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Step 1: Insert Goldfish Into Slot A Via Valve B

February 22, 2005

I bought a new goldfish tank today for my goldfish Skippy.

Perhaps I should offer some background. I bought Skippy nearly two years ago as a 12 cent feeder fish. He's been swimming happily on my desk at work since the spring of 2003, and has now grown rather large. Every six months or so, I need to upgrade him to a roomier tank. Version 4, the goldfish real estate equivalent of a 2,500 square-foot colonial on a full acre, arrived from Petsmart today. As the components were disassembled and I'm not a mechanical genius, I had to refer to the "user's manual."

The "user's manual" is a tiny folder with "steps 1 to 8" listed in four languages. It makes sense in none of them. Instructions for installing the filter consisted of the following: "Remove aquarium cover. Affix filter to desired location." No mention was made of how to assemble the parts, where the filter goes in relation to the water line, and where and how the dangling bits and pieces are supposed to dangle. The only helpful tip was a cramped drawing with a filter "inset" image that is, and I'm not exaggerating, less than one-eighth of an inch wide. I measured it. The most helpful part of the "user's manual" is the information that "Goldfische" is the German word for goldfish.

What the "user's manual" does contain is a toll-free number for customer help. I called it. Twice. The first time was to ask where exactly the filter is supposed to go. The second call was to ask why, when turned on, the filter was blowing out water but not creating any bubbles. Both questions could have been answered with better written instructions.

Now perhaps the aquarium company just likes to chat with other appreciators of goldfish. Maybe the company's agents are lonely. Maybe they need at least a few incoming calls to justify the purchase of call center equipment. But to my call-center-attuned mind, if every tenth customer makes only one call to the toll-free number, this costs the company about nine thousand times more than it would to simpy modify the written instructions so that consumers could actually follow them.

I figure that because the tank only cost $16.99, and I made two phone calls to the company's toll-free line, my purchase of their product actually cost them money.

Skippy is happy in his new home, oblivious to the frustrations involved in getting him in there. Because his memory retention is about six milliseconds, he now no longer remembers he ever lived anywhere else.

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