Musk's Starlink Pre-Order Subscribers Say Customer Service Is A No Show

from the innovative-to-a-point dept

The narrative du jour is that Elon Musk’s companies are just so damn innovative that they don’t have to adhere to basic norms. His companies don’t need a functioning PR department, for example, because Musk is just so damn charming on Twitter. As you may have noticed, this narrative isn’t always particularly accurate.

Take Starlink, Musk’s attempt to disrupt telecom with low orbit satellites providing pretty impressive broadband speeds. The service remains in beta, and because there’s limited satellite capacity (an unfortunate side effect of physics), it won’t be able to provide service to more than say 500-800k subscribers for some time (for scale: 42 million lack broadband and 83 million live under a broadband monopoly). So needless to say, those slots are going to be relatively precious for folks out of the reach of traditional broadband who’ll genuinely be helped by having a new option.

The service, which provides speeds sometimes faster than 100 Mbps (at least on non-commercial beta network) costs $100 a month, plus a $500 equipment fee. But the users who say they plunked down $100 early this year aren’t receiving any communication from the company… at all. Attempts to inquire where they are in the process or when they’ll get a working satellite broadband terminal wind up being thrown into a void:

“The Starlink app doesn’t have a customer service option for people with deposits, said Corey Gordon, who is based in Alberta, Canada, and paid 129 Canadian dollars ($103) for the deposit in May. “I have left a couple of detailed voicemails on an answering service at SpaceX over a month ago and still have heard nothing,” he told Insider.

Reviews for the service have been decidedly mixed, though updated hardware and satellites may help mitigate many of these early complaints. Still, early adopters are, understandably, a little perplexed at why a company that designs rocket ships can’t answer basic email inquiries:

“If they can send a rocket to space, why can’t they figure out how to provide customer service?” he said. A deployment map would be useful to check when to expect Starlink, he added.”

Granted dodgy customer service for Musk-owned companies isn’t all that uncommon, especially if you spend more than twenty seconds looking at customer experiences with Tesla’s rooftop solar system installations. As for Starlink, the service has already signed up 500,000 users, and it will take several years before it’s able to provide service to many more than that. With so many Musk fans jockeying for those remaining slots, things could get very Lord of The Flies-esque in short order. And that’s before you get to supply chain issues or potential congestion problems on a fully launched and loaded network.

Regardless, it’s odd that the Musk companies’ reputation for boundless innovation apparently often doesn’t apply to customer service. Or a functioning PR department capable of explaining why such an innovative company can’t seem to design a basic, working, automated confirmation system for Starlink subscribers.

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Companies: spacex, starlink

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Comments on “Musk's Starlink Pre-Order Subscribers Say Customer Service Is A No Show”

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mhajicek (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I got mine about a month ago, works flawlessly. Found out when the unit was ready to ship. People are complaining that they didn’t get a delivery date, even though the company themselves don’t know a week or two ahead of time. It’s a beta, not a released product. If you signed up, like I did, you acknowledged that you may or may not get to participate in this beta, as slots are limited, and they’ll pick clients on the fly as dishes and geographic openings become available.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

On the one hand, I don’t personally think that Starlink should have taken the money when it could take literally years to provide the service.

On the other hand, it’s $99 (or the local equivalent) which really is peanuts to someone intending to pay $500 for the terminal and $100 a month thereafter.

On the third had, the money is paying for a place in line and can then be used towards the final cost of the service, which the terms and conditions make fairly clear. Also the deposit is fully refundable, so anyone who is unhappy can always just cancel.

I think Musk deserves a "could do better" mark but not really a failing grade on this one.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

No its a failure in general customer service called communication. What they are doing is nothing short of awesome with space x. However the lack of communication removes the luster. An automated email message being sent out to customers to keep them updated and in the loop is something easy to implement. It keeps peeps still waiting informed and shows that they have not been forgotten. A single message update nearly a year later is shameful customer service.

Terri says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And you can request a refund at any time you no longer want to wait for what is CLEARLY WARNED AS BETA,, with a click of a button. People who can’t take waiting till it’s out of beta should savd their dollars till it is.

I looked at the $129 CAD as an investment for a future service I was desperately in need of. Got ours in May, and get from 46-180+ Mbps (usually in the middle of that) with uploads in the range of 40 or more, which, compared to 3Mbps, is virtually no comparison honestly.

Our situation (posted elsewhere)
"This story sounds like a bit of propaganda and smoke to me.
We have been fighting with Bell for YEARS to get them to replace our 60+ year old copper line on our dirt road, and run a cable. The line is so bad that even in FOG it crackles on voice and fax, and we lose the CRAP DSL service that gives us a max of 4Mbps (usually 2-3) on our ‘unlimited’ plan. We could hardly run netflix and a smart bulb on it. We were told we were not worth them running a line up our road, or we could pay 13 grand for it. Our Bell cell service has deteriorated too over the past 5-7 years to an equally abysmal 1 bar we must climb upstairs to get, from the 4 bars we subscribed under. When we complained, we were told to switch our cells to "wifi calling". Yeah, that’ll help ~eyeroll ~..
Lo and behold – 3 months after we dropped Bell DSL and phone service and switched to Starlink, a guy appeared in our driveway telling us Bell had decided to run fibe up our road.
Do not tell me the major carriers are not feeling the FOMO."

christenson says:

Just an extension of lots of high tech bro companies...

The "no touch" customer service is emblematic of supposedly innovative high tech companies in general, especially those with monopolies.

It seems to be a "techbro" fantasy — consider getting ahold of a person at Uber, Twitter, Microsoft, or Comcast, or, if you can get one, one who has any agency to resolve the problem at hand.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Just an extension of lots of high tech bro companies...

"It seems to be a "techbro" fantasy — consider getting ahold of a person at Uber, Twitter, Microsoft, or Comcast, or, if you can get one, one who has any agency to resolve the problem at hand."

Less of a "techbro" problem and more of – yet again – an american one. Getting in touch with customer service to any ISP I ever had where I live may be a matter of waiting in the queue for a while but I at least have yet to encounter any of the common issues making Comcast such a widely loathed company stateside.

It’s another outcome of monopolization. When an ISP or telco has no viable competitor in any given market their motivation to render actual service to the customer becomes null and void.

Terri says:

Re: Just an extension of lots of high tech bro companies...

And that’s where all your money goes – to staff, not good service or resolution.

I’m thrilled with Starlink service, for active subscribers, they answer inquiries through the app in minutes or at most a few hours. One unlucky person lost his home (and dish + router) in a fire, and staff at starlink actually extended condolences and replaced it fir no charge.

Good luck seeing Bell not charge my mentally disabled brother $200+ for not returning a 15 year old dsl legacy router that goes for $35 CAD on ebay. Thank god I was able to get someone in his building over the phone to help him find it, with me 3 provinces away and our dad (who used to live in the same city) passed away only months before.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Techdirt now rates all company's tech support?

"Are we going to start getting reports on all companies that don’t have good tech support?"

I think the term is known as "Slow News Day".

That said Starlink has been touted as the next Big Thing in telecommunications and as a proof-of-concept it naturally merits more attention than the incumbent monopolies of Comcast and Verizon on whose shoddy and/or contemptuous customer "service" tons of scathing criticism has already been written for years.

kryptryx says:

Perhaps a new Physics is in order?

The current capacity is limited to "500-800k subscribers for some time" and "the service has already signed up 500,000 users".

It seems like effective customer service might be something that is viewed as not been required until they have a need to increase customers.

And with mixed reviews, maybe there is no rush.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Perhaps a new Physics is in order?

Oh, I’m sure it’s easy to be rational and unbiased about Elon Musk, noted thin-skinned asshole and toxic person who thinks it’s okay to insinuate that one of his critics diddles kids (which he later claimed to be a common white South African insult, which is not much better), insinuate tuat he did insider trading as a joke and, if his own official biography is right, is also a jerk to his own employees.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Perhaps a new Physics is in order?

There’s a lot to be said about Musk – in either direction. On the one hand he’s an out-of-the-box thinker and successful entrepreneur.

On the other hand he’s often a bit of an asshole to whom "other people" are cogs in a machine who enrage him when they fail to properly fullfill what he sees as their designated function.

Someone with a lot of power being a decent person isn’t newsworthy. Someone with power being an asshole or possibly pulling fast ones on their customers certainly is.

Which is why Karl is right to challenge Musk because challenging powerful people and nitpicking their actions is how journalism works.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Perhaps a new Physics is in order?

Is Musk a jerk sometimes? Yes, absolutely. Just think of the "pedo guy" comment when the soccer team was trapped in a cave.

What I have a trouble with w.r.t. KB is how much falsehood he promulgates. Sometimes it may just be sloppy journalism, not bothering to fact-check the mistakes and/or lies of others, but sometimes the vitriol and lying is clearly his. Either way, when Musk is involved he is a lousy journalist.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

As a customer of theirs I can say that their ‘promise’ is up to 150 mb/sec…but I frequently see ~250 to ~270 range. As the router they supply is wireless…and wireless being limited to 100 mb/sec is why it seems disproportionate. Whether you feel that 250ish is worth 100 is another story…I do, considering our local high speed provider is horrible (while faster, common disconnections in the 20-40 times a day range for upwards of 8 minutes).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

FUnnily enough, it’s just a sickening to read most of what you knee-jerk Musk haters write.

To read news articles about a Tesla fire, without any mention of how much more common ICE car fires are, or how the driver crashed the car into a tree and caused the fire. How it took a fire department two hours to extinguish a Tesla car fire, when it actually took about 15 minutes and then the fire department was required to stay on scene until another authority relieved them – by law. Or how another Bolt fire proves how dangerous Tesla is (logic???). Or how "autopilot" is a dangerous name in a Tesla while similar names for driver assist packages are fine (including one which is literally "autopilot"). How NHSTA and congress are launching investigation of Tesla autopilot due to crashes that are clearly the result of drivers misusing the software and the fact – and I stess fact – that Tesla vehicles are the world’s safest.

And all that is without considering the sort of nonsense that the likes of Gordon Johnson spouts, claiming collapsing market share when the company is breaking vehicle production records – by a lot – every quarter, selling every vehicle they produce and seeing delivery wait times grow from weeks to months (and maybe years for some upcoming vehicles).

Simply stating facts may sound detached from reality to many Tesla and Musk haters, but only because they themselves are so far detached from reality them selves.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Man, the Elon cultists are coming out of the woodwork.

Just because the cars have yet to take a human life (regardless of how it happens) or that Tesla batteries don’t become like Samsung and Huawei batteries (ie, EXPLODE), does not immediately mean there are no problems.

BTW, unless Elon realizes that China is not his friend, they’re still making those Teslas in China, inclusive of the batteries. I presume Tesla found a bunch of trustworthy Chinese agents to run his Gigafactories, but…

Nice to know Teslas are still safe enough, though. Shame about your condescending attitude.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I’m pretty sure the "this company" referred to is SpaceX, which as far as I know has never offered full self driving cars. As for Tesla full self driving, it is getting surprisingly close to human driving capability, though I doubt any full self driving will be allowed by regulators before it is very significantly better than human capability, regardless of the company providing it.

It may be getting near time for you to start practicing with your Icarus wings.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:


"Without sarcasm an embodiment of a business savant."

Unfortunately a very true statement. Given that Starlink, serving 500k people, has become an interest among a great many other actors as a potential cash cow I’m less concerned with Musk alone screwing up the night sky. I’m more concerned with the fact that there’s an open market for a few dozen other interests to build their own networks on top of it.

Musk alone won’t be irreparably destroying astronomy or escalating global warming by tossing cubesats into orbit. When a hundred other actors start doing the same though, we’ll be talking about significant impact when continuously using rockets to ship small objects into decaying orbits is in fact one way sci-fi think-tanks have suggested can be used to terraform cooling planets.

This is interesting tech and all, but while we’re about to overshoot the 1,5 degree milestone to perdition already, a business model which includes thousands of rocket launches and invites others to follow suit isn’t helpful.

The blunt truth is that right now we, as a species, can’t afford to allow businesses which screw with the environment further. Not because of social issues or to save the spotted owl or anything – but out of concern for the survival of our children.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Industry standards...

I have Comcast, and I can always get someone on the phone if I need to. It may involve a significant wait but it can be done. In addition to that, if I have an outage the automated system immediately tells me that they know about it, gives an estimate of when it will be fixed, and an offer to call when it’s done (though that last part is unreliable). So based on my experience I would say their customer service is significantly worse than Comcast.

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