An Inc. Technology reader reacts to Shane McLaughlin's "Barbed Wires," a short bulletin board item from Inc. Technology #4, 1998.
A short item in November's Bulletin Board, titled "Barbed Wires," by Shane McLaughlin, drew a round of fire, and for good reason. The item described entrepreneur Ed Kieler's struggle with a disgruntled customer who created a Web site specifically to trash the products and practices of Kieler's Omaha-based computer-manufacturing company, EPS Technologies. That item prompted one of our readers to describe his own problems with EPS.
I found your take on EPS Technologies CEO Ed Kieler's run-in with a disgruntled customer interesting but disconcerting.
As someone who purchased a product from EPS in 1996 and endured two-plus years of stress while attempting to get it fixed under warranty, I can understand that Web-site creator's frustration and desire to take matters into his own hands.
In my case it took dozens of phone calls, several letters (including an unanswered certified letter to Kieler himself), and many faxes to get any straight answers out of the company. In the end, I got the relief I demanded because I was persistent enough to call several times a week over many months each time there was a problem with my system.
What confuses me is why your magazine seems to laud Kieler for "siccing" an attorney on the Web-site creator to get him to raze the site. I'm stunned that Inc. preferred to focus on Kieler's answer to his problem--silencing an unsatisfied customer through legal threats--instead of pointing out that he failed to address and rectify the very fundamental business problems that led to the complaints. His assertions that the company "spiffed up" customer service and concentrated on late deliveries is still a joke, and the article failed to disclose just what those supposed changes have accomplished.
But the scariest part of the story was the revelation that Kieler hired a public-relations company in 1996 to help resolve concerns of those unsatisfied customers. As of mid 1998, when my problem was finally resolved, EPS was experiencing the same problems that caused the original complaint. Apparently, Kieler is good at one thing--silencing critics by sending high-priced lawyers after them instead of taking care of his company's internal problems. Your story should be an example of how not to run a company instead of how to attack valid criticism of your business.
Dustin S. Klein Associate Editor Small Business News Magazine Cleveland firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor's note: We should have been more thorough when we reported on EPS Technologies. It turns out that Klein's experience with the company wasn't unique. In early November 1998 the Better Business Bureau of Omaha began receiving complaints about EPS. By mid-November the computer manufacturer had abruptly ceased operations. As of this writing, the company has not filed for bankruptcy; CEO Ed Kieler would not return our calls; and his lawyer, Douglas E. Quinn, declined to comment on the company's sudden closure. The Better Business Bureau's report on EPS states that "the company has an unsatisfactory record. Complaints received concern faulty equipment [and] an inability to get a 'return merchandise number' from the company so the equipment could be sent for repair or returned for a refund." In addition, the bureau reports, "promised refunds were never received once the merchandise was returned."
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