Friday, October 27, 2006


Your Uncle Rod Gets a Ticket

It seems like a right good idea. Rather than requiring customers with problems to call a support phone number and speak to a live representative (after paging through countless audio menus), support is provided to them via a web-based email “ticket” system. If the customer has a problem, she/he fills in a form, a "ticket;" clicks a button; and, ideally, soon receives a response that fixes things.

A smart system can even determine if the problem is something for which there’s an easy fix the customer can undertake, and immediately respond with a set of pre-prepared instructions. No waiting on hold. No talking to non-English-speaking customer reps in distant call centers. As you might guess, this system can also potentially save companies money, so it’s no wonder it’s become all the rage for people selling everything from cookware to…well…telescopes.

I recently had the opportunity to test Meade’s web-based ticket system. It wasn’t a big deal, but I needed a small item, an RA lock lever for our ETX125PE. The lever on the scope had, it seemed, a stripped setscrew, which I noticed when the lever dropped off in the carrying case after a summer road trip to the Redneck Riviera, and I found could not fully retighten said setscrew when I put the lever back on the scope.

Filled-out my ticket, explained my problem, made sure my address and phone number were included, and waited to see what would happen. It took Meade about two weeks to respond, but respond they did with apologies for the delay and a promptly shipped part. I wasn’t exactly bowled-over by the response I got, but the advantages, the potential advantages, of this system were obvious. I wondered if Celestron would do the same thing (or whether they already had—I hadn’t been to their web site in a while)

On my next visit to, I noted that The Big C had indeed implemented the same sort of system (like Meade, they still retain telephone-based support). As someone who’s been involved in more than one “Blue versus Orange” Internet flame war (not always on the same side), I was mighty curious as to how the Celestron Bunch would stack up against the Meadesters. However, I didn’t need anything from 'em at the moment, and didn’t believe it would be ethical or fair to real customers waiting in line for me to fake it.

Then, couple of weeks back, I decided to take my ASGT/CG5 equipped C8 out to the club dark site over in Tanner-Williams, Alabama. Grabbed up the tripod and what should your Old Uncle see but a missing tripod leg tip. Was I surprised? Nope. For some reason, the tips on Celestron tripods (including my Ultima 8's fancy one) have always had a tendency to come unglued and fall off. While the ASGT tripod is made by Celestron's parent corporation, Synta, it obviously suffers from the same malady. In fact, I’ve had this happen on all my newer (non-“triangle” type) Celestron tripods, and have speculated that the “glue” they use on their tripods must be made from ground-up weasels.

I woulda just glued the leg tip back on IF I COULDA FOUND THE SUCKA. I scoured Chaos Manor South and the area I’d set up at at the dark site the last time. No tripod tip. I suspect it was left in Miss Dorothy’s Camry, which I’d used to transport the scope on the last trip to the backwoods, and which we recently traded in on a new Toyota for her.

Geez Louise, what a pain! Bad old Celestron? Nah, not completely, anyway. I was not blameless in this, as I’d figgered the tripod ends would fall off sooner or later. Our uber-humid environment is tough on adhesives. I had intended to check/reglue ‘em. “When I got around to it.”

Well, no need to cry over spilt milk. I located a rubber crutch tip from one of my Celestron field tripods (I permanently remove these rubber tips for steadiness’ sake), forced it over the open end of the ASGT’s nice tripod leg, and kept on truckin’. Then I realized there was an upside: this provided me with a perfect chance and excuse to check out Celestron's web-based support.

I didn't have much trouble generating a ticket on the Celestron site. Only hang-up was that when I clicked the button to send it off, the site responded with the information that it was not sending the ticket, since there was a set of instructions to fix the problem in the site's "knowledge base" (!).  I knew this just could not be the case--it would have to be a purty darned smart system to figger out where your Uncle lost his tripod tip. I clicked the "send anyway" button on the page and off she went. In retrospect, this probably had something to do with the subject line of my message. Instead of just writing "Lost CG5 Tripod Tip," I had to write, "Uncle Rod Needs a New Tip for His Consarned CG5." Keep it simple, muchachos.

So...I sat and waited. The "three days" mentioned on the site came and went. To whom--Meade or Celestron--would victory go?


But only by a nose. Three days?! It took them 12 days to respond vice the 14 it took Meade. What do I say about this sitchy-ation? Two weeks seems like an awful long time to wait to get a response. I’m not sure why these companies can’t deal with emails at the same rate they deal with incoming phone calls. If you’ll recall, I wrote a blog entry not long back about the fact that many astronomy businesses seem positively allergic to email. Apparently this is the case with any kind of email you send to (almost) anybody in the astro-biz. I still can't figure out why.

Still, I suppose “about two weeks” for problem-resolution ain't too bad, and using these ticket systems does eliminate the above-mentioned hassles inherent in calling Meade and Celestron on the land-line. Yeah, two weeks is two weeks, but if you’re as busy as I am, email is an attractive alternative (I can fire off a quick one while I’m splainin’ ol’ Johannes Kepler’s laws to my students).

Sometimes, though, I'll admit two weeks is way too long to wait for help (say you’ve got a big star party right around the corner). If that’s the case, at this point Alexander Graham Bell’s baby is still your best bet.

The denouement? While they didn't have any spare tripod tips, the good folk at Celestron did have a spare tripod leg, which they sent me gratis. Thanks and a tip o' the cowboy had to the good boys and girls in Torrance. 

I recently had my hand controller go bad (Again!) I ended up contacting Meade through their ticket system and was pleasantly suprised when they contacted me in less than an hour.

Terry Haimann

I hope that becomes the norm.
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