Spruce Finance Letter

Marc J. Zeitlin
23501 Fir Drive
Tehachapi, CA 93561

September 9, 2016
Mr. Nat Kreamer (CEO)
Spruce Financial
201 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94105

Dear Mr. Kreamer:

Until very recently, I was laboring under the misapprehension that ATT’s customer service was the worst possible (with United Airlines and Verizon Wireless running a close 2nd and 3rd, in no particular order). However, Spruce Finance has, in the manner of Usain Bolt, sprinted into the lead. Let me give you some background.

Approximately 4 years ago we had a solar system installed at our house in Tehachapi by “Realgoods Solar” with a 20 year lease. Apparently they have sold their existing customers, ourselves included, to you, for reasons that I cannot possibly fathom. Improving customer service (which was never stellar, but was at least passable) certainly wasn’t one of the reasons (or if it was, achieving it hasn’t occurred). We have had a few minor issues with the system over the 4 year period, one of which involved a failed “Envoy” unit which prevented us from monitoring our own power production.

Which brings us to our current situation. On August 5th of this year, on or about, our Envoy unit failed again while we were away on vacation. When we got back on August 24th or thereabouts I called Enlighten for service, (since they had serviced the Envoy last time) and they pointed me to Spruce Financial. I had not been informed by Realgoods that we had been transferred so I called them first and they confirmed that Spruce was the vendor to contact.

I called Spruce’s “Customer Service” number (I assume that name is intended to be ironic, yes? It certainly bears little if any resemblance to what normally passes for “customer service” in the real world) and after waiting on hold for a good 10 - 15 minutes, was connected with “Farrah” (sp). I will only use your customer service representative’s first names, because (although you have all of MY personal data - name, address, phone #, email address, etc.), no-one at Spruce will give me their last names or any direct contact info. So Farrah collects my info and promptly informs me that Spruce does not support me and that I should contact someone else (no indication of whom that might be, however). After a bit of discussion, I convinced her to look into the situation a bit more deeply and she determined that you were, in fact, responsible for servicing our system. She then sent me an email indicating that:

“I will be reaching out to our monitoring team to let them know that you have completed the questionnaire and to see whom we will be sending out to come take a further look into the monitoring issue, we appreciate all your patience.”

There was no indication of timing - of WHEN any action on your part, or the technician’s part, would be forthcoming.

The next day (August 25th), I sent two emails to Farrah asking for an update on the service request and received no response whatsoever. On the 26th, I emailed your service department again, and again received no response whatsoever. I then called the service line, waited the obligatory 15 minutes in hold purgatory, and eventually was connected with Farrah again. I asked why I had not received a response to my inquiries, and she stated that since they had no update for me on my service call (we’re now over 48 hours into a system failure service call, mind you, with a service outage since August 5th), they ignored my messages.

Well. That’s a fine how do you do, no? Just ignore your customers if you haven’t done the work necessary to actually support them? Good system, if you can get your customers to actually pay you to do it - ignore them on the service request, and then ignore them when they inquire as to what’s up…

I asked to speak to Farrah’s manager, who apparently is someone named “Kerry” (sp). I explained the situation to Kerry and requested that she look into it, get a service call registered, get back to me with some feedback regarding status, and try to expedite matters. She agreed to attempt to do so.

Later that day (August 26th), not knowing whether anything would come of my conversations with Kerry, I (in desperation) emailed Tim McFarland, because he was the only person on your website who listed a direct email address. I informed him of my issue and asked him to put me in touch with someone who could help. Crickets… 14 days later, and I have not ever received a response from Mr. McFarland, even one telling me that I should go pound sand and that he wouldn’t help me even if he could.

At any rate, Kerry must have done something over the next couple of days (although I never got an email or phone call from her indicating what it might have been), because I received an email on August 30th (6 days from my original service request call - I do sincerely hope that if you ever need to get service from someone from whom you’ve purchased a thing, whomever you’re dealing with gets back to you sooner than 6 days from the time you call the problem in) from Dennis Costa, customer support representative at Enphase (notice the last name? Dennis also gave me his direct line extension, so I could call him directly if I had any questions or issues) stating that they had a work order and would contact me within a few days to schedule a service call. Yay. Later that day, I received a call from Kerry letting me know that I should be getting contacted by Enphase. Well, a little late, but at least a contact phone call back to me - small steps, I suppose, and thank Cthulhu for small favors.

Not being particularly interested in making a long story short since I’ve had to live it and therefore you should too, on or about September 5th, I contact Dennis via email for an update. He stated that Enphase was waiting on parts from Spruce Financial and that after they received the parts they would schedule the service call to our home. I called Dennis directly on his telephone extension (and waited approximately 10 seconds on hold for the privilege - I hope you’re seeing the different levels of customer relations here - I imagine that the technology to have direct extensions exists in the geographic location in which you site your “Customer Service” representatives) and he informed me that he did not have an ETA on the parts, but that the part in question that Enphase was waiting for was NOT the Envoy, but was an upgrade communication device that Spruce wanted to install for their own purposes and had nothing to do with getting our system working correctly again.

I don’t know why I was surprised that Spruce would be holding up my service for their own unconnected purpose, but I suppose it relates to my desire to assume goodness and competence in individuals and even in organizations, even if there’s no evidence of either.

At any rate, on September 6th, I received the following email from Farrah (remember her?):

“We have been notified by our monitoring team that we will be replacing the solar meter installed at your home. The new meter will communicate with us via cellular network instead of relying on your home internet. There is currently a backlog on the necessary parts. The current time frame is 4-6 weeks. Once the required parts are available, you will be contacted to schedule a time for the technician to come out to the home.”

I forwarded this to Dennis Costa at Enphase and asked him to schedule two service calls - one for the Envoy and one for the unit that Spruce wanted installed - it did not seem reasonable to me that I should wait some indeterminate timeframe, loosely estimated at 1 - 1.5 months on top of the two weeks that I’d already been waiting, to get my system running appropriately again. I did not hear from him, and yesterday, September 8th, forwarded the message to him again, and then called him on the phone. He stated that he could not schedule two service calls without Spruce’s approval, since Spruce was going to pay for them. Fair enough - folks need to get paid.

In order to get Spruce to schedule a quick service call to get me back to full working order while waiting for your cellular upgrade parts, I called your “Customer Service” line yesterday afternoon, waited 20 minutes on hold and then hung up as I in fact have a life to lead and cannot always afford to wait for your [understaffed? undertrained? slow? inconsiderate?] service representatives to eventually get around to answering the phone.

Today (September 9th), I made some time where I could be doing something useful while waiting on hold and called your “Customer Service” line again. A new record this time; (of course, I don’t know how long I would have waited yesterday, had I not had things I needed to do other than wait on hold on the phone - maybe yesterday would have set a record - we’ll never know) after 30 - 31 minutes on hold, Emily answered the phone. I asked her to connect me with Kerry (since I had previously had something vaguely resembling a rational discussion with her) and after collecting my contact info, Emily put me on hold for two minutes while tracking Kerry down. Apparently Kerry was on the phone torturing some other customer (or possibly just laughing at them as they waited helplessly on hold - who can say) and Emily said that Kerry would call me back at her earliest convenience, which MIGHT be today (the “if I’m lucky” was implied, if not explicit). I asked Emily who Kerry’s manager was, and she told me “Tim” (again, no last name or direct contact info) and I asked to be connected to him. With no irony whatsoever, I can say that I was not surprised to be told that Tim was on an airplane traveling and was not available for a phone call. Emily restated that Kerry would get back to me.

So here I am, at 5:07 PM PDT on Friday, September 9th, 35 days after the Envoy failure and 16 days after my first service call to Spruce, with a system that still hasn’t been repaired. I have no idea when it will be repaired and I have no confidence that the people at Spruce with whom I’m supposed to be working have any interest at all in solving my problem. It’s a rare day when I get a return call from Kerry (or anyone else) and I now have exactly zero confidence that the next 16 years of our relationship in maintaining our system will be civil, much less with any hope of smooth or simple.

When you started (or took over) Spruce Finance, with the intent to further the usage of solar electricity generation on mass scale, was this the level of customer service you envisioned? Is this how you train your service department? Please do not tell me that this is an anomaly and that “we’ve never had that problem before”. Every time I hear that canard from a vendor (and I rarely hear it from vendors, because most do a pretty reasonable job of servicing their customers), I know that they’re completely full of it.

How do we move on from here and what is your plan to rebuild this relationship (and get my system working in the quickest and most efficacious manner possible)?


Marc J. Zeitlin

cc: Steve Olszewski (COO)

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Last Updated: October 3rd, 2016