Saturday, July 22, 2006


Email and the Astro Biz

I recently had a somewhat troubling—but illuminating—experience with one of the best known vendors in the U.S. astronomy business. 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 seller. I went to their website (from which I'd ordered the misbegotten item 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 even the big names in the amateur astronomy world are pretty small potatos, really. I guess answering email gets shoved pretty far down the list of priorities when things are busy. This is not the case with all vendors. There are several, including a well-known Washington state outfit, 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.

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