A cautionary tale

I recently experienced a situation which has several “lessons learned” and I thought I would share. Since many readers of these articles are students and former students, you may benefit from this experience. The saga began in late December, 2015. My wife got a phone call alleging to be from an ICANN registrar. She did what I always ask when presented with random unsolicited phone calls – she hung up the phone. I recommend this as a first line of defense since it is rare that someone from such an organization would call. A few days later, another call came in. I answered and they piqued my curiosity so I stayed on the line.

Turns out, it was a legitimate call. Go figure. They were calling me to let me know that a domain was about to expire. After a fair amount of discussions, I discovered that I did indeed register a domain for a client (in 1998).

Lesson 1 – if you obtain a domain, don’t renew it for an extended period of time. It is likely that you will forget (no matter how good your records are). In this case, we are talking 18 years.

So, unwittingly, I have been a customer of this ICANN registrar since 1998. Of course, I had no idea what my username and password were.

Lesson 2 – make certain you keep all such information in some form of a password vault. Of course, in self defense, those beasts did not exist in 1998. Oh, well, I can just reset my password. Oh, wait, my email address is with a company that hasn’t existed since 2006. So the only way to reset my password is to have them send me an email, but the email will bounce as that address is no longer valid. Ok, this is the time where you refer to lesson 1 above. If you renew a domain every year or two, it is likely that your email address will remain current.

This is where the fun began.  In a nutshell, this particular registrar should be the poster child for Byzantine processes. It is a good thing that I have the tenacity of a pit bull and will not give up on something where a client is involved.

Essentially, I had conversations with 14 different people over the course of 8 days. This represented a total of 6 hours of telephone time in order to get my  email address changed. Yes, 8 days and 6 hours of accumulated time on the phone. I also ended up with 4 separate ticket numbers. And, let’s not forget the 28 separate email messages which transpired between us. Here is a recap of my experience. Perhaps others have had better experiences. I don’t know how typical this was. Frankly, I have obtained the domain for someone who died faster than the processes I had to go through with this registrar.

January 6, 2016 – I spoke with 4 different people before landing with someone who actually listened to my request in detail (instead of simply following an established script). They recognized that this was not a normal problem and opened a ticket on my behalf. Understood. They also needed me to prove I am the person I say I am. No problem, I sent them a copy of my driver’s license. Oh, yeah, since I live in Illinois and our licenses are questionable to travel by air, I also included a copy of my passport.  And, for good measure, I sent a copy of my latest utility bill which has my current address. This is all standard procedure (if you have had to obtain a domain from someone who has died, for example). However, I was told specifically to send this documentation to a specific email address. I repeated the address twice with the rep to confirm I had the right one. As soon as I sent it, I got a bounce message  that the address was not valid. Turns out the person at the other end had not had their script updated and the address was no longer in use. Hmmm. This does not increase my level of confidence in this company. I sent the documentation again as a response to my open ticket and asked them to forward internally. I also took it upon myself to open another account with this registrar as I suspected it was unlikely that I would ever be able to access the old account.

January 9, 2016 – since I had not yet received a reply to my email documentation, I called again. Of course, I got someone else. They told me that they did not receive my materials. I asked them to check and provided the ticket number. Oh, yeah, they did actually receive it and someone would be back in touch with me in another day or two. Everything looked fine on their end (I specifically asked if they needed anything else. I was told no.). During these conversations, they told me I would need to create a new account. I told them I already did. I was told that I would need to open a new account and they proceeded to walk me through the process. Lo and behold, the email I used for the new account was already taken. What, you mean you created this account a few days ago. Well, of course, you can use that one. I suspect they heard the “double face palm” at that moment.

Lesson 3 – keep your documentation. If I did not have that ticket number, I would have had to send everything all over again.

Lesson 4 – listen to what your customers tell you. If a customer tells you they created an account a couple of days ago, get the details, don’t walk them through the process only to discover that your script activities are pointless as this customer actually knows what they are doing.

January 11, 2016 – since it has been a few days, and I have not heard back, I call again. I get to meet 3 more people at this company. The third person tries to help me, but tells me I need to submit documentation (in the form of a drivers license, passport and utility bill). I am trying hard to maintain my professionalism. I remind them of the ticket number. They look it up and discover they already have my documentation. They will be back in touch soon.

January 12, 2016 – I do get a call back. Turns out they also need an email reset form. You may recall that I specifically asked if they had everything needed in multiple conversations and was always told yes. Ok, now I got to a page and download the email reset form. I email it back to them. Oh, yeah, I got a new ticket number since I sent in the reset form. I actually stayed on the line with this individual and confirmed that they did in fact receive my document and it was signed. Point of fact, I used 3 different email addresses to send this form as they kept telling me they did not receive it and wanted me to try using another email. Suddenly, they must have received all of them.

January 13, 2016 – I receive an email from another individual at this company. They informed me that I had not signed the reset form with my middle initial and that was a requirement. Why the person yesterday could not have conveyed this remains a mystery as I did ask if it was ok. Again, maintaining my professionalism, I signed the form again and sent it again (of course to another email address). I called again and confirmed they received it. In the process, I learned they also opened another ticket on my behalf. Growing weary of the foolishness, I asked to speak with a supervisor. I was told none were available. I asked for them to call me at their earliest convenience.

January 14, 2016 – more phone calls, more new people and – finally – resolution. They have in fact transferred the domain in question to the account I opened on Jan. 6. Of course, while I have the person on the phone, I try to access my account and discover that the domain is not visible. They transfer me to yet another person. After a very convoluted process, I discover that my account has a unique username assigned by their system and has no relationship to the email address I have used to sign in. I have to use this username (even though they clearly state on the login page either will work just fine). With my username, I am able to see the domain. Yippee.

Lesson 5 – never make any assumptions (even if the screen says one thing, confirm it with the person on the phone). Sub-lesson – don’t make your systems more obtuse than they need to be.

Now that I have access to the domain, the first thing I do is update my email address. By the way, this address was out of date for nearly a decade. ICANN always asks registrars to have owners of domains verify their email address every year. Wonder how this got overlooked for over a decade by this registrar? Sorry, just thinking out loud.

Next step – I initiate the process to transfer the domain to a registrar I use frequently (who is also a lot cheaper than the one in question).

Within 30 minutes of my starting the domain transfer process, I finally get a call – from a supervisor. I explained the situation and conveyed my mounting frustration with the Byzantine processes (compounded with the fact that at each step in the process, I asked for confirmation that what I had done was correct and complete and was always told yes). They asked if there was anything they could do. I said, yes, expedite the creation of the code to transfer the domain. I told them their specific processes were what caused a customer of 18 years to leave. I did receive the code a few minutes later.

January 17, 2016 – I receive another copy of the code to transfer the domain. Guess they forgot they already sent me that.

January 18, 2016 – domain is finally transferred. Whew.

As I said, there are a number of lessons to be learned. I tried to document those above so others learn from this experience. By the way the name of the registrar is Network Solutions. Back in 1998, they were essentially the only game in town. Fast forward to 2016 and there are many, many choices. This might be a cautionary tale for companies that once controlled a market and don’t seem to have updated their processes to reflect a new reality. Yes my situation was a bit unique and it was my fault for not updating the data – I forgot. However, the effort to change something simple seemed incredible (from my perspective). That being said, I did get to speak with a number of interesting people (on multiple continents).

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