Here’s my first rant of the year about a customer non-service experience. See if you’ve had one like it.
The story: I manage a few Mac servers using Mac OS X. To start the year we decided to obtain a couple of “secure certificates.” These certificates are what change your browser of basic to secure—and you see the little padlock show up (in the upper right hand corner of Safari).
Probably all eCommerce web sites use super secure certificates (SSL—for secure sockets layer; I’ll avoid the details and reasons why it’s called SSL) to ensure a “secure” and encrypted connection between your browser and their web site. The “trust” implied by that little padlock is important.
It’s about the only way you’ll know you’re getting a secure connection when you give out name, address, and credit card information over the web.
These certificates can be expensive and run over a thousand dollar for a single domain name. Wildcard certificates (to spread across many sub-domains) are even more expensive. Shopping around, as with anything, can produce a lower price.
For example, a secure SSL certificate obtained from the big daddy of secure certificates Verisign, can be over a thousand dollars. The same company owns a discount certificate issue, Thawte. Same level of security, half the price.
After a day or so of browsing, checking, studying up, I found a place on the web called FreeSSL. They issue secure SSL certificates, both for single sites and wildcard (multiple sub-domains) at a rather reasonable price (compared to Verisign and Thawte and others).
Click Here for a look at how complicated it can get, but how worthwhile a secure SSL certificate can be. FreeSSL’s price was low, and there was a 7-day reissue or refund period.
How could I lose?
So, I tried out their free 30-day SSL certificate. It installed and worked instantly. No problems. After a trial period, we decided to set up one Mac OS X Server with a wildcard certificate.
I purchased a two year wildcard SSL certificate from FreeSSL. Again, installation was a breeze (Mac makes it soooo easy) and I ended up with about a dozen sub-domains that were now totally padlocked and secure.
That worked well, let’s do it again. For the second server we chose the same company, FreeSSL, and another wildcard SSL certificate.
Purchasing the certificate took only minutes (makes you wonder how well they can verify that you are who you say you are, huh?) and the installation a few more minutes.
Except that certificate didn’t work. While it would allow for a secure connection, the browser popped up a warning that the site wasn’t who it said it was.
Clearly, something was wrong, either with the initial key required to obtain the certificate, or the certificate itself, or the installation on Mac OS X Server.
A quick email to FreeSSL’s customer support got an email back. “Make sure to check this, and this, and that (all of which I’d done already). If that didn’t work, send us the original key and the certificates and we’ll check to see if there’s a problem. If so, we’ll re-issue a new one.”
Doesn’t that sound hopeful? Pleasant? Professional? Courteous?
Apparently my luck ran out as that was almost the last time I heard from customer support at FreeSSL.
Each day for the next three days I sent a similar email outlining the problem and requested a re-issue of the certificate (which should take all of about 10 minutes). No response.
I called the customer service telephone number and talked to a customer service manager. He said to send an email with all the information and they’d issue either a refund or re-issue the certificate.
Great. I did it again.
And again. And again.
No response, no response, no response.
Then I asked for a refund (nearing the end of the 7 day refund period). No response, no response. I was worried that my email system was broken, so I tried other email accounts.
Another phone call simply got them to say the same thing. “Send us the information via email (for verification) and we’ll issue a refund.”
You guessed it. No response. Apparently the “Free” in FreeSSL doesn’t cover customer service.
So, I called my credit card company to make sure FreeSSL wouldn’t get my money until someone responded. Yesterday I received an email message that said I had to respond within 7 days of the date of issue to get a refund (it was already past that date).
I responded. Nothing back yet and I’m not expecting much.
This morning I removed the bad certificate from the Mac server and installed what’s known as a “self signed” SSL certificate. It works just like the expensive ones but I created it myself using OpenSSL on Mac OS X. Free. It took about 5 minutes (I’m getting good at this).
Yes, the browser pops up a little warning which says this site might not be who it claims to be, but the price is right. Oh, and customer service? It’s me. And I’ve got nothing to complain about.
update How about you? Got a customer service “experience” you’d like to share with Mac readers? Click on the Comments link below.
power of the press? Got a note back from FreeSSL saying that I was past the 7 day refund limit (the note was in response to an earlier email asking for a refund—within the 7 day limit). I sent that one back and re-explained the problem.
Today I received the proper refund email. The money hasn’t shown up yet, so I’m not breathing a sigh of relief. Yet. It’s a shame that pressure has to be exerted this way.