the process eventually, once I’ve had time to let it collect enough data to be useful. For now, a big thanks to Jeremy and the crew at Blue Line for helping get to this milestone, but also a warning to those who might follow in my footsteps that is is NOT for the faint of heart. Even without the technical problems I experienced, the setup process is still too geeky for mainstream users — a problem all parties involved are going to have to address if they want broad adoption.