Dishing it up and out
By Rick Smith
Once again I find myself compelled to rant about a company. Not about its product, which is excellent, but about its way of doing business. But before I begin, let me ask my readers, all three of you, to submit any comments about products, trends or things that bother you. I am always happy to complain about anyone or anything. With that said, keep all those cards and letters coming, all three of them. It really makes the time go by quicker in my cell as I reread all your mail. Now, let's get to ranting.
It seems that whenever a company implements a new service or policy it starts a trend that seeps into not only all the other companies doing the same business but also into parallel industries. As other companies see users swallow new restrictions and conditions while continuing to use and buy a product, they wonder why they are not doing it also and didn't think of it first. The bad news is they don't wonder very long and soon implement similar policies and conditions. What I'm specifically referring to is to take advantage of technology upgrades you must commit to using a specific service for a period of time, the average of which is now two years. I'm sure it would be more if they could get away with it.
The first ones to come to my mind are the cell phone companies. To get a discount on a new phone, you had to commit to a two-year service contract with an early disconnect penalty. This has many benefits for the providers but not so many for the users. Think about it: By getting you to commit in advance to a long service contract they are able to predict future earnings much more reliably. And while the cost of providing services keeps diminishing they can usually keep charging their customers at the older, higher rates for service for the longest amount of time unless you call and they go, "Oh, of course, we're happy to lower your service rates." They can also steer their customers into purchasing whatever technology serves them best and profits them the most.
So let's say something happens in your life to interrupt your cash flow into your bank account and you have to cut back on extras to live within your means. Yes folks, unlike our government, some people actually take responsibility for all their financial commitments. So you decide that cable or Satellite TV, Internet phone service or even cellular phone service is not in your current budget. You will feel the pain of ending your relationship by paying a large penalty. It also makes you less likely to switch to a competing vendor for minor disagreements.
Speaking of minor disagreements, let me share a personal one with a certain digital content provider. I'll try to DISH it out as best as my memory allows.
I have a small LCD television in my kitchen which I seem to spend a considerable amount of time near. So while I prepare the family's culinary delights I can get a "Fair & Balanced" perspective on current events. Recently, I started remodeling my kitchen and needed to replace my TV with one that could be as aesthetically pleasing as possible as well as HD capable. I needed to upgrade my satellite receiver to be HD compatible. So I went online and shopped the latest offerings, found the model I wanted and proceeded to order the product. Now, I had attempted to do this in February while they were running a "special," but they were out of the product. They documented the call and told me to call back later when they had the product, and they would give me the "special." The first call went well as they acknowledged the previous call offered me the upgrade with free shipping. And, of course, I had to commit to a two-year service agreement. Fine, I said, and while he finalized the order, the call got dropped — VOIP at its best. Needless to say, they did not call me back, and I had to start the procedure from scratch. The next person finished the order but charged me shipping.
When I received my new unit, I noticed it was not the model I ordered. I called back, and they told me they could not guarantee me that model because their system could not access the product inventory. Go figure. They could only guarantee a unit of the same product family. I could send this one back and reorder the correct unit, but they could not guarantee I would receive the unit I wanted. I could not believe they were telling me this. Their website said nothing about this and just touted the features of the newer models. By this time my innate charm was taking over, and I asked to talk to a sensible person. A supervisor is next in line, and if you get lucky you can go one step up and get a manager, which will transfer your call back to the contiguous 48. The obviously unhappy attendant gleefully put me on hold.
For those of you who have not see the video "Internet helpdesk" just Google it and enjoy. One of the time- honored techniques to take the fight out of irritated customers is to put them on hold for extended periods of time. Sort of like an adult "Time Out." By the time someone picks up, you're a little calmer and grateful you didn't have to start the process all over again, which is what I had to do after 1 1/2 hours on hold on my cell phone.
Toby said "wait 'em out," but they beat me, and I eventually had to hang up or pay for overtime minutes.
I called back again, started the whole process and talked to two managers. They finally connected me to someone in technical support who was quite sympathetic to my desires and worked his system to help me. He finally said that if I ordered the high end unit I could be guaranteed to get the correct product — a work-around if there ever was one. But I agreed as after four hours of haggling I was starting to wear down. He then said I would have to pay shipping and a $95 installation fee. This fired me right back up, and I told him I ran a technology company and I was probably more competent than their techs. I would self-install so please send the unit. After a failed attempt with his supervisor, they sent me to the customer satisfaction department, which is similar to the people at AOL you talk to when you want to cancel your service. They do everything possible to keep you by talking nice and giving you free stuff. The woman I got was not going to give or offer me anything except a lecture. So after spending another half hour uselessly pleading my case and threatening to switch to a competitor I finally gave up.
All my efforts, all my pleading, all my coercion, all my anger and dissatisfaction amounted to absolutely nothing. I was completely beaten down by corporate America, reduced to a sorry depressed state of mind wallowing in my own self-pity as to the state of my own ineffectiveness to alter the course of events in my life. I ended up keeping the unit I didn't want, signed up for a two-year service contract, paid shipping, called tech support an additional two times because they turned off my other unit by mistake. At least that's what they told me.
I am now a beaten and broken man. My self-esteem is reduced to a new low. Maybe just maybe, by my writing to you today you can avoid the terrible fate that has befallen me, and that by sharing my pain you can avoid a similar situation.
Woe is me, woe is me. I am undone.