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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Filed Under: customer service, elon musk, starlink
Companies: spacex, starlink


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  • identicon
    Scote, 15 Sep 2021 @ 2:06pm

    Maybe all the customer service people are telecommitting by a Starlink?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      mhajicek (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 10:44pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 16 Sep 2021 @ 7:18am

        Re: Re:

        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.

        But they don't mind taking and keeping their very real money, apparently.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 16 Sep 2021 @ 2:10pm

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Terri, 24 Sep 2021 @ 5:32am

          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."

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    christenson, 15 Sep 2021 @ 2:54pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 16 Sep 2021 @ 1:13am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Terri, 24 Sep 2021 @ 5:51am

      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.

      https://www.reddit.com/r/Starlink/comments/pq1xdm/huge_shoutout_to_mario_and_the_starlink_support/? utm_source=amp&utm_medium=&utm_content=tp_title

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    xaxxon (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 3:03pm

    Techdirt now rates all company's tech support?

    I'm a bit confused. Are we going to start getting reports on all companies that don't have good tech support? That seems like it will be a lot of articles.

    Or was this one company selected for an article on their tech support for another reason?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2021 @ 5:35pm

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

      Good point, probably easier to write a list of companies that DO have good customer support.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2021 @ 7:28pm

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

      Not tech support specifically, any support. Or answers of any kind.

      And yes, techdirt had endlessly commented on customer service. Are you new?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2021 @ 7:35pm

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

      If you don't understand try reading the first two sentences.

      Then come back and list all the large companies you can think of that have a similar cult of personality surrounding their leader.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 16 Sep 2021 @ 1:15am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    kryptryx (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 3:07pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      xaxxon (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 3:36pm

      Re: Perhaps a new Physics is in order?

      Reviews don't really seem to be "mixed". 99% happy people and 1% negative isn't "mixed".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2021 @ 4:30pm

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

        Of course that's "mixed", just like Karl is "rational" and "unbiased" on any subject concerning Musk.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2021 @ 9:22pm

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Jajo (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 10:21pm

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

          Hi, pot!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 16 Sep 2021 @ 1:50am

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 16 Sep 2021 @ 2:15pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              nasch (profile), 16 Sep 2021 @ 3:38pm

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

              What I have a trouble with w.r.t. KB is how much falsehood he promulgates.

              What did he get wrong in this article?

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 16 Sep 2021 @ 6:02pm

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

                "What did he get wrong in this article?"

                He criticized our techlord and savior Elon.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2021 @ 7:29pm

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

        99% of what people? People with actual service?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2021 @ 7:39pm

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

        Why don't you go ahead and post the data you used to come to this conclusion you totally didn't just make up because you'll blindly defend anything Elon does.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Sep 2021 @ 12:06am

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

        Hi Elon!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Terri, 24 Sep 2021 @ 5:54am

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

        One more happy customer here. Actually, scratch 'happy'.
        Thrilled and Relieved are better desciptprs.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2021 @ 4:23pm

    100$ a month for 100mbps?

    I'm sorry for people who have to even consider it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2021 @ 6:00pm

      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).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Terri, 24 Sep 2021 @ 5:57am

      Re:

      Thsnks, but your sympathy isn't necessary. Compared to the $120 I was paying a month for the 4 Mbps I had, the $145 I pay for 46-180Mbps+ I have now eith Starlink is a life changer.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2021 @ 6:14pm

    So, a company that has been selling full self driving for years, and hasn't delivered it, isn't delivering another pie in the sky promise?

    Weird.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2021 @ 7:34pm

      Re:

      No, this company hasn't done any such thing.

      And the one that has is still way ahead of anyone else in terms of getting general purpose self driving.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2021 @ 7:44pm

        Re: Re:

        God it's nauseating listening to you bootlickers lie for him like he's a politician you support in the election for emperor of the solar system. If you can't admit he has repeatedly overstated the abilities of Teslas then you have left reality.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 16 Sep 2021 @ 5:13am

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 16 Sep 2021 @ 6:22am

            Re: Re: Re: 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.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 16 Sep 2021 @ 2:17pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              I think you need to look "condescending" up in a dictionary and then reconsider your first sentence.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 16 Sep 2021 @ 6:09pm

                Re: Let me condesend to make a deal

                You spend less time proving Elon fanbois are the worst. And for our part, we will consider not treating you like a knob-gobbling twat.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 17 Sep 2021 @ 12:16am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                I have. Elon's the second pictoral example, right after what passes for Singapore's leaders.

                At least the former is less likely to use the full weight of the law against me.

                Don't be sorry for me, I know I'm no different from you. I'd worship Elon too if I chose to.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JMT (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 8:19pm

        Re: Re:

        "No, this company hasn't done any such thing."

        The selling of full self driving for years or not delivering it? Coz their cars are about as much fully self driving as I am fully self flying.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 16 Sep 2021 @ 4:57am

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      dbrower (profile), 16 Sep 2021 @ 9:44am

      Re:

      Different companies, to be pedantic.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2021 @ 7:30pm

    Josef Starlink does not answer questions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jajo (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 10:30pm

    SNAFU

    So: fuck up night sky for 7.5G people to serve shitty connectivity to 500k. Without sarcasm an embodiment of a business savant.
    And that's why I drink.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 16 Sep 2021 @ 2:02am

      Re: SNAFU

      "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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Terri, 24 Sep 2021 @ 6:03am

      Re: SNAFU

      Shitty connectivity?!?
      From 4Mbps to 46-180Mbps+?
      That is a L7FE CHANGER for anyone who wants to work from home in a pandemic, has crappy cell service and crappier landline service.
      You know not of what you preach.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bruce C., 16 Sep 2021 @ 3:36am

    Industry standards...

    Wait, are these customers saying that Starlink's customer service is worse than... Comcast?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 16 Sep 2021 @ 7:24am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Terri, 24 Sep 2021 @ 6:06am

        Re: Re: Industry standards...

        Do you HAVE Starlink service??
        I do, and they respond in MINUTES to emails, (a max of an hour or two), with actual solutions, not CSRs with no command of the language of the customer base they are supporting.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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