I am occasionally called rude, last night it was ‘horrid’, though rarely ‘unhelpful’, which would be unjust, given that the friction with club members and customers usually comes when I am attempting to assist them (day, night and weekends) with their customer service issues. Lots of people are pleased with my customer service, a few are annoyed and unhappy. My wife thinks this is terrible, though I can live with it.
The most common problem people have is that, having bought an ebook or ebooks say, they don’t actually bother to open the email with the download link. Perhaps they go away on holiday and think that they’ll get to it when they come home, at which point the link has expired. Every ebook ‘product information page’ displays the information that our download links have limited validity, so you should please use them within seven days before they expire. But there you go – some people don’t read the ‘product information page’ before buying, though whyever not I have no idea.
Another, less common pain point is when customers lose or delete ebooks that they have purchased at some point in the past. If you bought something recently, it’s not usually a problem to get it to you again, though it is a waste of your time (having to write to me) and mine (having to reply, sometimes politely.)
But some people write to say they’ve lost ebooks that they bought years and years ago, which risks a reply beginning with “Sorry, but…”
I don’t and won’t offer a permanent storage for your ebooks, or a free replacement system if you lose them. Does that sound mean? Amazon does it with their Kindle ebooks, after all.
And yet, I’m not Jeff Bezos: I don’t command a vast empire, armies of software engineers, or enough servers to fill a small country from border to border.
It’s just me running these websites, this business, publishing these ebooks, writing these articles. And you know what? Every few years the technologies change, things that were once normal become impossible, things that were once impossible become normal. Remember we used to buy paper books from a bookshop? Now we buy ebooks from an online retailer. Bet that was a shock for bookshelf designers. Things will change, I won’t be doing this forever, probably because something better (for you guys) will come along. Nothing is guaranteed forever. Sooner or later, we’re all dust.
At some point in the seven or eight years I’ve been publishing and selling ebooks, our shop was closed down (it was on the club website) and reopened in a new location (a dedicated shop site). Would you have wanted to transfer all the buyer and order data for customers from 2013 on the off chance that someone would lose an ebook they read or didn’t read eight years ago and write to ask to be sent again? Neither did I, and nor do I wish to in the future.
Buy an ebook if you wish, SAVE A COPY SOMEWHERE SAFE AS WE ADVISE, and unless it’s a recent purchase, in which case I will do my utmost to fix your problem, don’t expect enthusiasm if you write months or years later asking for my help replacing it when you’ve lost it.
I will be doubly displeased, please note, if you are also unable to remember the title of the ebook you lost, when exactly you bought it, and so on.
And I will be very, very irritated indeed if the tone or content of your ‘please help’ email suggests that the fault (you losing or deleting the file you are supposed to have saved somewhere safe) lies with me.
Which brings me to the topic of this article, and a change in tone from grouchy to helpful, or at least that’s what I’m aiming at.
We need to talk, it appears, about backups.
“Backups? What are they?”
Wrong question, it should be: “Backups? Where are mine?”
And if the answer is “I never made any”, this is what you should do:
FIRSTLY, do a mini audit of anything that might be of value to you: digital photos, for example, ebooks you’ve bought from us or others, stuff connected to your work or pension, passwords. Make a provisional list. What is it? Where is it? What would be the consequences if I lost it?
SECONDLY, have a think about what steps you could take to reduce the impact or eliminate the risk of loss. Sometimes there’s not a lot that can be done – you can’t, for example, back up a passport or credit card. But you could mitigate the work involved if you lost them, if they’re stolen, or if your house burns down. For example, by recording the details – number, expiry date and so on.
THIRDLY, do the work of creating backup systems, which could be as simple as creating a document with essential information and emailing it to yourself. Then, assuming your email account is available online from any location, and assuming you don’t delete the email with the attachment, you’ll always have it, right? (This also works very well for ebooks you want to hang on to, by the way. Email them to yourself, don’t delete the email. So simple, and yet SO BEYOND SOME PEOPLE!)
How to create your backup system? That’ll depend on what you want to back up, and where it’s stored, but here’s what I do…
I use my computer for everything crucial, and my phone for nothing important besides listening to the radio and reading newspapers in the languages I’m learning. So besides password-protecting the phone to protect my data if it’s lost or destroyed, I don’t bother backing it up. If there’s a problem, I’ll get a new one and start again.
But the computer is CRITICAL! For my two businesses, for my personal bits and pieces, for my entire life, basically.
And yet it’s a laptop, so it could get dropped, or sat on, or its hard disc thingy might malfunction, or it might get hit by one of those nasty pieces of malware that block you accessing any of your files until you pay a ransom in bitcoin. It happens to hospitals all the time, apparently, so could also happen to me.
Hence, what I do is 1.) put ALL the documents I regularly use, all the files, all the folders, the whole kit and caboodle of my two business and my life, in one folder, which sits on the computer’s desktop. It’s called ‘Working documents’.
Look at my desktop and – besides the icons for programs – you’ll see only two things there. One of is the aforementioned ‘Working documents’ folder, and the other is a second folder,named ‘Archive mirror’.
‘Archive mirror’ contains backup copies of ‘Working documents’, plus another folder named ‘Archive’, which I use for everything old that didn’t make it into ‘Working documents’.
Why ‘mirror’? Because this is not THE BACKUP, but the thing that gets backed up, so a ‘mirror-image’ of the backup. See? No? Read on.
2.) Every two weeks or so I right click on ‘Working documents’, select ‘make a copy’, click on ‘Archive mirror’ to open it and Ctrl + V to paste the copy of ‘Working documents’. ‘Archive mirror’ contains copies of ‘Working documents’, renamed to show the date the backup was made, for the current month, and at least one copy for each month going back a year or so. That way, if I deleted something or caught a virus months back but didn’t realise, I can go back to before the problem occurred and use the copies made then. As mentioned, ‘Archive mirror’ also contains a folder called ‘Archive’ with everything old in it.
Wait, you’re thinking, it’s all still on the one, very vulnerable, computer!
That’s true, go to the top of the class.
So once I’ve copied my ‘Working documents’ folder (containing everything that’s important to me apart from my collection of beermats) into my ‘Archive mirror’ folder and renamed it with the date, I then plug an external drive into my computer.
That’s a little black box on a wire that attaches to the USB port, like any other accessory. Up pops a window asking if I’d like to open it, which I do, and in it, I can see all the previous copies of ‘Archive mirror’ I’ve stored there. The backups are on the external drive, the ‘mirror’ is on the desktop, capito?
I Ctrl + C (copy) on the ‘Archive mirror’ on my desktop, and Ctrl + V (paste) it into the external drive. When the copying has finished, which can take a while because a lot of stuff is being backed up, I unplug the external drive and store it somewhere safe (the room where we keep our passports, the kids’ school reports, medical records, etc.)
There! It’s far from perfect, but it’s simple and fast. If I drop my computer on my foot and break both, I can hobble to the electronics store, buy a new computer, and copy the precious ‘Working documents’ and less precious ‘Archive’ folders onto it from the external drive. In just a jiffy, I’ll be right back in business, being horrid to people.
Weak points? The data might be up to two weeks old, which isn’t perfect. And if my house burns down, the external drive probably will too (for which reason I occasionally take another copy and leave it at my inlaw’s place…)
And when I’ve done the backup, which I should do today in fact, I’ll make a note on my calendar for two weeks hence to repeat the process. That way making backups doesn’t, in theory, get neglected.
Hope that gives you food for thought!
No time for a P.S. today as I have to pay the school‘s rent. Go find something useful to do…
Hi Daniel, you make some very good points. But how is your blood pressure? Look after yourself. Maybe try yoga.
Blood pressure should be fine as I take those pills they give to heart attack survivors. My mood, perhaps less so.
Question: how to do customer service ‘personally’ without getting wound up by the small percentage of people who are a pain in the butt?
The only options seem to be 1.) put up with it 2.) depersonalise it (template replies, ignore or brush off unusual requests etc.)
Suggestions are welcome!
Kathryn Temple says
Yes, yes, and yes…and if you don’t want to mess with physical. hard drives, at least use a storage system like Box, Dropbox, etc. My documents save seamlessly to dropbox and almost nothing on my laptop is actually stored there. It’s a little more complicated than that…dropbox makes documents available at all times, not just on the cloud, so many are both on my hard drive and on dropbox…but I never count on them being on my hard drive and if something happened to my computer, I could be up and running on another computer in about ten minutes. Some people use both options…an online “cloud” storage system AND an external hard drive, admirable, but I’m too feckless for that.
I never realised making a backup could be so complicated! Every Mac comes with a utility to completely automate backing up. All you need is an external hard drive and presto! Surely even Wintel machines must have something like that? And there are third party apps that are pretty much as good, or for a small sum (or free if you don’t have too much data) backing up to cloud storage is a doddle.
Good points, John. But backing up your entire computer and backing up everything of importance to you are not necessarily the same thing. People keep stuff in the cloud, or on external drives, or one their phones, or on paper, or in an ebook reader, or in unread emails, etc.
Personally I would much rather do my backups myself, rather than relying on an automated system. That said, all of our thirty or so websites have nightly automated backups, which is very, very useful!
Backups are more than a good idea if you’re in business. I’m not (in business) but I do care about my stuff. What works for me (“Wintel” as mentioned above) is Microsoft OneDrive. 5GB is free, 1TB is £12 a month. You put your “Archived Copy” on OneDrive and use robocopy (comes with Win10) to copy all new and changed files to the archive folder every night. (A simple batch file does this without you having to think about it) OneDrive syncs it all to the web.
I bought a new PC recently. As it was Windows 10 it came with OneDrive already installed. I logged in and all my stuff was just there again. You need a good Internet connection especially for the first upload. But all your saved stuff is available from anywhere with a web browser. And there’s an app for your phone (including iPhone)
I don’t have shares in Microsoft (or anything else) but I do like OneDrive especially the bit that says, “Free”.
Grazie mille , Daniel, per il promemoria di ‘backup’. Ci penso spesso. Spero che il tuo email mi porterà a farlo – finalmente! Ciao, Minou