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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Home Grown Trash Mob

Based on the recommendation of a family member several close relatives of mine decided to switch from regular cigarettes (they now call them "analogs") to the new E-cigarettes ("digital" I guess).

After some extensive research on the web they decided to purchase a brand called "V-2". The V2 brand had, based on their web site, a higher battery rating than all the rest. (Battery rating makes the E-cigarette work better.)

The concept of an e-cigarette is fairly simple: What you see as the "white part" of a cigarette is a battery in an e-cigarette. The "filter part" is really a clever little computerized device (a "cartridge"or "cart"). Basically there is a little reservoir of fluid, a heater, and some electronics. The fluid contains propylene glycol, nicotine, flavoring and other chemicals that, when heated, create a vaporous steam. The steam is what you inhale. Since it has nicotine in it the combination of steam and nicotine simulates a real cigarette. The electronics detect when you inhale and turns on the heater. Smoking an e-cigarette is called "vaping" because you are inhaling vapor - not smoke.

So after some research they decided that V2 was the way to go - they had a complete web site and a full forum for users. The various e-cigarette forums made doing the research vary straightforward.

So they ordered a couple of "ultimate kits" - these were prepackaged collections of everything you need to get started: batteries, carts (the filter part), chargers and so on.

And the problems began...

First off the kits had backordered elements and the ordering process was not real clear on exactly when the backordered elements would arrive. The missing elements were not critical so you could get started - they were just "nice" things to have - like a USB hookup that you could use instead of a battery while sitting at a computer.

Things went pretty well for the first few weeks and some more kits and other things were ordered. However, as this went on the website and company's offerings started to diminish - no doubt due to demand.

So my relatives "hit the forums" to find out what was going on.

Now personally I think that if you have a company and it has, as part of its website, an open forum, you had better do one of two things: A) provide excellent customer service or B) employ Stalin's publicist to ensure things do not get out of line and you always look good regardless of what the actual truth might be.

Things went well on the customer service front initially - everyone was friendly and nice - but not much seemed to be happening as it related to inquiries about back order delivery status and that sort of thing.

And that's when the disgruntled posting began...

Threads were started about issues and company apologists quickly offered meaningless platitudes.

But that's not the straw that broke the camel's back.

All along one of V2's premier advantages was "battery voltage". Now to make this all work the e-cigarette needs a decent battery and a decent battery is measured in Watts. Watts is a measure of work and in the case of a battery its Amp's times Volts, or W = E x I. The more Amps (I) and Volts (E) the more Watts.  The more Watts the longer you can use the battery before recharging.

V2's web site claimed to have a 4.2 volt battery - a full half a volt or so more than anyone else. This would mean less recharging and grief and a longer time away from the charger.

About a week ago it was discovered in the forums (and confirmed by another relative with a multi-meter) that the V2 battery was not 4.2 volts. Apparently someone measured the voltage and it was low - about 3.7 volts - which was what everyone else sells. A few days later the company posted a "correction" on the website indicating that the batteries were, in fact (and since October), only 3.7 volts.

This lit the V2 forum up like a Griswald Christmas with some big amps and volts coming from my house. It also caused open posting on the V2 forum about where equivalent products could be had from competing companies that offered more concise descriptions of their products.

As the posting and complaining began to increase exponentially the V2 forum staff became alarmed - there were customers who had bought a lot of product actively revolting, describing alternate vendors for competing products, and generally not following the company line that V2 was the best thing since sliced bread.

Then it was discovered that the "30 day satisfaction" period began when a partial order was delivered and not when the complete full order was received - so your satisfaction period could run out before you even had everything you ordered.

Next a series of phone calls to ever-escalating levels of staff began.

Displeasure was suggested and it was pointed out that advertising falsely about battery power levels was a "bad thing" and that various "authorities" might be interested in said supposed false advertising.

Finally the truth came out:

"Send your stuff back and we will refund all your money if you agree not to post any more."

The war was over (at least until the refund does not arrive as promised.)

But my guess is that its in fact really over because immediately after the confirming email arrived the entire set of threads regarding all of this quietly vanished.
 Without the forums formal letters would have to be written and Better Business Bureau's and state Attorney General's called.

If your company runs a forum be prepared for a Trash Mob to show up and tell you what they think about you and your product.

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