A Paper Trail

I have a paper trail. It is a very good paper trail, and my documented actions are all right and correct, and I fully expect results from it. I was descriptive and to the point, I expressed doubt, I repeated for confirmation, and I can’t see how I can’t win this argument.

The Nature Mill home composting machine, as I said a few days ago, has a design flaw. This wire catches this rubber seal, and was hanging up the dumping of the compost into the collection bin. I ran through all the troubleshooting steps in the instruction manual and the website, and I dutifully contacted customer service and chose the correct subject line from the drop-down menu. I was pleased by the promptness of their response–one day! Now, it’s a smaller operation, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have responded quickly, and I would have been happy with an answer in a couple of days. But companies frequently blow off email inquiries, and I didn’t know what to expect.

Plus one for Nature Mill!

The email response was specific, and they’d clearly read my description and they gave me some advice about unsticking the mechanism, and then they wrote this:

The rubber stopper is not entirely necessary to the function of the machine. You might want to try pulling the whole piece off the side and that may help your issue.

“Not entirely necessary” is not a phrase that gave me much comfort. You also hear horror stories of people trying to fix stuff on their own and then finding out that their own attempts to solve a problem violate warranties. I remember trying to fix stuff on the Dell laptop–the keyboard, to be exact–and reading all the warnings on the website about if you open up your machine you no longer get repair and service privileges. I understand why companies put that language into their contracts, because I understand the tinkerer mentality, and I’m sure you can wreak all kinds of havoc with a screwdriver that would be unfair to ask a legitimate repairman to fix. I have no delusions of technical aptitude, so when I open up my computer to replace a keyboard, I get in, I get out, and I don’t try to make any improvements while I’m there. If I can’t get at something (like the electronic meat thermometer or the circuit board of my cell phone), I’ll back off. But I know there are people who won’t. I even know some. My brother once hacked into a telephone and an electric keyboard to simulate the tones of the buttons and then call people up (or so the legend goes). I’m satisfied with cleaning contact points and closing the device.

So “not entirely necessary” is not making me happy. I write back with pictures of the problem, per their request, and express concern:

I have to tell you that I am quite hesitant to pull off a piece that is only “not entirely necessary.” What happens if I do that and there are still problems? Have I [voided] my warranty?

For purposes of full disclosure, I will confess that I originally put the word “validated” in the sentence. It was late–after midnight–and I meant invalidated. Hopefully that misstatement doesn’t come back to haunt me. On the Office message boards the very same night I wrote “Desmond” when I meant “Daniel,” so it was just a bad hour for me.

A few days later (yesterday), I get this in an email:

Thank you for sending the images. I would first just try to take the rubber stopper out. It should not do any damage to your unit or affect it’s functioning in any way. Let us know if that fixed the issue. If problems persist please let us know so we can further assist you.

So what does Husband do this morning? He tries to pull the rubber stopper out. It’s tricky, and it’s a tight space, but he manages to wrestle it out, probably with pliers. It’s stuck at both ends, though, and because its absence has been declared as not going to do any damage to the unit, he cuts it out.

Big mistake.

You know what’s in this not entirely necessary piece of rubber? Five different wires that connect the front control panel and the front gears to the power supply. We’ve just cut the main wire of the entire machine. Nice. It’s totally wrecked. This is an unfixable problem. I cannot imagine any scenario in which they repair this–it would require an entire rebuild. A piece cracks and they want me to unscrew something and pop the new part in? Fine. I’m not getting a soldering iron out for this. It kills me that this has happened on a Saturday… now I have to wait two whole days for their response.

They told me to remove this piece. I am trying to imagine how someone so ignorant of the function of the machine was put in charge of telling people how to fix it. I described the piece and its location. I sent pictures of it. They acknowledged receiving the pictures. I questioned their advice. They repeated it. How did this problem not get run by an expert? More interesting, what’s going to happen to this person?

Is this a sacking offense? A plain-old demotion? Is the person going to have to pay for a new unit? I suppose they had their activist answering questions instead of their engineer. But there aren’t that many parts to this machine. It’s not as complicated as a car. I suppose I should have thought harder about how the front control panel gets its power, but the customer usually has the right to be stupid. Customer service people maybe even have the right to be stupid (I am choosing not to rant about the moron at the urgent care center the other day). But the technical experts? No. They do not have the right to be stupid.

I guess the happiest scenario is that the technical person was unexpectedly out of the office, perhaps eloping, and helpful coworkers were doing their best. Regardless, I’m the one that’s going to have to make a trip to the post office to send the damn thing back. I hope that the paper trail speaks for me and spares me having to get nasty, because I am very bad at getting nasty and getting results. I also start to cry, and I know this isn’t worth crying over, unless you are crying for Gaea, our loving Mother Earth, because I’ll be putting my food scraps down the garbage disposal, where they will travel to an artificial, man-made water treatment plant. The nutritious scraps will be separated from the pure, hydrating, water and sent in a sludge to the Pacific Ocean until this matter is taken care of. In the meantime, I am not storing dirt for my tomato plants. I am pessimistic already about reaping what I haven’t even sown yet.

But I am very optimistic about my paper trail.

UPDATE 3:38 PM–A Mere Hour and Six Minutes Later
Nature Mill plus one again!

I got an email already–on a Saturday. They want pictures, a serial number, and purchase history, but they said they should be able to replace the unit. There was confusion, it turns out, on the part of the customer service rep who thought I was talking about a different part of the machine. I haven’t gone back to the machine yet to see what they thought I was talking about (even though I sent pictures), but I’m curious. I hope the fact that we cut the wire doesn’t hurt us, but it was stuck at the sides and I was cutting it to get it out of the way.

Score. Maybe. I’m hopeful again, but I’m not resuming my food scraps collection just yet.

UPDATE 3:59 PM
There’s no rubber stopper thing that I can see, except maybe the rubber thing that acts as a sort of bumper along the lid to keep the top from slamming or chafing against the unit. Curiouser and curiouser. Also, Auntie, I’m not mad.

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