Thursday, December 13, 2007

Confounded By Inconvenient Facts Again!

Last February I wrote a blistering critique of the lack of supply of replacement feet for the totally wonderful and incredibly spiffy Black and Decker Workmate.

The item was insightful, funny, well written and wrong in every detail1. Here is how I found out that Black and Decker have indeed made provision for getting high-quality replacement parts for your Black and Decker Workmate. I'm assuming you have one of these super-useful tools. If you don't it can only mean that you are a) New to the handyman scene and haven't had time to buy one, 2) some sort of luddite/purist who doesn't believe in using any tool designed after 1754 on the grounds it isn't proper carpentry if you do or ♣) You were put off by the thought that a mere ten years down the road one of the feet would come off and get lost. It is to this last group that this post is most directly addressed.

Last week I zipped over to Black and Decker's website to browse all things workmate, since I am in the market for the larger, slightly more spiffy2 model and wanted to drool over the explicit description of it's wanton features. I had started to do this at lunch, but my supervisor had come over and told me that my female co-workers were becoming "freaked out" over the "grunting" and "groaning" noises coming from my cubicle, and that I should continue the research at home. This was not really convenient, and I had invested much time in finding the articles, but the threat of legal action brought everything into perspective and I reluctantly agreed.

Part on my chagrin was that the Black and Decker website has enacted a curious policy towards the Workmate family of tools. Despite the fact that the phrases "Black and Decker" and "Workmate" have been associated for about thirty mumble years, so much so that when someone untooly says "Black and Decker", one can almost guarantee the next word will be "Workmate", the Workmate has no presence on the front page. There are a number of tabs to navigate to sub menus dealing with drills, saws, screwdrivers and all manner of other nifty things, but unless you know that the Workmate is listed under "Power Tools" you won't get to see one. Given that I find it incredible that the workmate doesn't have its own tab or icon on the front page, I find it absolutely incomprehensible that it should be classed as a power tool, since other than the model that incorporates a power strip in the frame, none of them can be enhanced by plugging them in, nor do they come with the necessary infrastructure to do so.

"So what?" I hear your Web 2.0-savvy selves saying dismissively. "Just use the bloody search engine and get on with your life for gosh sakes".

Well, yes, I could do that and, after taking me to a Google-like results page I would end up where I wanted, but why should people have to do that when they already know what they want, any hardware department would know what they meant by "workmate" and it has to be one of the most popular gift ideas on the Black and Decker books? Imagine a newlywed who has never been at all tool-interested trying to buy one for his or her spouse as a surprise gift. Not only are they being asked to look for something they have no idea about, but now they must "work" the website of the people that make it to find a picture of it and a list of features of the various models.


The website allowed me to revisit the question of the missing rubber foot, and to do a feasibility study on replacing the saw-dinged jaws while I was at it. I do this sort of thing for a living, and am not intimidated by a search engine, so I began caning the Black and Decker one for info about spares for the Workmate. After a good portion of an hour all I had to show for my trouble was a list of recall notices for battery powered tools. Nothing even vaguely workmate related. Once again I was confronted by the hard evidence that "data is not information".

All was not lost though. I would use the "ask our team a question" feature and get a straight answer from a human being.

I drafted a long letter in which I extolled the virtues of the Workmate and told of the numerous projects in which I had used it and waxed eloquent on how the jobs would have been much more tedious without it, and asked if I could obtain new feet and new jaws for mine, and if so, where.

I received an automated reply reiterating the list of useless "knowledge base" articles I had already consigned to the "as much use as a ham sandwich at a Jewish wedding" category, and an assurance that someone real would be contacting me, which they did a few days later. This person told me that the feet and jaws were indeed available as spare parts, and urged me to go to "Happauge3", where they have a service center at which the items could be purchased.

It follows the standard pattern for manufacturer-approved service centers and is closed on Saturday and Sunday.

In all fairness, Black and Decker provide a very useful online service center that is open 365.25 days a year (well, that's how it looks to the customer anyway). In all unfairness, they can't do anything for you without a part number, and try as I might I couldn't find an exploded diagram of the Workmate with the component part numbers called out anywhere on the site. If my Workmate came with a parts list, I lost it during the second Reagan administration when the tool was new.

So when I got an e-mail asking for feedback on the help I had received with my question (an automated quality control measure many online sites indulge in and one I usually approve of4). The process was quite brief and easy to use, and I used the time to point out that giving me irrelevant FAQ links was no help whatsoever and that the website was not conducive to effectively marketing a tool I have always held to be the most massively useful invention since Trevithick looked at his boiling kettle and thought "I could put wheels on that".

I tried to keep the tone constructive, but I might have allowed a smidgeon of whining and whingeing to seep through. I think I throttled back the chagrin and rage to a minimum, but I'm the first to admit that I don't do people, and I may have allowed my overall state of agitation to colour my responses a little.

Then the website hung when I submitted the response.

In former years, when I expected everyone in the new paradigm to subscribe to my own design and work ethic, this would have spurred a no-hold-barred email to whoever I thought was responsible with whoever I could think of that might know them CC'ed and certain rituals performed in the hope and expectation of the responsible parties being dragged into a formless abyss by creatures too horrible to view without going mad5. I am calmer these days and simply snarled, punched my stuffed face-hugger plushie6 and got on with life.

But the workings of the internet are mysterious, and the feedback was sent to someone who could read after all.

And on Monday I received a very long letter from a nice lady explaining that they were sorry I had had such a rotten experience, that they were committed to providing the best support for their range of products of which they were proud, and that in the hope I would not think badly of them they were sending me the feet and the jaws gratis. I could also take the previous advice in future and use the Hauppauge service center.

I was astounded. I re-read the whole exchange, preserved as a top-quoted email snake, and conceded that I hadn't communicated as well as I might and that my respondent's tone (in which I had detected a soupçon of righteous indignation, was perhaps understandable.

I lost no time in replying that it was extremely pleasant to discover this sort of thing7 could still happen in the world, but that I would be happy to pay for the replacement parts since I was entirely satisfied with the service the originals had given me8. I also explained that although it was good news that the nearest service center was not Westbury (as I had formerly believed), but that due to my commute I couldn't usually get to one anyway. I reiterated my happiness with the tool and stated my hope that my feedback would be more use than just a whine when it came to giving the Workmate more prominence on the website.

Though I stood9 by everything I wrote to Black and Decker, I felt like a git.

Last night I returned home to find a long, thin package addressed to me. I cast a look at the Stevieling, who said "it was on the deck when we came home" and went back to her Gameboy. Then the light dawned.

Inside the box were four shiny black rubber feet and a pair of the latest design of jaws for a Workmate 225. I stood looking at the wonders before me. It was the most beautiful sight I've seen since The Stevieling was born10 and I can't wait to exhume my Workmate and begin Operation Replace The Small Rubber Feet, One Of Which Got Lost Last Summer, And The Jaws Which Are Beginning To Lose Structural Integrity Due To My Inattention When Using Power Saws On Things Clamped In Them.

Which brings me full circle to: I take it back. I was wrong. You can get replacement parts for almost anything on a Black and Decker Workmate, including the feet.

Also: I apologize to the support staff at Black and Decker who didn't design the website and weren't to know I cannot get to their service centers during opening hours.

Later: It just dawned on me to check that the UK Black and Decker website had the same layout as the USA one, and it does not. The UK one has a reasonably prominent Workmate link under "workbenches" right there on the home page. It does not have a handy-dandy service center locator though, at least not one that I could see.

  1. including the attribution, but I knew that at the time and only credited it to Cotton Mather as a joke for Azathoth's sake!
  2. I know, it hardly seems credible but Black and Decker make a super deluxe version of the trusty 225, the model most people picture when the work "Workmate" is used in everyday conversation. It is called the 425, and features one-handed operation (no more holding the workpiece in your teeth while you tighten the variable geometry jaws on it), vertical clamping in addition to the old-fashioned horizontal kind, allowing you to squeeze things flat as well as together, and a removable insert that increases the top area for those times you need a small table to work on (no more clamping sheets of plywood to the top to make a bench). If this tool does not represent the last, best hope for world peace, I don't know what does
  3. AKA "Hauppauge". How anyone could make that mistake is beyond me
  4. I make exception for those sites that ask you to spend "a few minutes" making feedback and then lure you into a half hour, multi-page inforape that inevitably ends with the responder closing the window in frustration
  5. I never had a clear idea what they should look like, but since the Mac fiasco (ibid.) I envisage them as earnest young men dressed in black with an evangelical look in their eye and no regard for cost/benefit ratios
  6. Official Aliens Vs Predator version. I got it cheap at last year's I-Con. It's poseable. And soft
  7. Giving away stuff free. Keep up!
  8. This should have been apparent from my original mailing too, where I said as much
  9. And stand
  10. This sight displaced Mrs Stevie in her wedding dress from the top spot, which in turn displaced Mrs Stevie in her birthday suit which displaced my black TR6 and so forth back to a small steel fire engine that had a working water pump and a siren, which I got sometime around my fifth or sixth birthday

No comments: