Saturday, July 22, 2006


Email and the Astro Biz

Welcome to your old Uncle's new blog, Uncle Rod's Astroblog. What say we get started?

I recently had a somewhat troubling—but illuminating—experience with one of the best known vendors in the U.S. astronomy business, muchachos. I'm not gonna name names because, for one thing, the folks in question quickly put things right, and, for another, they aren't the only ones in the business screwing up in this area.

Screwing up? In what area? Failing to respond to customer emails. Like many of you, I presume, I've gotten used to doing business via email rather than via telephone. For me, it's much easier to fire off an email than it is to find a spot at work with good cellphone coverage, look up a number, wait while I'm (inevitably) put on hold, etc., etc. Most of the time, email works just fine. But not all the time, not hardly. Unfortunately, many of the folks doing astronomy business haven't gotten the word that there are people like me who depend on email.

The incident that prompted me to think about this astronomy email "problem" was a simple one: I received an incorrect shipment from a well-respected west-coast seller. I ordered a case for my ETX 125, Charity Hope Valentine and they sent me a case for the ETX 105. I went to their website (from which I'd ordered in the first place), and clicked on their "email contact" button. A couple of days went by. Nothing. I launched a couple of more emails. Nothing. I finally broadcast an appeal via my mailing lists and (coincidentally, perhaps) finally received a reply. My problem was taken care of in short order, but why had it taken three days for that to happen?

As above, this wasn't the first time this has happened to me, either. The reason for this lack of attention to email enquiries, I assume, is because compared to answering the phone, answering email gets shoved down the list of priorities when things are busy.  Because, even a decade down the line of email and Internet for most of us, it's still foreign territory for many businesses. That is not the case with all vendors. There are several, including a well-known Washington state outfit (I won't name 'em but they are spelled A-N-A-C-O-R-T-E-S), who'll jump on your emails like a duck on a Junebug. But that's still not common practice with astro-sellers.

Bottom line? Vendors, if you are going to post an email address as a contact for you, it's incumbent on you to check your email AT LEAST once a day, and answer all the enquiries. If you can't do that, for whatever reason, don't list an email address as a contact for your business. It is not up to your customers to decide which contact method, email or telephone, is the "right way" to get ahold of you.

These are not glorious times for astro merchants...the last thing any of you need is to lose customers, right? Nuff said.

Nota Bene:  If you're here, you know Unk's old blog (at AOL) is long gone. In the process of imploding, American Online finally pulled the plug on its "Blogspot at AOL."   At first, I wasn't sure I would continue with a new service (Google), but then it came to me as in a dream:  "This is your chance to make the blog something more. More than just a paragraph or two on current astronomy events and news. Something more." 

As this new one, which I've christened "Uncle Rod's Astroblog," gets under way, expect to see me stretch out a bit and talk at length about the things that matter to me in amateur and professional astronomy. Just give me a few months to really find my feet.

As for America Online? I can't say I miss any of it. Oh, the kids loved it when they were young, but it became more and more annoying. When they finally decided to put ads in their email system, I decided I had had enough. I did like their astronomy interest groups at first, but there were soon better options, like sci.astro.amateur and email groups like my own sct-user. Anyhow, buckle up, I believe this hear Astroblog is gonna be a wild ride muchachos. In a rather sedate amateur astronomy way, anyhow.

Be that as it may, they have kept their email service alive and you can still contact me at if you've a mind.

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